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Cowboys Playoff Scenarios: Week 16 Impact Games

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

There are only two weeks left for the Dallas Cowboys to sneak back into the NFC playoffs. Along with winning their own remaining games, they need help from a couple of other teams. Today, we’ll look at all of the Week 16 games that could impact the Cowboys both this week and next.

A few days ago, I did a full breakdown of the scenarios that could allow Dallas to make the playoffs. That article was more of a global view of what needs to happen; this one will dive deeper into the Week 16 action and how some games could ripple into Week 17 in good or bad ways for the Cowboys.

To get started, here are the current NFC playoff seedings:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (11-3)
  3. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
  4. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
  5. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
  6. Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
    —————————————-
  7. Detroit Lions (8-6)
  8. Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
  9. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

TIEBREAKERS

  • The Rams are ahead of the Saints thanks to a head-to-head (H2H) tiebreaker.
  • The Saints are ahead of the Panthers thanks to a H2H tiebreaker.
  • The Lions (7-4) are ahead of the Seahawks (6-4) and Cowboys (6-4) because of having a better record against NFC opponents.
  • The Seahawks currently have a “strength of victory” tiebreaker over the Cowboys.

How can the Week 16 games help or hurt Dallas? And what is that strength of victory deal all about? Let’s get to it.

Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys

The strength-of-victory tiebreaker is based on the overall records of your competition. We could get into just how that was calculated between Seattle and Dallas, but it’s really irrelevant because they play each other week. This outcome will trump all other tiebreakers.

Whoever wins this game will have an insurmountable lead on the other thanks to the H2H tiebreaker. What’s more, it’s an elimination game for the loser. For the Cowboys and Seahawks, the playoffs have already started.

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers

How does a Vikings win or loss effect the Cowboys? It doesn’t directly, but it may decide just how much effort the Philadelphia Eagles put into their Week 17 game against Dallas.

If the Eagles can clinch the #1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs this week, that will allow them to rest key players when they play the Cowboys next week. They may not do that given their first-round bye, but at least it gives them the option. A Vikings loss on Saturday night would hand the NFC’s top spot to Philly.

Oakland Raiders @ Philadelphia Eagles

The good news is that even if the Vikings win this week, Philly can still clinch the top seed with a victory over the Raiders. They would have a better overall record and conference record than Minnesota going into Week 17. Even if the Eagles lost to Dallas, they would retain a common games tiebreaker over the Vikings thanks to Minnesota’s Week 14 loss to Carolina. The Eagles beat the Panthers in Week 6.

Again, we don’t know if clinching everything in Week 16 would lead to Philly resting players against the Cowboys. They may want to be the ones to put the final nail in Dallas’ coffin this year. They may want to give Nick Foles another game to find his momentum going into the tournament.

So yeah, none of this may end up mattering. But clearly, it’s far better that the Eagles have the conservative option than not.

Detroit Lions @ Cincinnati Bengals

The most likely scenario for Dallas to make the playoffs is that one of the Falcons, Panthers, or Saints go 0-2. For that to work, the Lions also have to lose one of their remaining two games. If both Dallas and Detroit finish 10-6, the Lions would have a common games tiebreaker over Dallas (explained here) and would get in over them.

The Lions have this road game in Cincy and then a home game against the Packers next week. While road games comes with an inherent disadvantage, the Bengals are in a bad place now with the announcement of  Marvin Lewis’ departure after the season. Will they have any motivation or chemistry, or will the lame duck coach and lost season make them easy pickings for Detroit?

Los Angeles Rams @ Tennessee Titans

Even though they have the two-game lead now over Seattle, the Rams still haven’t clinched the NFC West. If they were to lose out and Seattle wins their last two, the Seahawks would take the division.

The Rams play in an early Sunday game. If they win, they will clinch the division just before the Cowboys and Seahawks kick off. It may not mean much, but it could be an emotional kick in the nuts for Seattle and take some wind out of their sails for the game. Every little bit helps, right?

