The Dallas Cowboys are going to the playoffs this season, it's as factual something can be without actually being factual.
For the first time this season - and in quite some time - the Dallas Cowboys can definitively secure a playoff spot this week. It's the most wonderful time of the year indeed, right?
That's why we're here today... to talk playoffs. When your team has one loss the week after Thanksgiving, you get to legitimately do this math. Here at Inside The Star we've got the math for you on multiple scenarios where the Cowboys can clinch: a playoff berth, the NFC East title, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage.
Before we begin it's important to understand just exactly what the field of variables we're working with is. Additionally it's important to know that for things of first-round bye/wildcard/general conference playoff nature, the immediate tiebreaker is head-to-head record (if applicable), followed by conference record. The current NFC playoff landscape is here for your reference.
Put your pencils down, let's party!
Clinching A Playoff Berth
This is the bare minimum, a simple ticket to the dance. Here are the scenarios for how the Cowboys can clinch a playoff berth, in order from quickest to slowest routes:
- Beat The Vikings + Redskins Loss To Arizona OR Buccaneers Loss To San Diego: The Redskins, Bucs, and Vikings can each attain 11 wins at the absolute maximum this season. A win Thursday would give Dallas 11, and prevent Minnesota from winning out, and that coupled with a Washington/Tampa Bay loss would mean six teams at the very most in the NFC could get to 11 wins maximum... and the Cowboys would already be there.
- Win ANY Two Games: Should the Cowboys not get the help that they need this week from Arizona or San Diego, they simply would just have to get to 12 wins since the Redskins, Bucs, and Vikings mathematically cannot.
Clinching The NFC East
It's long said that NFL teams construct their rosters in order to win their division. The Dallas Cowboys play in the NFL's most storied division - the NFC East - and it's been quite good in 2016. Here are the scenarios for how the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East:
- Beat The Vikings + Beat The Giants In New York Next Week: You know very well that the Cowboys are 10-1 currently, a win in Minnesota would up that ante to 11-1. The Giants currently sit at 8-3, and say they won in Pittsburgh... they'd be 9-3. Go a step further with your saying and say the Cowboys beat the Giants, that'd make it 12-1 to 9-4 with three games to go. Now technically the Cowboys could lose out and Giants win out, but it wouldn't matter. In that scenario the Cowboys and Giants would both end up with 4-2 records in their division (which is the immediate tiebreaker), so the next tiebreaker would be common games. In this wild world of assumptions the Cowboys wins over the Vikings and Packers (who New York lost to) would carry the fact that the Giants would - hypothetically - beat Detroit who, worst case scenario, would have beaten us. We would own the tiebreaker and the division.
The next two scenarios are based on the hypothetical that the Giants win the December 11th showdown with the Cowboys.
- Win Any Three Games + One Giants Loss: Say for a second that the Giants beat the Steelers pulled off the upset in New York next Sunday Night and beat the Cowboys... the formula is still the same. As long as the Cowboys won three games - any three - they'd still hit 13 on the season, and one NY loss would limit them to 12.
- Win Every Game That's Not The Giants Game: In a weird world where the Giants won every game from here on out (including the Cowboys one), it's still a Cowboys-dominated world. As long as Dallas won every game that wasn't the Giants game... they'd have a 14 to 13 win edge.
The Cowboys/Vikings and Giants/Steelers games are huge for us this week. Since the Giants lost to the Vikings and the Cowboys beat the Steelers, those are both games that could swing in advantage of the Cowboys. The Cowboys can actually still clinch the NFC East next week even if they lose to the Vikings, here's how:
- Cowboys Lose In Minnesota + Redskins Lose In Arizona + Giants Lose In Pittsburgh + Cowboys Win In New York: Obviously we don't want to plan on losing, but if we do and the Giants lose to the Steelers then that common game record still grows by a game in our favor since we beat the Steelers. Washington losing simply ensures that they don't get to 11 wins on the season like the Cowboys/Giants still potentially could. Huzzah.
Clinching A First-Round Bye
With five games yet to play there obviously quite a few directions the NFC can go before it's all said and done. We're concerned with the Dallas Cowboys here and how they can secure things, and we're discussing these things from a macro perspective entering Week 13. If these things take a spicy turn, you know we'll have you taken care of here at Inside The Star. Enough jibber-jabber... Here are the scenarios for how the Cowboys can clinch a first-round bye:
- Win Next Two Games + Two Other Division Leaders (Seahawks, Lions, Falcons) Lose Once In Next Two Weeks: This is the scene in the movie where the mathematical equations fly by the unsuspecting character. Here's how this works... two wins would put the Cowboys at 12-1, and we already covered how that gives us the division. That's important for first-round bye purposes because you have to be a division winner to get one. Beyond that we need two of the other three current division leaders to lose a game because this would put 2/3 of them at eight wins with three games to play. 12 > 11. Boo-ya.
- Win Any Three Games + Win The Division: Again, I realize it goes without saying to say that you need to win your division to get a bye, but I said it! So there! Three wins puts the Cowboys at 13 and, assuming they do win the NFC East, no division winner can catch that as the leaders all currently sit atop theirs with seven wins and five games to go.
Clinching Home-Field Advantage
We're greedy. It's ok to admit that.
We want the Cowboys to clinch the division, bye, and home field advantage! Just like the little girl in Willy Wonka that fell down the goose tunnel or whatever... we want it all. It's actually very simple as far as what it takes to ensure that the road to Super Bowl LI goes through Dallas:
- Win The Division + Get To 12 Wins + Seahawks, Lions, And Falcons All Lose At Least Once: You know very well by now how winning the next two games locks up the NFC East, and you know that it also puts the Cowboys at 12 wins on the season. The other three NFC division winners can all - if they won out - hit 12 wins maximum. If they each lose once that number falls to 11. Sucks to suck, NFC.
- Win The Division + Get To 13 Wins: No other division winner can mathematically get to 13 wins on the season. Assuming the Cowboys are a division winner with 13, they are the kings.
These are the playoff scenarios and how they influence the Cowboys as we enter Week 13. We'll have you updated here at Inside The Star if/when these circumstances change. Huzzah!
Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Offensive Starting Jobs Are Open?
We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:
- QB - Dak Prescott
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott
- FB - Jamize Olawale
- WR - Allen Hurns
- OT - Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- G - Zack Martin
- C - Travis Frederick
Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.
For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.
La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.
Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?
Today, we'll focus on the offense.
Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.
If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.
There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.
This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.
The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.
Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?
While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.
Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.
As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.
As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.
Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.
Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.
But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.
~ ~ ~
As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.
Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.
Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco
When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.
Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.
Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.
The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.
Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.
The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.
These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.
Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.
How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?
Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.
However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.
Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.
This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.
So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.
#71: RG Zack Martin
2017 Ranking: #58.
I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.
It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.
What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?
#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott
2017 Ranking: 7.
Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.
Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.
This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.
#39: LT Tyron Smith
2017 Ranking: 18.
I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.
Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.
With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.
#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2017 Ranking: Unranked.
Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.
This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.
Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.
The Snub: C Travis Frederick
The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?
Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.
But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.
Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!
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