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.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
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