We've reached Week 11 and the playoff picture is continuing to be unveiled. Most of the NFC has seven games to go, and there's still a lot of ways each week can impact the overall landscape.
The Rams and Saints are the clear runaway teams in the conference this year. After them, though, a lot of up for grabs both in division races and the Wild Card spots.
We're not including Detroit and Tampa Bay, both 3-6, given the strong unlikelihood that they will turn things around. Detroit is the worst team in a stacked NFC North and will likely keep losing, and a head-to-head loss to the Cowboys will be tough to overcome. The Bucs can't decide on a quarterback right now and are going nowhere.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- Los Angeles Rams (9-1)
- New Orleans Saints (8-1)
- Chicago Bears (6-3)
- Washington Redskins (6-3)
- Carolina Panthers (6-3)
- Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)
- Green Bay Packers (4-4-1)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-5)
- Seattle Seahawks (4-5)
- Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
- The Bears are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Falcons are ahead of the Seahawks and Cowboys thanks to a superior record against NFC opponents.
- The Seahawks are ahead of the Cowboys thanks to a head-to-head victory.
- The Cowboys are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head victory.
- The Eagles' tiebreaker loss to Dallas, because it occurs within the division, drops them below the other 4-5 NFC teams automatically. Their head-to-head win over the Falcons this year is invalidated.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how winning the NFC East would likely be Dallas only road to the playoffs. That is still the case; the Cowboys are three games behind the Panthers (they lose in a tie because of their head-to-head loss) and two games behind the Vikings for the Wild Card spots.
It will be much easier for Dallas to catch Washington, who are more lucky than good with their 6-3 record, than either Carolina or Minnesota. The Cowboys can still hang a loss on the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, plus Washington has both games with the Eagles left to play.
Those opportunities are further down the road, though. For now, let's see how the Week 11 schedule can help improve the Cowboys playoff positioning:
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks
With a head-to-head loss to Seattle this year, Dallas needs the Seahawks to keep losing. Both teams are currently 4-5, and the Cowboys don't need that tiebreaker hanging over them at the end of the year.
But a Seattle loss means a Green Bay win, and that doesn't do much to help the Cowboys either. The Packers's tie gives them a slight edge on the 4-5 teams, and that advantage could keep them ahead of Dallas the rest of the way.
You could argue that the Packers are a team more likely to make a late-season push than the Seahawks, so a Green Bay loss here could ultimately benefit the Cowboys more than Seattle. It really comes down to which team, between the Packers and Seahawks, you have more faith in the rest of the way.
Dallas Cowboys @ Atlanta Falcons
This is obviously a huge game for both teams. Both are 4-5 and trying to stay in the conversation, and a loss here could be a death knell for either. It would also create a head-to-head tiebreaker for the winner over the loser; essentially a two-game swing.
The Cowboys won their first road game all season last week in Philadelphia. They have some good vibes and momentum headed into Atlanta, who are coming off an ugly loss to the Browns.
Will Dallas ride their positive wave for another week, or will the Falcons be hungrier and enjoy returning home? The answer could be season-changing for both teams.
Houston Texans @ Washington Redskins
The Texans have won six straight and the Cowboys hope they can keep it going. A Washington loss, coupled with a Dallas win in Atlanta, would narrow the gap between them to just one game. It would also make next week's Thanksgiving matchup in Dallas a chance for the Cowboys to pull even for the NFC East lead.
As I said before, the Redskins aren't as good as their 6-3 record indicates. They have only a +1 point differential in 2018, having scored just one point more than their opponents all year. Comparatively, the Cowboys are a +10 despite the losing record.
A few weeks ago, the Redskins got pounded 43-19 by the New Orleans Saints. The Texans are arguably the next-best team they've played this year. Hopefully, we'll see a similar result.
Carolina Panthers @ Detroit Lions
The Panthers' slipping would be nice for the Cowboys, though they'd have to fall hard the rest of the way for Dallas to catch up in the standings. With the Cowboys having a head-to-head win over the Lions, a Detroit win here wouldn't hurt us nearly as much as a Carolina loss helps.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints
New Orleans appears set on being one of the top two seeds in the NFC this year, which puts them well out of Dallas' range. As such, an Eagles loss is clearly better for the Cowboys in terms of our own playoff positioning.
