Wild Card Weekend is always an annual tradition of excitement when it comes to the NFL.
Consider that last year during Wild Card Weekend... Tony Romo heroically led the Dallas Cowboys to a late-second victory over the Detroit Lions. It was, and still is, extremely epic.
Tomorrow the 2015 season's Wild Card Weekend will kick off. Unfortunately the Dallas Cowboys won't be participating as their season is done, but we still have some awesome football to enjoy.
Here are my 5 Bold Predictions for Wild Card Weekend.
Aaron Rodgers Will Have The Worst Game Of All The Weekend's Quarterbacks
The Green Bay Packers are traditionally, over the last twenty or so years, one of the NFL's top teams. That reputation sometimes trumps their actual play on the field as even when they're slumping... people think they're untouchable.
Aaron Rodgers is perhaps the coldest quarterback entering this weekend (Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer, Ben Roethlisberger, AJ McCarron, Russell Wilson, Teddy Bridgewater, and Kirk Cousins are the other QBs).
With very little offensive weapons, Randall Cobb isn't scaring anyone, Aaron Rodgers has been reduced to mere mortal standards. Watch for him to have the least spectacular weekend of all the touchdown tossers.
The Houston Texans Defense Will Score More Points Than The Minnesota Vikings Offense
JJ Watt and the Houston Texans have arguably the best defense in the NFL right now.
Teddy Bridgewater and his offense score about as frequently as it's going to be warm in Minnesota on Sunday.
Considering that the Vikings are going up against the Seattle Seahawks and Legion of Boom this weekend, it's tough to imagine that this is the week things get fixed for Teddy and his crew.
Alex Smith is really smart with the football and rarely turns it over, but look for JJ Watt to force a fumble and for the Texans to get a defensive touchdown or two.
A majority of the Vikings points will come as a result of their own stout defense or special teams contributions.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receivers Will Combine For Over 500 Yards
Ben Roethlisberger has arguably the best corp of wide receivers at his disposal on the planet. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton are all top dogs.
This game would be more of a shootout if Andy Dalton, not AJ McCarron, were quarterbacking... but Pittsburgh is going to air the ball out a ton.
DeAngelo Williams might not even play which is going to emphasize this point even more.
Look for Antonio Brown to top 250 while Martavis and Markus make up the difference to put the Steelers over 500 yards!
Jordan Reed Will Have The Most Receiving Yards Of The Weekend
RJ... you just suggested that Antonio Brown would top 250 yards. Are you saying that Jordan Reed is going to beat THAT?!
I sure am.
We're obviously Cowboys fans here at Inside The Star, but there's no denying that Kirk Cousins is on Alicia Keys-type fire right now. The biggest spark to his flame is a tight end named Jordan Reed.
Washington is going to potentially have to go blow-for-blow with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. While I don't think that Aaron is going to have a great game, this is going to open the door for Eddie Lacy to return to relevance. Kirk is going to have to compete with that and Jordan Reed is going to be on the receiving, no pun intended, end of that.
Get him in whatever fantasy lineups you're playing this weekend - Jordan Reed is going off.
Russell Wilson And Marshawn Lynch Will Have More Rushing Touchdowns Than Russell Has Incompletions
There's always a team that gets hot at the right time entering the playoffs.
The Seattle Seahawks are, again, that team.
Russell Wilson very rarely has a game filled with mistakes and when he does it's the 2014 NFC Championship and his team wins anyway.
Beast Mode is back for the 'Hawks and that's going to take this offense to another level. While the Vikings have had a pretty impressive defense over the last quarter of the season, the Seahawks are going to obliterate that.
Russell and Marshawn are going to have a day on the ground so impressive that it trumps his insane accuracy through the air.
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
The Dallas Cowboys uncharacteristically made several offseason trades this year and it has yet to be seen how or if these players can be impactful in 2018. One such trade was met with quite a bit of skepticism and actually angered a lot of Cowboys fans. Sending wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jihad Ward was somewhat puzzling, but it looks as if the trade might already be paying off.
Unfortunately, one of the Dallas Cowboys best defensive players will once again have to sit out of the first four games of the 2018 season while serving his suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. David Irving was expected to pick up where he left off last season as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but will have to wait until Week 5 to find out what he can do.
I don't know if the Dallas Cowboys suspected something like this would happen with Irving once again, but suddenly the trade for Jihad Ward is looking like a brilliant under the radar offseason move.
I know a lot of Cowboys fans were excited to see what Ryan Switzer could do for the offense this season, but the coaching staff never really had a plan in place for him or knew exactly how to use him. There is no question as to how the coaching staff will use Ward. He could end up being one of the better defensive lineman this season.
Jihad Ward has already caught the attention of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) and mandatory minicamp. Coincidentally, he's been playing in place of David Irving at the under tackle position or the three-technique. It's a role he may not relinquish heading into the 2018 season, and quite possibly even when Irving returns from his suspension.
I know it's a little bit early to anoint Jihad Ward, but the fact that as a new addition he's already starting ahead of the likes of Tyrone Crawford and other 3-tech candidates is pretty telling, at least for me.
Once training camp opens up there will be several things I will be paying close attention to, and how Jihad Ward performs will be one of them. He was after all highly thought of by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few years ago in the 2016 NFL Draft. Maybe that infatuation will pay off.
I know it still stings a little that Ryan Switzer is no longer with the Cowboys, but Jihad Ward could prove to be the more impactful player this season and beyond.
Do you think the Jihad Ward trade is already paying off for the Cowboys?
How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?
Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.
Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.
It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.
Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.
Safety Kavon Frazier
Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.
This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense. Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.
The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.
Safety Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana Tech. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.
The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.
Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.
Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.
Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.
There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).
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Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.
Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.
With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.
No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving
For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.
On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.
However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving.
First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.
We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.
For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.
Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear. In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.
Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.
The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.
However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.
Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.
We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.
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