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints

Now we get to the nitty-gritty. Whoever loses this game needs to also lose in Week 17 to help the Cowboys. So the question of who you want to win here really comes down to who is more likely to lose their next one.

The Falcons host the 10-4 Panthers in Week 17. The Saints travel to face 4-10 Tampa Bay.

Even with the home and road difference, that disparity between Carolina and Tampa as opponents would make it seem Atlanta is far more likely to go 0-2. What’s more, the Panthers should still be trying to win the NFC South and a playoff home game next week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

Win or lose here, the Panthers should still be fighting in Week 17. Ideally, they will win this one and be contending for the NFC South title when they go to Atlanta next week. If they lose, the Panthers will be fighting to stay in the playoffs. Dallas benefits either way.

The nightmare scenario is one where the NFC South teams all go 1-1 and block Dallas from the playoffs. We’re just going to hope that doesn’t happen.

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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!

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1 Comment
  • Russ_Te

    It gets a lot more simple next week of course. The Cowboys have to bring the A game each week and let it unfold as it will. If they squeak in, it will be on a 5-game win streak. Definite dark horse in that case & clearly could advance. Nobody wants to face the Cowboys running game at full strength.

    The Seahawks were embarrassed last week at home by the Rams, in a game they needed, and I doubt are right mentally coming in to this game.

    I would work Elliott back in with fewer than 20 touches this week, and lots of play action and bootlegs. The receivers have to cash it in by winning on their routes if that’s the gameplan.

    Russell Wilson is today’s Fran Tarkenton with that scramble & tuck-under game. Jaylon Smith may be the perfect LB to spy it with his speed. And a big game would go a long way to set up Smith for next year.

    The team used Jameill Showers this week to emulate Wilson in practice >
    http://www.star-telegram.com/sports/nfl/dallas-cowboys/article191304669.html

Dallas Cowboys

Should Cowboys Pursue Veteran Backup at Quarterback?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys en Español: Cooper Rush
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys only have two quarterbacks under contract right now, starter Dak Prescott and backup Cooper Rush. With only three years of combined experience between them, one could argue that a veteran presence would be useful. Should Dallas make a veteran QB a free-agent priority in the 2018 offseason?

Of course, there’s plenty of other QB experience on the Cowboys staff. Head Coach Jason Garrett played professionally from 1989-2004, and started his coaching career with quarterbacks.

Scott Linehan has been coaching offense with an emphasis on the passing game for 30 years.

Kellen Moore, who is taking over for the departed Wade Wilson as quarterbacks coach, has played very recently and will bring a fresh perspective.

However, losing Wilson’s experience from the room, and the lack of any veteran player at QB, shouldn’t be dismissed.

Dak Prescott has said veteran Mark Sanchez — who was with Dallas in 2016 — was a major help during his whirlwind rookie season. Tony Romo enjoyed veteran advice from guys like Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton throughout his playing career.

This isn’t to say Dallas would want to bring in a veteran to knock Cooper Rush down the depth chart. After a surprising preseason, Rush took the backup job from Kellen Moore and certainly has intriguing upside.

If the Cowboys were to add a veteran, that player would have to come in with the understanding he’s competing with Cooper and may not be guaranteed a job.

The good news is that it’ll be a buyer’s market for veteran quarterbacks this offseason.

Guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, and Matt Moore could all be available. Even a player with more pedigree, such as Sam Bradford, may have trouble finding starting work with many jobs taken among the NFL’s 32 teams.

Dallas could even consider bringing back Mark Sanchez, given his previous relationship with Dak Prescott. He only had a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.

Given Prescott’s seeming durability, Dallas will likely only keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in 2018 and for years to come. Because of that, they may be content to focus on Dak and Cooper Rush, and just get through the offseason with training camp bodies.

However, the case can certainly be made for adding another veteran player with the desire to teach to help these young quarterbacks develop. Prescott was not the same guy in 2017 that we saw as a rookie, and perhaps the absence of guys like Sanchez and Tony on the sideline had something to do with that.

