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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.



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

Game Notes

Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle

Sean Martin

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Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle 1

Through just two games, the Dallas Cowboys addition of Kris Richard to their revamped coaching staff appears to be the team's best move of the offseason. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli revealed that Richard is calling the team's plays on defense, which explains their attacking style of play so far.

It was the Cowboys blitzes that disrupted the Giants offense enough for Dallas to earn their first win a week ago. With the schedule set up favorably for the Cowboys to build off this win, Richard must lead his defense past his old team in Seattle for Sunday's week three match up.

On paper, the Cowboys defense should be able to limit the Seahawks thanks to their strong pass rush and lengthy secondary. Welcoming back Xavier Woods at safety, the Cowboys are getting even better in the back end against the Seahawks, allowing Richard to throw even more looks at Seattle with his front seven.

Starting wide receiver Doug Baldwin and guard Ethan Pocic will both miss this game for the Seahawks.

With an offense still trying to find its footing though, Richard' profound impact on the Cowboys staff has extended past the defensive side of the ball this week. Perhaps the most criticized Cowboys coach this season, Offensive Coordiator Scott Linehan has sat down with Richard to study the Seahawks defense - coordinated by Richard against the Cowboys specifically.

Kate Hairopoulos on Twitter

Scott Linehan and Kris Richard have been spending a good chunk of time together this week dissecting Seattle's approach. Richard obviously knows Seahawks well. Linehan said Richard has great recall, taking him through each play of teams' previous games.

At 1-1, the Cowboys are still looking to put a complete game on the field and prove they deserve to sit atop the NFC East. The defense being their strongest unit through an ugly loss in Carolina and grind-it-out win against the Giants, Linehan's offense creating some explosive plays against the Seahawks could be all the Cowboys need to exit CenturyLink field as winners on Sunday.

Since Linehan officially took over as the Cowboys OC, he is 0-2 against Seahawks defenses coordinated by Richard. When Kris left Seattle, it was believed that he got out at the right time, with the Seahawks defense declining in talent ever since 2015 (his first year as DC).

The NFL's top scoring defense in 2015, the Seahawks were a full point per game worse in 2016, and nearly 2.5 points worse than that in 2017. So far this season, the Seahawks have allowed 27 points to Case Keenum's Broncos and 24 to the Mitch Trubisky lead Chicago Bears.

Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle

The Cowboys biggest problem against Richard's defenses had been finishing drives, something they improved on against the Giants last week. Both Cowboys losses coming at home, the Seahawks kept Dallas out of the end zone in both week eight of 2015 and week 17 a year ago.

Last year's loss to the Seahawks should still sting those at The Star who saw a desperate push for the playoffs hit a wall against Seattle's defense - holding the Cowboys to 282 yards in Ezekiel Elliott's return from suspension.

Not having to rely solely on motivation for revenge while sitting back and trusting Elliott to carry them, Richard could be the key to the Cowboys passing game finding some rhythm. After all, his official title beyond "offseason steal" is Passing Game Coordinator - a position occupied previously by Linehan himself back in 2014.

With a win, similarly to 2014 when the Cowboys came out of Seattle victorious, Dallas would go a long way in earning respect around the league.

This goes for both the offense, where the Cowboys will remain a work in progress regardless of result, and on defense where Dallas can expect Maliek Collins (knee) and David Irving (suspension) to return in the coming weeks.

Kris Richard's focus has been on bettering the Cowboys since they added him to the organization with a clear path up the ranks. Just how far Richard ascends, and how quickly, will depend on the Cowboys performance - expecting to be more than ready for the challenge ahead this week thanks to the coach responsible for building the "Legion of Boom".

The Cowboys kickoff in Seattle being FOX's game of the week, this team has never been one to back away from the spotlight, and winning under it with Richard on the sideline would give the Cowboys all the momentum they need returning home for week four.

Tell us what you think about "Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle" 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

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming into their week two match up against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys knew they could control the game with -- for the first time in years against Eli Manning -- their pass rush and strong secondary. Exposing a weak Giants offensive line went well beyond the Cowboys front four in this win though.

The Cowboys put Manning on the turf six times, with Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard relentlessly dialing up pressure. With the depth at linebacker to match up with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram, along with Byron Jones' efforts on Odell Beckham Jr., it's no secret how the Cowboys defense forced Manning to dump the ball to his running back for 14 receptions.

Barkley's longest catch going for ten yards, this was a nearly flawless game for Rod Marinelli's defense to even the Cowboys record at 1-1. Expecting much of the same from their front seven against a poor Seahawks OL, now is a good time to look back at some of the pressure packages the Cowboys used in week two.

With a core of versatile linebackers they can trust, the Cowboys deployed Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, and Leighton Vander Esch all over the field to present the Giants with different looks. What made the Cowboys defensive play calling so successful was their LBs ability to cover ground quickly and create depth in coverage.

