We're at the halfway point of the 2018 NFL season and the playoffs are starting come into focus. Therefore, starting now and for as long as the Dallas Cowboys have a shot at making the tournament, we will start a weekly breakdown of the scenarios and games that can impact their playoff positioning.
This early on, nobody is technically eliminated from the playoffs yet. But teams like the 49ers and Giants with a 1-7 record, or even the Cardinals at 2-6, aren't really worth talking about.
So, barring some incredible fluke, here are the NFC teams currently competing for playoff spots and where they'd finish if the season ended now:
- Los Angeles Rams (8-0)
- New Orleans Saints (6-1)
- Washington Redskins (5-2)
- Chicago Bears (4-3)
- Carolina Panthers (5-2)
- Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
- Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1)
- Green Bay Packers (3-3-1)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
- Atlanta Falcons (3-4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)
- Dallas Cowboys (3-4)
- Detroit Lions (3-4)
- The Packers are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Falcons are ahead of Bucs, Cowboys, and Lions thanks to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Bucs are ahead of the Cowboys thanks to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Cowboys are ahead of the Lions thanks to a head-to-head victory in Week 4.
Last week, I wrote about how winning the NFC East would likely be Dallas only road to the playoffs. The current standings really drive that point home; Dallas is not only behind Carolina and Seattle in record, but has head-to-head losses to both teams this season.
It will be much easier for Dallas to catch up to Washington, who they get to play again to erase that tiebreaker, than the non-division teams. Even if the Panthers or Seahawks falter, there are a lot of other teams between them and the Cowboys who could scoop up those Wild Card spots.
Week 9 has some intriguing matchups that could cause movement in these standings. Let's take a look at the schedule:
Chicago Bears @ Buffalo Bills
The Cowboys need some of those NFC North teams to start losing. The Bears are the division leader right now by a hair, and they're still the team with the least proven quarterback.
It's still early enough that a lot can happen, with some teams like Chicago still having nine games left on the schedule. If Dallas can't win the division, they are counting on few teams' seasons to take an ugly turn.
Unfortunately, the 2-6 Bills aren't likely to give Chicago much trouble.
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings
As long as they don't get ahead of Dallas in overall record, the Lions can hang losses on their division rivals all they want. Thanks to beating Detroit in week 4, the Cowboys would be happy to watch them cause trouble for the rest of the NFC North.
Again, this is all about clearing a path for a Wild Card spot if needed. It's not the best bet for Dallas making the playoffs, but it'd be nice to have an alternative route.
Atlanta Falcons @ Washington Redskins
A Falcons win is clearly the lesser of evils from the Cowboys' perspective. While it does keep them ahead of Dallas in the playoff standings, it brings the Redskins down a peg in the far more important NFC East race.
It will be a strength vs strength matchup between the Atlanta offense and Washington defense. I would argue that the Redskins have been more lucky than good this year, and hopefully the Falcon will expose that while giving the Cowboys some help.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers
If a non-division team has a head-to-head tiebreaker over you, you root for them to either win their division or drop out of the race. With the Saints looking like the class of the NFC South, Dallas needs for the Panthers to start losing.
Like we discussed with the Atlanta-Washington game, Tampa Bay winning is ultimately better for the Cowboys right now. Dallas gets chances to one-up the Falcons and Bucs later this season.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Seattle Seahawks
Any Seattle losses are great going forward, and especially if they don't benefit another NFC teams. With the Rams unlikely to fall out of the top spot in the NFC West, we need the Seahawks to plummet out of the Wild Card mix.
There is almost never a scenario where you'd root for the NFC team to beat an AFC opponent. It would take one convoluted mess of a situation for that to work in Dallas' favor.
Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints
With both of these teams likely winning their divisions, the outcome here doesn't help the Cowboys much one way or the other. However, you might favor the Rams for one slight reason.
The Rams have nearly a three-game edge on Seattle in their division, while the Saints are only one game up on the Panthers. Dallas still has New Orleans on its schedule in Week 13, but have already lost to the Panthers.
Therefore, in terms of just avoiding a head-to-head tiebreaker down the road, Dallas at least has a shot at getting one on the Saints. They've already lost that chance with Carolina, who they'd prefer to just win the NFC South to keep them out of the Wild Cards.
Green Bay Packers @ New England Patriots
Again, no reason to root against the AFC. It clearly behooves the Cowboys for the Packers to fall behind them in the standings.
