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Cowboys Playoff Scenario: Week 15 Impact Games

Jess Haynie

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Dez Bryant

Last week didn't go well for the Cowboys playoff hopes. While Dallas did their part by beating the New York Giants, the teams they needed to lose also handled their business. As such, we find ourselves in basically the same scenarios as last week and with fewer opportunities for movement.

With the Philadelphia Eagles clinching the NFC East, Dallas' focus turns solely to the Wild Card race. Catching the Eagles was a longshot, but Carson Wentz's injury might have opened that door wider if they'd lost to the Rams. Unfortunately, that option is now entirely out the window.

Here are the current NFC playoff standings:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-2)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (10-3)
  3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
  4. New Orleans Saints (9-4)
  5. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
  6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
    --------------------------------------
  7. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
  8. Detroit Lions (7-6)
  9. Green Bay Packers (7-6)
  10. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)

TIEBREAKERS

  • Los Angeles is ahead of New Orleans thanks to a head-to-head (H2H) victory in Week 12.
  • New Orleans has swept Carolina this year, giving them the H2H tiebreaker.
  • Atlanta has a H2H tiebreaker over Seattle from Week 11.
  • Detroit currently has a H2H tiebreaker over Green Bay from Week 9.  They play again Week 17.
  • Green Bay has a H2H tiebreaker over Dallas from Week 5

Now, let's get to the games on the Week 15 schedule that can impact the NFC playoff picture.

Dallas Cowboys @ Oakland Raiders

The Raiders, despite being 6-7 now, are still in the playoff hunt in the AFC. The 6th seed is only 7-6 and even the current AFC West leader, Kansas City, is 7-6 also. Oakland still has a puncher's chance, so they won't be laying down for the visiting Cowboys.

Obviously, Dallas can't afford another loss this year. There's a possibility that 10-6 won't even get them in based on tiebreakers and the high records of other teams, so 9-7 is as good as eliminated. "Just win, baby," the infamous quote of former Raiders owner Al Davis, is fitting for the Cowboys now and going forward.

Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions

Detroit has the 7-6 record as the Cowboys, so it'd be nice to get them out of the way. The Bears shouldn't be much trouble for them, but the Lions are on the road next week in Cincinnati and then host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 17. They shouldn't be the reason Dallas doesn't make the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings aren't really an issue for the Cowboys, but their game next week against the Packers is. Minnesota can clinch the NFC North if they win this week, which means they may lose some fire in the belly when they head to Lambeau. A Minnesota loss here would have them hungrier to win in Green Bay, which would be in Dallas' best interests.

New York Jets @ New Orleans Saints

The best thing for Dallas would be the Saints and Panthers both going cold and allowing the Falcons to take the NFC South. That would pull Atlanta out of the Wild Card, where they are a major threat to the Cowboys with their H2H tiebreaker. That scenario is unlikely, though, so the better odds are for the Saints to keep winning and putting a loss on Atlanta next week.

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

If Philly keeps winning, that Week 17 matchup with Dallas may not matter for them. If they're 13-2 going into that final game, they may have already clinched the top seed and be able to rest starters. That is the best scenario for the Cowboys at this point.

Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers

It's hard to say which outcome is better for the Cowboys here. Carolina is already two games up on Dallas, but the Packers have that H2H tiebreaker and now have Aaron Rodgers returning. With this week's game against Green Bay and then Week 17 in Atlanta, the Panthers can probably help Dallas more by winning out and hanging losses on the Packers and Falcons. They can have that fifth seed, so long as they help us get the sixth.

L.A. Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

Even if Seattle wins this one, Dallas can catch up next week when they play each other in Ezekiel Elliott's return game. However, the Rams have a H2H tiebreaker against Dallas so it behooves us for them to win their division and leave Seattle in the Wild Card race. We clearly should root for Los Angels in this one.

Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If you haven't figured it out by now... ATLANTA NEEDS TO LOSE. They need to lose now and keep right on losing through the end of the season. It's that simple.

 



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Game Notes

Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.

Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
  • LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
  • CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable

The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.

Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.

Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.

Washington Redskins

  • WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
  • WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
  • S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
  • RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
  • RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
  • G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
  • CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
  • CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable

It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.

Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.

Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.

In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.



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Game Notes

Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins

The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.

Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.

Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.

Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.

David Moore on Twitter

Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.

Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.

The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.

Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.

Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.

Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.

Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.

He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.

If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.

Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.

Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.

That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Pass Rush Better than They're Given Credit For
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.

But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.

According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.

Brian Burke on Twitter

Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.

What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.

For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.

As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.

Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.

Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).

Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.



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