By doing so, the Giants could not take any chances down the field, their longest passing play going for 37 yards.

Blitz1

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

On this play, even with the Giants looking to get the ball out quickly, the pressure from Smith and Wilson disrupt the timing. Sean Lee, the only Cowboys linebacker not sent after Manning on the play, ends up rallying from his starting WILL position to get in on the tackle. The Giants did not have the numbers up front to block Damien Wilson attacking from SAM, although more impressively, Smith was able to rip through a partial block from the right guard and get ahead of Wilson on their rush.

Blitz2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This next blitz shows off the Cowboys strong coverage downfield against the Giants. Cornerback Anthony Brown had his fingerprints all over this game in the back end for Dallas, but on this play comes out of the slot after Manning. Sensing the pressure at his feet, Manning steps up and actually puts himself in position to deliver a good ball, but is forced into yet another check down.

While linebacker blitzes are part of the "Richard effect" on the Cowboys defense, a well-timed slot blitz is a staple of Rod Marinelli's scheme. Using Brown a number of times in this role off the strong side, the Giants had no answers for the different pressures Dallas sent their way against Ereck Flowers at right tackle.

Blitz3

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Even when Smith was picked up, as he was in the above play, the Cowboys capitalized on missed blocking assignments to get home with their front four. Taco Charlton the benefactor at RDE here, watch as Barkley rushes to keep Lee from having a straight run at his QB - allowing Charlton to do the same off the edge. Running untouched on the play, Charlton does a nice job taking a sharp angle to Manning and chasing him to the ground.

Blitz4

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

As much as the Cowboys cornerbacks were a huge part of the team's confidence in sending pressure, their safeties also performed well in coverage. I wrote about the above play on Monday morning in my Sean's Scout that immediately follows every Cowboys game:

"That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench."

Heath picking up Engram is just one example of a Cowboys defender exceeding expectations in coverage. Smith was able to run with Beckham Jr., as was Charlton on separate plays later in the game.

Blitz6

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

The only fitting way to conclude this film study is with a DeMarcus Lawrence sack. The Cowboys best individual defender, Lawrence had his way with Flowers as we all expected. Playing to another one of Tank's strengths here though, Lawrence rushes to the inside off a well-executed T/E stunt with Tyrone Crawford.

Also sending Brown at Manning again, the Giants pass pro leaves Lawrence unabated to the quarterback. Unlikely to escape the grasp of Lawrence on such a free rush, Manning does try to abort the pocket, but had Brown crashing down on him to collapse things.

Lawrence might not earn many easier sacks this season. None of the Cowboys starters on defense are more capable of using their own ability to get to the QB than Lawrence still, who is getting all the help he needs from Richard as his play caller.

Through just two games, the Cowboys commitment to forcing the issue on defense has potential to keep this team atop the NFC East as the offense comes into its own.

Depending on the development of their own passing game, this may have to be a defense that can win Dallas games. The only way to do so is with sacks and turnovers.

The latter is something Marinelli's defenses have always excelled at when at full strength (the Cowboys are expecting Randy Gregory back as early as this week and DT David Irving comes off suspension in week five). The former is something the Cowboys are creating with a deeply talented front seven, orchestrated by one of the best in the business.

The Cowboys will look to build on their nine sacks this season against the Seahawks on Sunday, a team that's allowed the most in the league at 12. Their timing to go after Russell Wilson will be tested more than it was against the Giants, with Richard also better positioned to aid the Cowboys against his former team.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Player News

Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Facing Multi-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Terrance Williams
Ric Tapia via AP

An arrest last May for public intoxication may finally result in a suspension for Dallas Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, who reported the pending suspension, outlined the details of Williams' case. Charges were ultimately dropped once Terrance completed an alcohol education course and paid damages to the city.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/3RmwQOllim via @sportsdaydfw

However, as Cowboys fans know too well, the NFL reserves the right to suspend players under the Personal Conduct Policy regardless of legal outcomes. The 2017 season was marred by the league's persecution of Ezekiel Elliott for domestic violence despite no arrests or charges coming from any legal or police entity.

In Williams' case, there's no dispute of his guilt. It is unlikely he will appeal any decision the NFL makes.

The potential that Terrance will be missing for 2-4 games helps explain the Cowboys' move earlier this week to bring back WR Brice Butler. With both currently active, Dallas has an unusually high seven receivers on their 53-man roster.

It's already Friday, so the suspension is doubtful to come for this week's game in Seattle. But Terrance could easily be one of the seven inactive players on game day, having received the fewest snaps of any Cowboys WR last week against the Giants.

We'll see soon enough, likely as soon as next week, just what the league has in store for Terrance Williams.



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