Last week went about as well as the Dallas Cowboys could've hoped for. Their own victory over the New Orleans Saints was huge, and losses by the Redskins, Bears, Panthers, and Vikings all improved Dallas playoff positioning. Will Week 14 be as kind?
The Rams and Saints still have a big lead for those top two seeds, but everything has clustered behind them. Seven teams are within two games of each other, and Dallas is thankfully near the top of that heap at the moment.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- Los Angeles Rams (11-1)
- New Orleans Saints (10-2)
- Chicago Bears (8-4)
- Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)
- Carolina Panthers (6-6)
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-6)
- Washington Redskins (6-6)
- The Cowboys lost to Seattle earlier this year, but still remain the 4th seed as a division winner over a wild card team.
- The Panthers are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker.
- The Eagles are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. They play each other again in Week 17.
- The Redskins beat the Panthers earlier this year, but their loss to Philadelphia within their own division negates that tiebreaker.
The Week 14 schedule sets up well for the Cowboys to get another boost to their playoff contention. Dallas can deliver its own haymaker to a division rival, and other teams they need to lose have tough matchups.
Here are this week's games involving the NFC playoff contenders:
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
The NFC East lead is on the line when the Eagles come to Dallas on Sunday. If Philly wins, they would tie the Cowboys in overall record and improve to 4-1 in the division, while Dallas would drop to 3-2.
Even if the Cowboys fall here, the rest of the schedule favors them to retake the lead. The Eagles have the Rams and Texans in their next two games, while Dallas has the Colts and Buccaneers. Both have soft Week 17 finales against the Redskins and Giants, respectively.
But Dallas isn't putting Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez out there on Sunday. Dak Prescott has been heating up the last few weeks, and the Cowboys defense has emerged as one of the top groups in the league.
If they didn't lose their rhythm during the 10-day break, Dallas is in a great position to sweep the Eagles and tighten their grip on the NFC East.
New York Giants @ Washington Redskins
With Washington close to pulling Sonny Jurgensen out of retirement, the Redskins' status as a playoff contender is debatable. So are their chances of beating the Giants, who even with no shot at the postseason are still playing to win.
A Giants win is actually doubly good for Dallas. Not only does it help knock off Washington, but it further hurts New York's positioning in the upcoming draft.
Carolina Panthers @ Cleveland Browns
A date with the Browns used to be a good medicine for a team needing a win, but this Cleveland team isn't a pushover anymore. In fact, one could argue that they should be favored to win at home over the free-falling Panthers.
Dallas is fully invested in Carolina's continued losing. The Panthers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys from Week 1, so we don't want them in the way in case Dallas needs a wild card spot to make the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dallas is still three games behind the Saints for a potential top-two seed, and the first-round bye that comes with it, but every little bit helps. However, one would expect that New Orleans will unleash hell on the Bucs to try to bounce back from last week. A second-straight loss, especially to a team with Tampa's issues, is highly doubtful.
Los Angeles Rams @ Chicago Bears
Dallas isn't catching the Rams at this point, so the better outcome here is a Chicago loss. It would pull the Cowboys and Bears even (assuming Dallas wins this week) both in overall record and in their record against NFC opponents. Chicago still has tough division games against the Packers and Vikings to close out the year, so Dallas would have a strong chance of moving ahead of them into the 3rd seed.
Minnesota Vikings @ Seattle Seahawks
This is a tough one to call as far as what favors Dallas more. Both teams are contenders for a wild card spot, so the Cowboys benefit from either losing.
Seattle has a head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas and they are currently tied in overall record. If Dallas were to need a wild card spot to make the playoffs, the Seahawks would be our biggest problem.
The Vikings are also right there, currently one game behind the Cowboys. If they finished with the same number of wins, Minnesota would have the advantage since they have a tie on their overall record. That gives them a slightly higher win percentage, and thus the tiebreaker if needed.
Again, this all comes down to the wild card race. If Dallas keeps winning, they'll take the NFC East and make all of this moot.
But if Dallas were to lose, they need as many roads as possible to stay alive for the postseason. A Seahawks win this week all but closes that road. A Vikings win isn't quite as damaging.
It's a win-win scenario, but the slightly bigger win comes with Minnesota beating Seattle.
Sean’s Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title
If an overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champions that ends their dreams of repeating while increasing your own playoff odds can be both ugly and beautiful, than the Dallas Cowboys 29-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was certainly that - and a whole lot more.
Extending their winning streak to five didn't come without the Cowboys toying with a total collapse, as Quarterback Dak Prescott turned the ball over three times. Fresh off a win against the New Orleans Saints where the Cowboys managed just 13 points, the Eagles pushed this defense to the edge thanks to continued struggles on offense.