Tennessee Titans @ Dallas Cowboys
As always, none of this really matters if Dallas doesn't handle its own business. They have a great chance to get back to .500 with the Titans visiting.
A win here pulls Dallas even with the Eagles at 4-4, with Philly currently on their bye week. If Washington does fall to the Falcons, that means a 5-3 record for the Skins. Things get very close again in the NFC East.
So yeah, all the other stuff around the NFC is great if it goes out way. But a Dallas win and a Washington loss would more than suffice for Week 9.
REPORT: Cowboys WR Michael Gallup Out 2-4 Weeks After Knee Surgery
Two games into a seeming breakout season, Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Michael Gallup will now be out for the next 2-4 weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He suffered the injury late into the Cowboys' victory over the Washington Redskins yesterday.
An MRI revealed the extent of the injury today. There were hopes that Gallup had only suffered a contusion, but unfortunately he will be out at least a couple of games after requiring this minor knee procedure.
Gallup is the team leader in catches (13) and receiving yards (226) after the first two weeks of the 2019 season.
Sources: #Cowboys promising WR Michael Gallup is having arthroscopic surgery to trim his meniscus, knocking him out 2-4 weeks. No structural damage besides the meniscus tear, so the return should be quick.
The Cowboys still have Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb as a strong starting duo. They also hope to get Tavon Austin back this week after he was inactive in Washington with concussion issues.
Gallup's absence could be big for Devin Smith, who had a 51-yard touchdown catch against the Redskins and should see more work in the coming weeks. It also may prompt Dallas to keep prospect Cedrick Wilson, just called up from the practice squad a week ago, on the 53-man roster a while longer.
Despite this depth, Michael Gallup will still be missed for however long he's out. Hopefully he can return on the quick side of the projection and keep his 2019 momentum going.
Robert Quinn Returns; How Will Cowboys Make Room on Roster?
Defensive End Robert Quinn, who the Cowboys traded for during the offseason, will make his Dallas debut this week after serving a two-game suspension to start 2019. To add Quinn to the 53 for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys will need to make some kind of move to create a roster spot.
The question now is how Dallas makes that room. Who winds up leaving the team this week to create that spot for Quinn?
Ideally, the Cowboys will be able to find a trade partner for the disgruntled Taco Charlton. The former 1st-Round pick has been targeted for a while now, and trade rumors have intensified after Taco's been inactive for the first two games of the regular season.
Unfortunately, the goal of moving Charlton before Quinn comes back is something the rest of the NFL is also aware of. If a team does have interest, why trade for Taco now when you can potentially just claim him off waivers in a few more days? The Cowboys are the ones with the deadline.
Trading Taco, or releasing him if a trade doesn't materialize in the next few days, is the most logical solution here. It not only get Charlton out of Dallas and fresh start somewhere else, but it all takes place within the defensive end position. One DE out to make room for another; makes sense, right?
But let's say that the Cowboys aren't ready to just lose Charlton for nothing, or aren't satisfied with the trade offers they get. Could they elect to hang on to Taco and create that roster spot some other way?
If that's the case then the move will likely come at another position on the roster. Dallas isn't going to part with any other young prospects at DE like Dorance Armstrong or Joe Jackson. They also may have just lost DT Antwaun Woods for a while with a knee sprain coming out of the Redskins game, so the Cowboys won't like losing any additional defensive line depth right now.
The easiest move would be cutting Cedrick Wilson, who was just added last week off the practice squad. Dallas called Wilson up for punt return duties while Tavon Austin recovers from a concussion.
Assuming Austin is able to come back this week, Wilson's release is the simplest way to create a roster spot. It buys Dallas time and leverage in handling the Taco Charlton situation and doesn't force their hand.
One x-factor here is how Michael Gallup's knee is doing after yesterday's game. If there's any thought that Gallup might need a week off, especially with the hapless Miami Dolphins on the schedule, perhaps Dallas wants to keep Wilson for one more week for WR depth.
I think the Cowboys would be fine going with just four receivers in Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, and Devin Smith if they have to. But if there is a reason that they want to hang on to Cedrick for this week, that would mean looking elsewhere for a roster spot.
Another option could be on the offensive line, where Dallas is currently heavy with ten total linemen and two guys who've been inactive in both regular season games. Backups Adam Redmond and Brandon Knight haven't suited up against New York or Washington, so there is a certain level of expendability there.
Dallas went long on OL depth this year due to concerns about Zack Martin's back and the 2020 free agency of Joe Looney and Xaver Su'a-Filo. They didn't want to risk losing either Redmond or Knight from the practice squad.
