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Football Focus: Quarter-Season Playoff Predictions

Mauricio Rodriguez



Mauricio's 2019 NFL Power Rankings: 100th Season Edition

It's unbelievable how fast football season goes by. You blink your eyes and four weeks have passed. As we get ready for October football, we think by now we have a grasp of what's going to happen in the NFL. But we know better. This is an unpredictable league. Players and coaches love to say this is a humbling league and that you can't take anything for granted. Same goes for both fans and analysts, who share their flaming hot takes before being shocked by the reality of things.

Even still, we press on. And today, I'll share with you how I see things shaking up now that we've reached the quarter-season mark. Let's begin with the AFC.

AFC Division Champions

  1. NE Patriots
  2. KC Chiefs
  3. CLE Browns
  4. HOU Texans

Wildcard Teams

  1. LA Chargers
  2. BUF Bills

The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs have proven they are the best two teams in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes is still slinging it and dissecting defenses. The Patriots this time look like a defensive team with one hell of a unit. And well, the Patriots aren't losing the AFC East... I mean, we know that, right? I don't believe any of these teams loses its division. They're simply too good.

Then come the Cleveland Browns taking the AFC North title home after years of suffering. Surprisingly, I've got the Ravens out of the playoffs. They're a good football team but I believe the Browns we saw open the season 0-2 don't reflect the talent that team has, so I'll give them the edge just like I did when the season started.

The Houston Texans get the nod in the South but by a thin margin. If Gardner Minshew keeps it up, the Jaguars will be in the race until late in the season. But I'll go with the team that has Deshaun Watson. Their offensive line is not good, but I trust them to get the job done just like they did last season.

The Bills making the playoffs might surprise some, but looking at their schedule I really wouldn't be surprised if they pull it off. They quietly have a top defense in the NFL and will approach ten wins. The Chargers aren't healthy, but they'll pull it together as the season goes on and make the postseason.

NFC Division Champions

  1. NO saints
  2. LA Rams
  3. DAL Cowboys
  4. GB Packers

Wildcard Teams

  1. PHI Eagles
  2. SF 49ers

Again, the first two seem like very easy picks to me. The Saints have proven they're such a complete team that they can even beat tough rivals without Drew Brees. He'll get healthy and lead this team to battle properly. The Rams haven't looked very convincing but I'm confident they'll pick it up along the way.

I've got the Cowboys barely taking the NFC East over the Philadelphia Eagles, but I have both making the playoffs either way. They're complete and talented teams with good, young quarterbacks.

I didn't expect the Packers to be in the conversation but the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears have been extremely disappointing and I just can't pick them to win the division. Instead, the Packers' defense has proved the hype was right and although the offense must pick it up, I believe at some point they'll find a philosophy and stick to it.

Last but not least, the wildcards. As I mentioned above, I've got the Eagles very close to the Cowboys, so they'll be in January. Finally, I'm taking the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo is playing better and there really isn't another team I'd put in above them at the moment. The Seattle Seahawks could be in it as well. So could the Vikings and Bears if they figure things out fast.

Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins

Three-And-Out: 3 Quick Thoughts

  • I couldn't be more happy that Vontaze Burfict is being suspended for the remainder of the season. This defensive player puts every opponent at risk every time he's on a football field. It's just ridiculous. This time, he almost had to go out of his way to lower his helmet to hit Jack Doyle's head. He's just a dirty player who hasn't adjusted to new rules in football. The league should ban him from playing ever again. After all, they're concerned about player safety, right? Is there any player who puts others' safety at risk like Burfict does? He has proved time and time again that he won't change.
  • Dwayne Haskins made his NFL debut last season against one of the worst defenses in the league: the New York Giants. He completed nine out of 17 attempts for 107 yards and three interceptions, including a pick-six. His performance was pretty bad, and it'll be interesting to see how the Washington Redskins approach this situation. Sitting Haskins could be an option. Right now, this franchise is looking at a very uncertain future.
  • The Detroit Lions are a very interesting football team. This week, they were close to beating the Kansas City Chiefs in a shootout in which Matthew Stafford held his own versus Patrick Mahomes, who had no passing touchdowns for the first time in his career. I'd be surprised if the Lions end up playing in January, but they will be a headache for any team that faces them. They've proved it after upsetting the Los Angeles Chargers and giving the Chiefs a pretty hard time last Sunday.