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears
The Packers and Vikings are both slightly easier to catch than the Bears. The best scenario for Dallas is for Chicago to keep winning and take the NFC North, hanging losses on their division rivals on the way and making things easier for the Cowboys in the Wild Card hunt.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Los Angeles Rams
This one is almost irrelevant from Dallas' perspective. The Rams will probably clinch their division soon and should have a first-round bye. But the Chiefs are in the other conference, so there's absolutely nothing to be gained by them losing.
Should Cowboys Address TE Need Via Free Agency?
A season after Jason Witten's retirement, the Dallas Cowboys still have a need at tight end. Replacing a future Hall of Famer is no easy feat so it's only logical that it would take longer than a season to feel good about who's in at tight end.
The Cowboys currently have two tight ends who could be pretty serviceable going forward. Fourth round pick Dalton Schultz did a very solid job as the team's TE2, specially toward the second half of the season. He turned into a pretty good run blocker and despite only racking up 116 yards in 12 catches, he's a guy the Cowboys' offense could use even more in the future.
Also on the team is Blake Jarwin, who functioned as the Cowboys' main tight end for most of 2018. His performance against the New York Giants in week 17 made us wonder whether or not he could be an important target on the Cowboys' offense.
These two could very well have more in them than what we've seen. With a new offensive coordinator in town, tight end is a position the Cowboys could start using way more. As Bobby Belt pointed out on Twitter a few weeks ago, Scott Linehan's offense doesn't benefit tight ends very much. Before we give a verdict on what Schultz and Jarwin can do, I'd like to see them work with Kellen Moore's offense.
One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.
Here's the thing. If the Cowboys are not taking a tight end in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, are they really upgrading what they already have? I'm not sure we'll be convinced about that if they draft a player for the position until the third or fourth round. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for the Cowboys drafting a TE in the second round, because I believe there are more pressing needs on the team. However, signing a veteran free agent might be the better option for upgrading the position.
Should a veteran TE be an option?
This year, there are quite a few interesting names in the tight end market. Veterans such as Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert and even Antonio Gates will be looking for a new team pretty soon. I know, that would be "getting older." But it could also mean getting better. Building a solid TE committee with a veteran leading Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz could be the way to go for this football team.
Eifert is a great tight end... when he's on the field. Durability is his biggest weakness, as he hasn't played more than 10 games since 2016. The Cowboys could take a risk on him and constantly rotate him with Jarwin and Schultz. It may be a huge risk, but it could pay off big time. If the price is right, Eifert should be targeted by the front office.
The 2018 Oakland Raiders had a season to forget, winning only four games. Even still, Jared Cook's season was impressive. He finished the year with 896 yards and multiple 100-yard games. The biggest issue with Cook is his age. He turns 32 in April. But hey, he's literally coming off from a career year.
Jesse James is a younger guy who could also be worth it. He's not an a potent receiver, but he gets it done in the passing game and is one hell of a blocker. James could be a legit, cheaper option for the Cowboys in free agency.
There are a lot of names out there the front office could look at. Charles Clay was just released by the Buffalo Bills and Nick Boyle will be looking for new job after new arrivals pushed him out of the Baltimore Ravens' roster just to mention a few names.
We'll see what the front office's plans are soon enough, but right now, I'd say tight end is a need the Dallas Cowboys should at least try to address in free agency instead of the NFL Draft.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Cornerback
Unlike other positions on their roster, cornerback appears ready to off the Dallas Cowboys stability in 2019. However, that doesn't mean the team can just ignore it this offseason. There are still a few decisions to be made.
Thanks to a shrewd move in April of last year, Dallas will be enjoying Byron Jones' services at a bargain. They picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract and will be paying him just $6.3 million next season.
That's a steal for a Pro Bowl corner, who generally make more than double that amount in a single year. But the Cowboys are still left the decision of whether or not to give Jones a long-term deal now or wait until he hits free agency in 2020.
It's easy to say that they should enjoy the discount and worry about it next year. But then you risk a second Pro Bowl trip and the lure of the open market. Byron's asking price could only go up.
