The Dallas Cowboys already know that they will be the NFC's fourth seed in the 2018 playoffs. They know that they will get a home game in the first round. But beyond the, the Week 17 schedule still has a say in Dallas' playoff future.
Only the Cowboys and Saints are locked into their current playoff spots. New Orleans has clinched the top seed in the NFC and will enjoy the first-round bye and home field advantage that comes with it.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- New Orleans Saints (13-2)
- Los Angeles Rams (12-3)
- Chicago Bears (11-4)
- Dallas Cowboys (9-6)
- Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
- Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1)
- Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
- The Cowboys lost to Seattle earlier this year, but still remain the 4th seed as a division winner over a wild card team.
The number-two spot in the playoff bracket is still up for grabs between the Bears and Rams. And yes, sadly, the Eagles still have a shot at getting into the tournament.
For the Cowboys, we still aren't sure who's coming to Dallas in the first round. It's down to the Seattle Seahawks or Minnesota Vikings.
The playoff picture will be complete in just a few days. Here are this week's impact games involving the NFC playoff contenders:
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins
The Eagles need a Vikings loss (vs Bears) and a win to make the playoffs. Both games are in the late afternoon, so Philly won't have the luxury of knowing what happened in Minnesota before they kick off in Washington.
In fact, all of the games involving the five undecided NFC teams have late-afternoon starts. Nobody will get to take a breather except for Dallas and New Orleans this Sunday.
With the way that the Eagles have looked since Nick Foles retook the QB position, I think everyone in the NFC would rather them not get into the playoffs. That is especially true for the Cowboys, who would be hard-pressed to beat their division rival three times in one season.
But even if Philly does make it, the earliest Dallas could see them would be in the NFC Championship. The Eagles can be no higher than the 6th seed, and that means they would face either the Bears or Rams in the first-round.
And if Dallas could actually get to the conference title game, I'd take Philly, the '72 Dolphins, or anyone else you want to put in that matchup.
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
The Bears need a win and a Rams loss to move up into the #2 spot in the playoffs and earn a first-round bye. They won't be taking this game lightly.
However, Minnesota will be fighting just to stay in the tournament. With the Eagles likely to beat the Redskins, the Vikings have no cushion here to lose. This might as well be their first playoff game.
Interestingly, we could easily be seeing this same matchup next week. If the Bears stay in the #3 seed and the Vikings are #6, they would face each other again in Chicago for the first round.
San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams
The Rams can't catch the Saints for the #1 seed now, but they can secure their #2 spot with a win. But the 49ers come to town looking better than they have all year, beating the Seahawks two weeks ago and staying competitive with the Bears in last week's loss.
Los Angeles isn't firing on all cylinders right now. Jared Goff is struggling and Todd Gurley is hurt, making them vulnerable for an upset.
If the 49ers don't pack it in and try to help their draft position, this one could be more interesting than you'd think.
Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks
Seattle would secure the #5 seed and a first-round trip to Dallas with a win this week. They beat the Cowboys back in Week 3, but Dallas is a better team now than they were in September.
However, they're still a more favorable matchup than the Bears. The Seahawks lost to Chicago in Week 2 and the Bears are arguably better now than they were then.
If the Seahawks were to lose, it would open the door for the Vikings to move up to the fifth spot. That would send Minnesota to play the Cowboys and Seattle to Chicago in the first round.
~ ~ ~
So as it stands, Dallas' playoff path should start with a home game against the Seahawks. Their next stop would depend on the outcome of the "#3 vs. #6" matchup. But given our playoff history these last two decades, just getting that first win is plenty to focus on.
Like the Cowboys themselves, we all just have to sit back and wait to see what happens. But it's warmly comforting to know that, no matter what, we're going be playing some football in January.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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