Underdog of the Week: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If someone picked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win outright over the Los Angeles Rams, it was probably by accident. As a road 9-point underdog, the Bucs shocked the reigning NFC Champions by dropping 55 points on them last Sunday. Their offensive line committed no penalties and nullified Aaron Donald. When the Rams had a bit of hope to make the comeback, Ndamukong Suh sealed the game with a 37-yard scoop-and-score.

This week was filled with underdogs wins, so honorable mentions go to every other team that shocked the NFL this past weekend, but specially to the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans.

Film Review: RB Christian McCaffrey Presents Long List Of Problems For Cowboys Defense

Player of the Week: RB Christian McCaffrey, CAR Panthers

McCaffrey was electric last Sunday versus the Houston Texas. On a close 16-10 road win, he was the difference maker for the Panthers. He had 37 touches for a total of 179 yards. What was most impressive to me is how hard he was to take down. In total, he had 11 broken tackles, a career high for the young running back.

Honorable mentions: Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette. 

College Football Corner: Ohio State Had Our Curiosity But Now...

The Ohio State Buckeyes were a very debated team among experts headed into the season. Nick Bosa and Dwayne Haskins declared for the NFL Draft, Urban Meyer retired, and the Michigan Wolverines looked like a very promising team before the season began. Three weeks later, the Buckeyes look like the best team in the Big Ten and perhaps in College Football. Justin Fields, who transferred from Georgia, has been dominating at quarterback and Chase Young has replaced Bosa perfectly. They're still one of the most talented teams in the nation and have outscored opponents 262-43. They've covered the spread four times out of five.

Ohio State had our curiosity, but now they have our attention.

A big challenge is ahead of them next Saturday. Fields and the offense have looked pretty well, but now they face Mark Dantonio's defense when Michigan State heads to Columbus.

Tell me what you think about "Football Focus: Quarter-Season Playoff Predictions" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

I love to write, I love football and I love the Dallas Cowboys. I've been rooting for America's team all the way from Mexico ever since I can remember. If you want to talk football, I'm in... You'll find me at @MauNFL.


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Football Focus: The San Francisco 49ers Might Be NFC’s Finest

Mauricio Rodriguez



Football Focus: The San Francisco 49ers Might Be NFC's Finest 1

I doubt many of us expected the San Francisco 49ers to be undefeated through six weeks. But they are. And it's not like they've only beaten bad teams. Last weekend, they defeated the defending NFC champions, the Los Angeles Rams, playing without their starting offensive tackles. At 5-0, they're the official favorites to win the NFC West.

It's fair to put them in the discussion of being the best team in the National Football Conference. The Rams are not what they were and other teams like the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears haven't been as dominant as many expected them to.

The only team that I'd think of ranking over the 49ers is the New Orleans Saints. Even without Drew Brees, they find themselves as one of the best teams in the league and are full of talent on offense and defense.

But the 49ers have played better football than any other team in the NFC.

Right now, they're the second best team in DVOA in the NFL by a wide margin. In fact, they're defense is among the best of all time through five games in this category. They rank second since 1986 in defensive DVOA, only behind the 2019 New England Patriots.

Jimmy Garoppolo has played well. Although he hasn't been a passing yards machine, he's completed 69.9% of his attempts.  They've found a rushing attack with a strong running back committee, becoming the second best rushing attack in the NFL while averaging 179 yards per game on the ground. Their offensive front is solid and will be even better when they get tackles Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley back.

Not to mention, on the other side of the ball, they have one of the best defensive lines in football with a top edge rusher who's only getting started in Nick Bosa. He's only a rookie, but he's playing like a top pass rusher already.

This team is truly special and 100% real. Don't expect them to go away, because they won't.