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Dallas Cowboys

Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal is a Good Hire for Cowboys

Kevin Brady

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Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal Is A Good Hire For Cowboys

Yesterday, it was announced that the Dallas Cowboys will hire Sanjay Lal to be their new wide receivers coach. Lal spent 2017 with the Indianapolis Colts in the same position, but has made multiple stops around the NFL prior to joining the Cowboys staff.

Most recently and arguably most notably, Sanjay Lal was the receivers coach for both the New York Jets (2012-2014) and the Buffalo Bills (2015-2016). This means he coached on Rex Ryan’s staff for two different teams, with two very similar offensive philosophies.

Run the football.

As seen in the video below, Sanjay Lal has experience working as the wide outs coach for an offense with a run-first philosophy. He even says himself that their offense in New York was “ground and pound,” but notes that “without a pass game there’s no pound.”

Cowboys fans became all too familiar with the truth behind that statement during the 2017 season, as even solid efforts in the run game were rendered meaningless by their lack of explosion through the air.

Jets Nation Inside Camp: Sanjay Lal Mic’d Up

Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal is mic’d up during training camp, and also discusses trying to play pro football before becoming a coach in the NFL.

A lot has been made of Sanjay Lal’s lack of 1,000-yard receivers during his time as a coach. The offensive philosophies of the teams which he coached for, however, show why this criticism is flimsy.

It’s quite possible the Cowboys will once again be without a 1,000 yard pass catcher this season, but if Ezekiel Elliott and the run game are clicking, and Dak Prescott is spreading the ball to different targets, this stat won’t mean a thing.

Lal was also the coach in Buffalo when Sammy Watkins had the best years of his career, including a 1,000-yard season.

During that stint he coached Robert Woods to productive seasons as well. Now Woods is a dangerous target for the Los Angeles Rams after being coached by Lal for multiple seasons.

These were also the same years that quarterback Tyrod Taylor was at his best.

While in New York, with the Jets, Lal’s most productive receiver was Jeremy Kerley, who finished with 827 yards in 2012 and 523 in 2013. What’s important to note here is that Kerley played as a slot receiver for much of his time as a Jet.

The Cowboys lacked any type of production from the slot in 2017, but maybe Lal can change that by getting the best out of Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer, as he did with Kerley.

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

Know that some believe he had a real shot to be an OC in this league one day. https://t.co/1s21w2jZGR

All indications from those “in the know” suggest Sanjay Lal is on his way to becoming an offensive coordinator soon. Many believe he has the smarts and the football IQ to command an offense himself, as soon as he gets the right opportunity.

Maybe that opportunity will come down the line in Dallas, where he can continue to coach within that “ground and pound” style, which he has done for many years while also implementing elements of his own passing game expertise.

Everyone has been critical of the Cowboys’ inability to bring in external hires, and to spark up new/creative offensive ideas. Lal has spent time among some of the smartest offensive minds in football.

Maybe he’s the man to bring in that outside creativity this offense seems to lack.

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Dallas Cowboys

Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

Sean Martin

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Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

After hiring Paul Alexander to fill their vacant OL coaching position, the Dallas Cowboys are continuing to retool their offensive staff below Scott Linehan. Sanjay Lal has been hired to coach the Cowboys’ wide receivers, replacing Derek Dooley.

Lal has experience as a WR coach with four different teams, dating back to 2009 with the Oakland Raiders. He was promoted up to this position after serving as the Raiders’ quality control coach from 2007-08.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys have reached an agreement with Sanjay Lal to become the team’s WR coach. Lal was with Indianapolis last season and replaces Derek Dooley on the staff.

Most recently, Sanjay Lal coached the receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He has also been with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

In this interview with the Colts, Lal mentions being very detail-oriented with a focus on the technical aspects of playing receiver.

Lal beats out former Cowboys WR Miles Austin for this position, earning the right to lead a room of receivers in desperate need of fresh talent. In an offseason that’s been about finding fresh ideas with the coaching staff so far though, the Cowboys have a new voice on offense.

Tell us what you think about “Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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