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:
- Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (11-3)
- Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
- New Orleans Saints (10-4)
- Carolina Panthers (10-4)
- Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
- Detroit Lions (8-6)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
- Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
- 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.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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