Depending on your point of view, the folks in the scheduling office either did the Cowboys a favor or plotted against them when they came up with the team's schedule this offseason.
The Cowboys got an early bye, something that can be helpful if you are banged up but can be a detriment down the road when you've got to play a dozen straight games without any chance to rest aching bones. And then they return with four road games in five weeks, a gauntlet that would test the best of teams thanks to stops in Baltimore, Atlanta and Philly. Topping it all off is the fact that the one home game is against the Giants, who have never lost at JerryWorld.
It isn't hard to see the potential downside in that setup. Anything less than a winning record over this stretch will leave the Cowboys with a losing record and very little margin for error heading into the final seven games of the season. Even a 3-2 mark would only put them at 5-4 in an NFC that's looking like it is going to take 10 wins to win a Wild Card spot, to say nothing of the NFC East title.
Should things really go wrong, the Cowboys will wind up in Week 11 without anything much to play for but pride and that's not really what anyone wanted to see heading into this season. Things that offer such extreme downsides also offer huge upsides, though, and you'd have to be blind to miss the opportunity laid out for the Cowboys right now.
Over the final seven weeks of the season, the Cowboys will play at home five times and they will play just two teams currently in possession of a winning record over that span. That's about as good a stretch as you could hope to get at any point in the season, but it is especially nice to have that be the back end of the season as long as you can keep your head above water in the first nine weeks.
There really doesn't seem to be much middle ground here. Either the Cowboys prove themselves worthy of being a playoff team on the road in the next five weeks or they prove that they are at least a step below teams with legitimate aspirations of success this season.
Column A and Column B are the only choices, which means that the next five weeks will define this Cowboys season one way or the other. For better or worse, we'll know everything we need to know by the end of Week 10.