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.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Sign Free Agent Safety George Iloka
The Dallas Cowboys have reached a one-year agreement with Safety George Iloka, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Iloka spent 2018 with the Vikings after six years with the Bengals.
He's started 79 of his 99 career games since being a fifth-round pick by Cincinnati in 2012. Iloka turns 29 years old next week.
The Cowboys have agreed to a one-year deal with safety George Iloka, according to a source. Iloka met with the Cowboys on Friday and was the third safety to meet with the club during the week along with Clayton Geathers and Eric Berry. The Cowboys have... https://t.co/JB5nJLWepc
This isn't the safety that most Cowboys fans wanted. After over a year of pining for Earl Thomas, sights turned to Eric Berry after his free agent visit in Dallas last week.
However, it makes sense that Iloka would be attractive to the Cowboys. At 6'4" and 225 lbs, he fits the physical mold of what Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard likes in his players. He also is younger than Berry and Thomas without the same recent injury issues.
Iloka becomes one of many Boise St. products on Dallas' roster, joining Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and others. He entered the league with college teammates Crawford and Kellen Moore, the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator, in 2012.
We'll have to wait and see how George Iloka fits into the current mix at safety with Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. He spent most of 2018 as a backup with Minnesota, but Dallas will likely give him a chance to start.
What to Expect from Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Group in 2019
In a span of a week, the Dallas Cowboys have solidified their wide receiver group with the resigning of Tavon Austin to a one year deal and the signing of former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb. Despite the loss of Cole Beasley, the Cowboys have a created a really good group of receivers for Quarterback Dak Prescott to throw to.
Cobb joins a really nice group of players that includes incumbent starters on the outside in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup as well as solid depth players in Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Throw in Cedric Wilson, the Dallas Cowboys sixth round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft and the Cowboys may have one of the deeper receiving corps in the NFL.
The question is, how will the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff delineate the roles?
Let's take a look.
As I mentioned before, the Dallas Cowboys are returning their top two options on the outside in Amari Cooper, who is the X wide receiver and Michael Gallup, the Z receiver. Both players will go into week one as the starters at their respective positions in two-wide receiver formations.
Despite some of the overthrows from Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup, Gallup had a really nice rookie season and got better as the year went along, even leading the Cowboys in receiving in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. In that game, Gallup recorded the first 100 yard game of his career. Sure, it was in an attempt to comeback by the Dallas Cowboys, but it is impressive nonetheless. His touchdown catch against the Seattle Seahawks the week before was clutch. The Cowboys needed that to take the lead at the end of the first half. 2018 was only the beginning for Michael Gallup. He showed an ability to win with a full offseason to work with Dak Prescott, their chemistry and connection should only improve.
As for Cooper, his presence was felt right away as the offense just looked different once he stepped on the field. It's no coincidence that Dak Prescott's two best career games in terms of passing yardage came with Cooper in 2018. He's such a threat that he opens up space for the rest of the wide receiver group. His route running, speed, ability to run after the catch make him a threat to score any time he's targeted.
Behind Cooper and Gallup, you have options in the event that one of them gets hurt. Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Noah Brown are all players who took snaps on the outside for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 and did so with effectiveness. Hurns best game of the year came just before the Cooper deal was made as he went for five receptions for 75 yards.
Tavon provided down field speed on several occasions and provides some gadget quality that the Dallas Cowboys love to have. Noah Brown is a player that the Dallas Cowboys love to deploy as a blocker in the running game. While it looked like he might get more run in the passing game in 2019, the depth additions will limit him again to a specialty role. If needed, though, he could be an option to take snaps on the outside as his big frame allows him to box out defensive backs down the field.
There will be snaps on the outside for someone when the Cowboys go to 11 personnel, because of Amari Cooper's ability to slide into the slot.
Obviously, the writing is on the wall with who the Dallas Cowboys are planning on deploying in the slot as things stand right now, and that's Randall Cobb.
While Cobb should be penciled in as the starter in the slot, I doubt that he's going to get 100% of the snaps there in 11 or 10 personnel groupings. Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown, and Cedric Wilson could all push for playing time from the slot.
Last month, I wrote a piece about Allen Hurns and his effectiveness in the slot and why the Cowboys should feature him there. With Cobb coming off an injury laden season, the Cowboys would be wise to give some snaps to Hurns along with Tavon Austin.
In Jacksonville, Hurns was incredibly effective from the slot running posts, slants, and ins and outs. His size and route running made him an effective mismatch against linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks alike. Remember, it wasn't long ago that Hurns had a 1,000 yard season with Blake Bortles at the helm.
Tavon Austin's quickness is an asset that could be very effective in the slot as well. Though he lacks size, he's a player that opposing defenses have to account for because of his ability to make big plays once the ball's in his hands.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys haven't been shy about carrying seven wide receivers on their 53-man rosters and it's possible, though unlikely that they could do it again in 2018. As things stand now, I see Noah Brown and Cedric Wilson as the potential odd men out. Of course, this could all get reshuffled if the Dallas Cowboys use a top 100 pick on a wide receiver in the draft.
With Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Randall Cobb only under contract through the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys would be wise to invest at the position despite the strength of the position in 2019.
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