In overtime, Prescott made sure Carson Wentz and the Eagles would never see the ball, putting four indescribable quarters behind him to lead a game-winning touchdown drive. The Cowboys are a win away from claiming the NFC East. The full scope of how this season has turned on its head goes well beyond this most recent Cowboys win, at least back to their first win at the Eagles five weeks ago.
For now, my first attempt at sorting out what we saw at AT&T Stadium on Sunday will have to do, with another post game edition of Sean's Scout.
- With both Tight Ends Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz setting new career highs in receptions, I was waiting for the Cowboys patience on offense to pay off with a big play on the outside, finally provided twice by Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.
In the Cowboys previous win over the Eagles, their receivers had their way with a depleted Philadelphia secondary. Dealing with injuries at cornerback mid-game that are still effecting this group, the Eagles were in no position to line up against Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Cole Beasley.
The counter for the Cowboys offense this week was to use heavier formations, pound Ezekiel Elliott, and get their tight ends involved more than they've been all season. Perhaps the only normal thing to come out of this game was Elliott's 40 touches.
Despite it being a career high, there's no reason Elliott shouldn't be this involved in the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys patience with Elliott was eventually rewarded when Cooper scored from 28 yards out to break a 6-6 tie, and again from 75 yards to put Dallas ahead 23-16 in the fourth quarter.
If not for a few missed shots to Michael Gallup and a missed Brett Maher field goal, the Cowboys efforts on offense could have kept this game out of overtime, though their execution on the winning drive is hard to dispute.
- The Cowboys are last in the league at scoring touchdowns in the red zone over their last three wins, something that has to change quickly in preparation for the playoffs.
The Cowboys were 3 of 5 in the red zone in the win that started this streak in Philly, and 2 of 3 the following week at the Falcons. Their decline on offense has been a recent trend that must come back up over the last three weeks of the regular season.
Only six of Elliott's 40 touches came in the red zone, which feels inexcusable from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, considering also it was an adjusted play call by Cooper and Prescott that created their long touchdown to force overtime.
Perhaps the trust the Cowboys showed in Schultz and Jarwin will lead to more red zone opportunities for tight ends, of which the Cowboys have no true middle-of-field threat.
- There is no reason for Prescott to be falling away on his first interception in the end zone, targeting an open Cooper to the back corner.
Prescott never saw Rasul Douglas break off his man and end up under a throw to Cooper that was placed in a horrible spot. Cooper was open, but thrown into coverage on a ball he never really came close to.
After another look at the play, it's even more disturbing to see Prescott's mechanics. Sliding in a clean pocket, Prescott was falling away slightly when he released the ball. The Cowboys defense would bail out Prescott after probably his most egregious turnover, forcing a three and out.
This was not the case after Prescott's second interception that turned into the Eagles first touchdown, or fumble that lead to a tying field goal.
- For as good a pass rushing duo as DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are, Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and Tyrone Crawford don't get enough credit for their all-around game.
Before kickoff, I wrote about the Cowboys not needing David Irving, who missed his sixth straight game. This is a compliment to not only Collins and Crawford, but Antwaun Woods as well. All three played their part in keeping the Eagles offense in check once again.
Crawford may be playing the best football of his seven-year career. No longer struggling to fit in as either a defensive end or tackle, Crawford is simply a leader by example for the Cowboys defense wherever he lines up.
Carson Wentz is a quarterback you have to make reset his feet defensively, and Crawford was able to force this a number of times. His speed rush ability paired with the power of Collins and Woods on the inside is incredibly disruptive for Dallas.
Following Maher's missed field goal, Crawford turned in one of the hustle plays of the season for the Cowboys to strip Wentz. Beating the left guard off the snap, Crawford dipped Jason Peters at left tackle on his way to a forced fumble that produced another field goal before the half.
This game was that close to having a first half all about the Cowboys taking advantage of Eagles mistakes, instead leaving points on the field and letting the Eagles punish second half mistakes on the way to overtime.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
With a win at the Colts, vs. the Buccaneers, or at the Giants the Cowboys will have gone from 3-5 to NFC East champions for 2018. The merits of just how good this division is will be worth discussing prior to the playoffs, but with two wins over the Eagles and one over the Redskins within an ongoing five game win streak, the Cowboys are objectively one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Amari Cooper has probably made six or seven plays "better" than his miraculous overtime touchdown, proving his worth more and more each week, though his winning score will surely be a lasting moment from the Cowboys week 14 win.
#DALvsPHI: Evaluating Jason Garrett’s 4th Down OT Decision
It's no secret that Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is the victim of much criticism among Cowboys Nation. Often called too conservative, or called out for "coaching scared," Garrett has gotten killed by the media throughout much of the 2018 season.
You could easily argue that Garrett cost the Cowboys the game against the Houston Texans, and even the first match up with Washington, but how this team has rallied over the last 5 weeks is a direct reflection of their head coach's character.