Of course, Dallas could then also have the option of using the franchise tag.
Keep in mind that Jones will turn 27 this September. Dallas could decide that it makes sense to play through the rookie deal this year, franchise him in 2020, and then reassess when he's about to turn 29 years old.
If they give Byron a long-term deal now then they'll have to pay him like one of the top corners in football. It may be wise to wait.
Another decision facing the Cowboys is if they think they can improve at the second starting position. It was an up-and-down year for Chidobe Awuzie, but he was playing his best toward the end of the season. Dallas could hope that a second year with Kris Richard's coaching, and just more general growth for a third-year player, will elevate Awuzie's game.
However, with plenty of cap space to work with, Dallas could pursue a solid veteran option and then allow Awuzie to play the nickel role. It would not only perhaps improve the CB2 position but also bolster depth overall.
Speaking of depth, Anthony Brown returns for the final year of his rookie deal. While never spectacular, Brown has been a gem as a former sixth-round pick with 29 career starts. He brings exceptional value and may even compete with Awuzie for the starting job.
While arguably the team's best young corner in 2017, Jourdan Lewis comes into this season with a lot of uncertainty. He fell out of favor last season, perhaps for not fitting the physical style that Richard likes. But he did manage to snag the game-clinching interception in Dallas' upset win over the New Orleans Saints.
If a scheme mismatch is the issue, the Cowboys could look to trade Lewis this offseason. He still has two years left on his rookie deal and was considered a first-round prospect by some in 2017. A cornerback-needy club might have more use for him than Dallas seems to.
If they did move Jourdan, the Cowboys might turn to Donovan Olumba to fill out the depth chart. He was one of their surprising performers in last year's training camp and spent the year on the practice squad. At 6'2", he has the size that the team seems to be looking for now in its corners.
More than likely, Dallas will ride with this group in 2019 with no big changes. I do think a Lewis trade is possible, especially with the Cowboys short on draft picks this year. But don't expect any major cap space or draft capital to go at one of the team's more solid positions.
With all the other work Dallas needs done this offseason, a little stability at cornerback is a luxury.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Center
Even with Dez Bryant's release and Jason Witten's retirement, the loss of Travis Frederick last season may have been the most damaging to the Dallas Cowboys. The team looks forward to getting their All-Pro center back in 2019 while also having a reliable backup still under contract.
Just within the last few weeks, Frederick has provided encouraging updates on his status for next year. It looks like he'll be able to participate in all offseason activities, but the Cowboys would settle for Week One. There appears to be plenty of cushion for that to happen.
Travis' absence in 2018 was seen in various ways. Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times, second-most in all the league, after just 32 and 25 times the previous two seasons. Part of that is missing Frederick's blocking ability, but also the way he would assist with reading the defense and making pre-snap adjustments.
Dallas would've loved having Frederick out there to help Guard Connor Williams, who worked with Travis throughout the offseason only to lose him in late August. It was not an easy way for the rookie to start his career.
We also saw issues in the run game. Even while Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing, short-yardage situations weren't as easy as they used to be. The Rams were able to neutralize the Cowboys' rushing attack in Dallas' playoff loss, something that Frederick might have helped overcome.
This isn't saying that Joe Looney did a bad job. On the contrary, Looney was more than adequate and helped keep Dallas from suffering far greater damage without Frederick.
After Joe's work in 2018, Dallas won't blink at keeping him on the $1 million salary he's due next year. It's a bargain for a backup of his quality, and especially given his versatility as an option at guard as well.
Not only are Frederick and Looney locked in for 2019, but Dallas also still has backup Adam Redmond under contract through next season. He was added after final cuts last year to be Looney's backup and should return to at least help the team through July and August.
With these guys already in place, there's no reason to think that Dallas will give much attention to the center position during the offseason.
At most, a mid-round draft pick might be used on a player who could potentially replace Looney in 2020 as the backup. Joe's contract ends next season, and he could be competitive for starting jobs with other teams at that point.
With lots of other concerns throughout the roster, Dallas is fortunate to have so much security at center. All signs are positive on Travis Frederick's return, and that is a huge boost to the team as it looks to push forward from last year's playoff run.
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