Jalen Ramsey

Former Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey

Three-And-Out: 3 Quick Thoughts

  • The Los Angeles Rams traded for CB Jalen Ramsey. They sent two first round selections to the Jacksonville Jaguars. As good as Ramsey is, that's a lot. The Rams are betting on getting things right after a 3-3 start. The San Francisco 49ers lead the division and might keep the title for themselves. Can the Rams bounce back? Will their trade be worth it? It's hard to know, but right now, they might be aiming for a wildcard spot.
  • The Los Angeles Chargers might be the least healthy team in the NFL. They're missing a ton of starters on both sides of the ball and are off to a bad start. They've lost back-to-back games to the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers (led by a third-string QB). I get that they're injured, but that can't be their only problem. Something is wrong with Anthony Lynn's team. They were supposed to be a contender but they've got a lot more to do than just "get healthy."
  • Jameis Winston, man. Just when I thought there was something different to him this season. He got off to a hot start and some (myself included) thought Bruce Arians might've pressed the right buttons to help him turn his career around. But last Sunday, Winston threw FIVE interceptions. He was also sacked seven times and fumbled the ball twice. Time to move on from the once #1 overall pick.

Player of the Week: WR Stefon Diggs, MIN Vikings

The Vikings took advantage of an unhealthy defense from the Philadelphia Eagles as Kirk Cousins threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns. His main weapon was WR Stefon Diggs, who had seven catches, 167 yards and three touchdowns, including a clutch 62-yard catch. Recently, Diggs was reportedly asking for a trade. Now he might be happy in a 4-2 Vikings team that sits at second in the NFC North.

Underdog of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers

It was a rough game for Pittsburgh but they walked away with their second win of the season. They did so led by none other than Devlin Hodges, third-string quarterback. His game wasn't great but team effort pushed this team to to a big-time upset on Sunday Night Football. James Conner racked up two total touchdowns, but it was rookie Benny Snell Jr. who led the team rushing with 75 yards.

Fun fact: The Steelers won with only one player with over 15 receiving yards, RB James Conner, who had 78.

Football Focus: The San Francisco 49ers Might Be NFC's Finest

College Football Corner: Should LSU Be #1?

The LSU Tigers are putting on a show. They already have two Top-10 wins as Joe Burrow continues to position himself as a candidate for the Heisman trophy. What Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady has done for the Tigers has been remarkable. Ironically, offense is the Tigers' strong suit now. There's a big-time argument for them to be ranked above both Alabama and Clemson.

According to the AP Poll, they are the #2 team in the country but I wouldn't be surprised if by the time the College Football Playoff Selection Committee's rankings come out, they're #1. Alabama and LSU play in November, by the way. I can't wait.

Tell me what you think about "Football Focus: The San Francisco 49ers Might Be NFC’s Finest" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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It’s Time for DeMarcus Lawrence to Return to his All-Pro Level of Play

Matthew Lenix



It's Time for DeMarcus Lawrence to Regain his All-Pro Status

When you produce at a high level you get paid the big bucks in the NFL, it's just that simple. That's exactly what All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence did over the previous two seasons racking up 25 sacks. His dominance was rewarded back in April as the Dallas Cowboys signed him to a five-year 105 million dollar extension with 65 million in guarantees. With that kind of payday comes enormous expectations, especially playing under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium. However, if you want to be the elite of the elite this is what comes with the territory, and rightfully so.

The first order of business after inking his new deal was to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. The procedure was successful and put Lawrence on the shelf with an estimated recovery time of 3-4 months. During the healing process, Lawrence would miss all of OTAs, minicamp, and most of training camp before his return in limited action just prior to the start of the season.

The Cowboys kicked off the 2019 season against the rival New York Giants. Lawrence is no stranger to this team as his 3.5 career sacks against them were his second-most against any opponent coming into Week 1. The Cowboys dominated the Giants from the outset and won easily 35-17. Lawrence had a pretty decent day by his standards with two tackles, two quarterback hits, and a half-sack.

In Week 2 the Cowboys went on the road to face another NFC East rival the Washington Redskins. Once again, they were impressive going up as much as 17 points en route to a 31-21 victory. Lawrence, however, had one of if not the worst statistically game of his career. He was completely blanked from the stat sheet besides one quarterback hit. Even in a game where there wasn't any question of who was going to win you still don't want to see your All-Pro pass rusher virtually shutout for 60 minutes.

Week 3 saw the Cowboys steamroll the Miami Dolphins in Arlington. Dak Prescott threw two touchdowns, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both ran for over 100 yards and the defense held the Dolphins to two field goals. Lawrence had two tackles, two quarterbacks and a sack for his efforts. Just like the season opener, his performance didn't jump off the screen but if you can get a sack and some hits on the opposing team's quarterback you're doing your job as a rush rusher.

