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.
LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys
In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.
Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…
"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."
Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:
The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.
If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).
As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.
While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.
The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.
Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.
So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.
In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.
But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.
Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.
When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.
No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.
We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.
That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.
This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.
But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
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