But with the season now well underway, the Cowboys may feel more confident in being able to move one of those prospects and slip under most teams' radars.
A final area to consider for a roster move is safety. With Darian Thompson and Donovan Wilson both returning from preseason ankle injuries, Dallas now has five total safeties in addition to five cornerbacks.
The Cowboys have have always intended to keep this many total defensive backs, but it's more than they usually have in previous seasons. The general feeling at final cuts was that Kavon Frazier kept his job due to the injuries to Thompson and Wilson, and his time on the roster might be short-lived after they got healthy.
Frazier is a strong special teams player but hasn't ever broken through on defense, and his rookie deal expires at the end of this season. Assuming that Donovan Wilson is able to fill the void on kickoff and punt coverage, Kavon becomes another expendable player this week.
Again, the ideal move will be to find a new home for Taco Charlton and make the easy swap within the defensive end position. Robert Quinn comes in, boosts the first-team talent, and increases the depth via ripple effect.
But as we just illustrated, the Cowboys have other options beyond dumping their former 1st-Round pick. They could find a roster spot at receiver, safety, or on the offensive line and then keep looking for Taco trade partners for the next several weeks.
Time will tell, and ultimately the player lost is probably someone who wouldn't have been active this week or most weeks to come. Just don't assume it's going to be Taco Charlton; there are still plenty of ways this could go.
However it shakes out, we're just glad to finally see Robert Quinn out there and hopefully improving the Cowboys' pass rush.
The Brady Report: Cowboys Offense Dominant Despite Slow Start
The Dallas Cowboys followed up their dominant performance last week with yet another blowout divisional win on Sunday, defeating the Washington Redskins 31-21.
While the Cowboys controlled the game for much of the last three quarters, they actually got off to a slow start in Washington. Once again they fell behind to a lesser team 7-0 early, before scoring on nearly every possession to finish off the game.
Let's get into my game notes from the Cowboys' week two win.
- We have to start these game notes by talking about Dak Prescott. The Cowboys franchise quarterback was incredible for the second straight week to open this season. Despite the early interception, Prescott continued to look poised and calm in the pocket, allowing him to deliver a dime to Devin Smith for the team's first touchdown. Prescott was picking apart the Redskins secondary during the final three quarters to the tune of 269 yards and three touchdowns. Plus, he was very effective as a runner, including his dynamic 42 yard run on third down and one with the game still tied. If Dak is going to play like this, the Cowboys can beat anyone.
- Ezekiel Elliott looked a lot more comfortable Sunday than he did against the Giants. Not only were his raw numbers better, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown, he was back to his ways of falling forward and avoiding the first tackler. He still didn't really explode the way we all know he can, which means opposing defenses should be scared when considering what the Cowboys offense's full potential could be.
- Which receiver didn't ball out Sunday? Michael Gallup seems to be developing an awesome rapport with Prescott, Amari Cooper continues to prove he's a legit WR1, Randall Cobb was once again effective on swing passes and in the slot, and even Devin Smith had himself a monster game. If Devin Smith is going to be the speed deep threat he was against Washington, look out.
- Ok, now that I've congratulated the majority of the offense, let's talk about the one guy who I'm sure would've liked to have a better day. Left guard Connor Williams. The second year guard was solid overall Sunday, but was abused by Daron Payne from time to time. Most notably, Payne went right through Williams both to force Prescott's interception and on the only sack of the game. Williams has to be better going forward, because he is the clear weak link across this dynamic offensive line right now. Luckily, as a whole, this line has been very good through two games.
- Defensively, things could've gone better for the Cowboys. While a lot of the production through the air came through garbage time, Terry McLaurin was still too effective down the field. Chris Thompson was also getting too much YAC against these defenders. Anthony Brown had a rough day in the slot, missing multiple tackles and not being too great in coverage either. Jourdan Lewis, however, did have himself a good game in limited snaps. Both he and Byron Jones made impressive open field tackles on third downs.
- The Cowboys run defense stepped up from a week ago. The tackling of their front seven overall improved as the game went on, and they held Adrian Peterson to just 25 yards on the ground. Part of this was because of how quickly the Cowboys got to their 21-7 lead in the third quarter, but they were solid nonetheless.
- Dallas' pass rush will benefit greatly from Robert Quinn's return next week against Miami. DeMarcus Lawrence created a couple big pressures on Sunday, but Quinn's presence should help free him up a bit to create more of a consistent pass rush.
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