In Week 4 the Cowboys were in a defensive battle with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. Lawrence had another two tackle performance and registered a sack for the second consecutive week even in a tough 12-10 loss. You would hope that would spark some sort of rhythm for him getting to the quarterback but that didn't exactly happen.

The previous two games have been ones I'm sure Lawrence would like to forget. When the Green Bay Packers came to town Lawrence and company had the tough task of getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but they failed, especially their leader. Lawrence would only register a single tackle for the entire game as Aaron Jones had a career-high four rushing touchdowns and the Cowboys lost their second consecutive game. On the road against the Jets last Sunday, it wasn't much better as Lawrence only got credit for two tackles. In addition to this, he didn't get a sack, pressure or quarterback hit for the second straight game.

Granted, Lawrence has seen as many double teams as any edge rusher this season but at some point, big-time players find a way to make plays. Take All-Pro Defensive Tackle Aaron Darnold for example, he saw double teams on most of his snaps in 2018 and still managed to record 20.5 sacks. Simply put, you have to earn the paycheck you receive weekly.

Nine total tackles and 2.5 sacks in six games is what Lawrence has produced so far, that's simply not good enough. If he wants to pick a time to have his first breakout game of 2019, this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles is the perfect opportunity to do so with the Cowboys currently on a three-game losing streak. With first place in the NFC East on the line, a big performance from Lawrence would be just what the doctor ordered, especially facing a quarterback as talented as Carson Wentz. We have all been patiently waiting to see the guy that terrorized NFL the previous two seasons. Will it happen this Sunday? Only time will tell.





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Ezekiel Elliott led Near Comeback vs Jets, Needs to be Focal Point Going Forward

Matthew Lenix



Ezekiel Elliott led Near Comeback vs Jets, Needs to be Focal Point Going Forward

The Dallas Cowboys have developed a not so pleasant trend during the early part of the 2019 season, slow starts. In the previous three games before this past Sunday's matchup with the New York Jets, the Cowboys scored a total of 13 points in the first half. Unfortunately, it was more of the same at Metlife stadium as six points were all the Cowboys could muster before halftime. In the second half, however, Ezekiel Elliott became the focal point as the Cowboys nearly stormed all the way back to tie the game in the final seconds.

The Cowboys found themselves down 21-6 to start the third quarter and were in desperate need of a spark. They would find it in their All-Pro ball carrier as Elliott rushed the ball nine times on a 14 play drive that took over seven minutes off the clock and cut the deficit to 21-9. This drive not only got the Cowboys back to what they do best which is run the football but it created some easy throws for Dak Prescott.

Ezekiel Elliott led Near Comeback vs Jets, Needs to be Focal Point Going Forward 1

On the next drive Elliott would carry the ball four more times on a 10 play drive that ended on a missed field goal by Kicker Brett Maher. In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had their most productive drive of the entire game going 84 yards in 11 plays in just under five minutes. Elliott had another four carries and capped off the drive with a touchdown bringing the Cowboys within five at 21-16. The comeback attempt would fall short 24-22 after a failed two-point conversion in the final minute. Elliott finished with 152 all-purpose yards (105 rushing, 47 receiving) and a touchdown.

One of the bad things about the hot start to the season for Prescott was it created an illusion that the Cowboys are now a passing football team. Granted, Prescott has shown improvement throwing the ball down the field but this offense still goes through Elliott first and foremost. He had 18 of his 28 carries in the second half this past Sunday and it was clear to see that the offense moved the chains more fluently with him as the spearhead. This isn't to take anything away from Prescott or the Cowboys wide receivers by any means but they all benefit from Elliott slowly but surely wearing down defenses which sets up the play-action passing game. This formula has not only won Elliott two rushing titles in the previous three years but it has brought the Cowboys two NFC East crowns over that span, and there's a good reason for that, it works.

Currently, the Cowboys are searching for answers to solve the puzzle of this three-game losing streak. A showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles awaits them this Sunday at home with outright control of the NFC East on the line. If the Cowboys want to get back on track they need to ride the coattails of Elliott. Prescott has had 40 or more pass attempts in each of the last two games, that's far too many. Put the ball in Elliott's hands, control the clock and take advantage of your one-on-one matchups on the outside. That's the Cowboys recipe for success and they need to get back to it fast.

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