Last Sunday the Cowboys faced another one of those late game, fourth down decisions. It was fourth and 1 in overtime with just about 4 minutes left to play in the extra period. Dallas had driven the ball down the field for a potential field goal, but you know the fans wanted more.
The overtime rules state that if Dallas, who possessed the ball first, were to make a field goal, the Eagles would get the ball and a chance to score. This made the decision all-the-more interesting for Jason Garrett, who decided to pound the ball with Ezekiel Elliott for a first down. Elliott made a great individual effort on the play to dive forward for the conversion without much push from the offensive line.
Just a few plays later Dak Prescott would find Amari Cooper for the game winning touchdown, further vindicating Jason Garrett for his "gutsy" fourth down call.
Back when Garrett decided to punt in overtime against Houston, we all killed him, and I did so with my win probability numbers. But, with the decision going the other way against Philadelphia, let's examine what that same probability model says, and give Garrett credit where it is due.
Before any decision was made, with the Cowboys facing fourth and 1, the model had Dallas at a 72% chance of winning the game. Had they kicked the field goal, and made it, their win probability would have moved to just 73% (with decimal rounding). Basically, the kick, although it would put Dallas up 3 points, would have no change on their win probability.
If they had missed the fourth down conversion, their probability would have dropped down to 53%. Clearly this is a steep drop of nearly 20 percentage points, but they still wouldn't be in terrible position to win or tie the game. But, since they went for it and converted, their win probability jumped to 77%.
ESPN's win probability model was much more bullish on the Cowboys' chances, bringing their win probability to 95% after the fourth down conversion. Regardless of the model you use, converting that fourth down clearly made it very unlikely for Philadelphia to win the game.
So credit to Jason Garrett for making the call, and credit to Ezekiel Elliott for making good on the conversion.
Amari Cooper has Final Say on Trade Compensation in Cowboys Win
The big debate that occurred when the Dallas Cowboys made the move to acquire Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders, revolved around the trade compensation required for the Cowboys to complete the deal. Many thought that sending the Oakland Raiders a first round pick for Cooper to be too much, especially after it was rumored that the Philadelphia Eagles had offered a second round pick the week before. Well, after a huge game that saw Amari Cooper completely dominate the game, we can once and for all put this conversation to rest.
On the night, Amari Cooper caught 10 passes on 13 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns including the game winner in overtime. He came up with huge catches for first downs and touchdowns throughout the game and continues to show an important ability to get open at will. Even on Dak Prescott's first interception, Cooper was open heading into the end zone, but Dak left the ball a bit short allowing Rasul Douglas to make the play and take points off the board.
The Dallas Cowboys offense was listless for most of the game until Dak Prescott and Cooper hooked up for their first touchdown of the game, a 28 yard score that brought life to the offense. Cooper was left alone in man coverage. Cooper wasn't in the best position to catch the ball when it was released, but he used his elite speed and ball tracking skills to get into a better position and make the catch for the first of three go-ahead touchdowns.
Dak and Amari had to continue to hook up throughout the second half and overtime in order for the Cowboys to pull out the win and take a commanding two-game lead in the division. Cooper followed up his first score with a 75-yard touchdown reception to again give the Dallas Cowboys a seven point lead. After the game, Cooper talked about the play with the media.
After the game Amari Cooper talked about his 75-yard touchdown and how he originally had a stop route but Dak Prescott gave him a hand signal to run a go instead.
Again, Cooper gets a one on one matchup. Cooper is able to get down the sideline in a hurry and again use his ball tracking skills to find the ball in the air and get into a great position to make the catch and then hurry away from the defensive backs.
From the get go, you could tell that Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper have had a nice chemistry this season and that 75-yard touchdown reception is just further evidence of their connection. Amari Cooper took full advantage of a depleted Eagles secondary on Sunday and made some nice moves after the catch.
Sometimes being lucky is just as important as being good. On third and eight in overtime, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys were extremely lucky to come away with the victory on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cooper's concentration on the game-winning touchdown reception was really good, but this play could have gone a few terrible ways, but it didn't and the Cowboys came away with a victory that puts them in a commanding position in the NFC East.
Since he's come over from the Oakland Raiders, he's caught 40 passes on 50 targets for 641 yards and six touchdowns on the season. He's averaging 16 yards per reception and has caught 80% of his passes on the season. He also hasn't had a drop this season and is getting open with tremendously regularity.
Since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, they are 5-1 and are a win away from clinching the NFC East with three games to go. The offense has looked much more explosive in the last five games and have moved the ball more consistently over the last six games. In pretty much every way that you can evaluate the move, Amari Cooper has been excellent for the Dallas Cowboys and for the price of a first round draft pick, he's far exceeded his price tag.
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