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At the culmination of every NFL week I adjust a set of mini helmets to reflect the standings as they are at that particular point in the season. This is the most recent rendition:
NFL standings through Week 13, according to my mini helmet display.
After Week 1 of the 2016 season the Dallas Cowboys were in 4th Place in the NFC East. When Week 2 was done the Cowboys had moved up to 3rd Place in the NFC East, where they stayed through Week 3. At the culmination of Week 4 the Cowboys managed to claw their way up to 2nd Place in the NFC East. Finally, after Week 5 of the 2016 NFL season... the Dallas Cowboys sat atop the NFC East.
Since then (Week 5 ended on Sunday, October 9th) America's Team has never surrendered the title of Lead Dog in the NFC East race. When the Cowboys officially begin play against the Giants in New York this Sunday, that will mark 63 straight days of dominance in the NFL's most storied division.
There's another thing about this upcoming Cowboys game against the G-Men. While a victory would certainly extend their streak of sitting atop the NFC East, it would add permanence to it. A win in New York on Sunday wins the NFC East for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys have been holding down the NFC East for basically the entire season. It's time to write that message in stone. We hold down the NFC East, and we are going to prove it. Welcome to my 5 Bold Predictions. Let’s roll.
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Anthony Hitchens Gets The Interception That Wasn't This Time Around
Last week in Minnesota the Dallas Cowboys saw a star-studded effort by one of their up-and-coming young linebackers - Anthony Hitchens. "Hitch", as he's known, had what would have been one of the finer interceptions on the season if not for a penalty committed by his teammate, Orlando Scandrick.
Later in the ballgame Hitch almost secured another interception... it was just seemingly his night out in Minnesota. We saw Anthony Hitchens kind of catch lightning in a bottle late down the stretch of the 2014 season... this is simply the time that he has a proclivity to shine for.
Get that interception, Hitch. You deserve it.
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Jason Garrett Wins Another Challenge
Even though the Dallas Cowboys entered last week's game in Minnesota with 10 wins to their name, Jason Garrett managed to do something in the game that he hadn't all season.
With the Cowboys rocking color rush uniforms, Jason Garrett threw a red challenge flag... and won! For the first time across the entire 2016 season, Jason Garrett's red handkerchief came in handy. Oh, what a sweet season.
The nature of the NFL in 2016 is that weird calls are made all the time - by the way, how sad is that? - and coaches continually have to challenge so many things in order to make sure the correct call is made.
Warm up the arm, Jason Garrett. You're going to be tossing a red flag on Sunday Night.
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Jason Witten Has 10+ Catches On The Night
The only thing the Cowboys left in Minnesota last week was an impressive streak of Jason Witten's, 130 consecutive game with a catch. At the end of the day stuff like this is significantly less important than a win, but it still stings just a bit.
A lot of comparisons have been made about the 2016 Cowboys to the 2007 Cowboys. These are the only teams in franchise history to go 11-1 through their first 12 games, and they both dominated teams in epic fashion.
On December 9th, 2007 - nine years ago to the date, on the day this being published - the Cowboys traveled to Detroit for a game against the Lions. In the same timeless effort he exhibits almost a decade later, Jason Witten was dominant. He had 15 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown as the Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East.
Big Wit is going over 10 catches. It's destiny.
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Dez Bryant Channels This Night From 2014 With A 3 TD Performance
Obviously the last time the Dallas Cowboys had this level of success was the 2014 season. That year, seven days after Thanksgiving, they traveled to face an NFC North team (the Chicago Bears) and picked up an important victory.
Those Cowboys had 10 days of rest following Chicago and used it as momentum before a big-time divisional showdown in Philadelphia against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. There was a lot of trash-talking going on before that game, but the real trash on the field was the quality of play the Eagles defensive backs exhibited. Dez Bryant caught 6 passes for 114 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The 2014 Cowboys would end up clinching the division a week later, but these Cowboys have the chance to do it in the primetime divisional showdown with the Giants. It is, for all intents and purposes, the same set of circumstances for them. They traveled to face an NFC North team (the Minnesota Vikings) seven days after Thanksgiving, and they are now on the road against an NFC East team with 10 days of rest on Sunday Night Football.
Just like he did in this game two years ago, Dez Bryant is going to hit the hat trick of touchdowns on the night. Bam, bam, bam.
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The Dallas Cowboys Win By A Poetic Score Of 37-34
The Cowboys and Giants have squared off many a time in their long history, but they have only ever met once on December 11th (like they will on Sunday). This was December 11th, 2011, and it was the famous JPP-block game on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
We find ourselves with another December 11th Sunday Night Football game upon us, but unlike five years ago Jason Pierre-Paul won't be on the field as he had surgery tending to a groin injury.
That 2011 Giants victory in Dallas propelled New York to a run that would culminate in a Super Bowl XLVI Championship. It also propelled the Cowboys to a road that saw them finishing 8-8 on the season, a feat they'd match each of the next two seasons.
This is poetry at its finest, except this time it rhymes with Dallas. Sometimes fate circles back around, seemingly giving us another chance at what we once almost had. Here is our chance. Here is our December 11th. Let's win it exactly like we lost it five years ago, by a score of 37-34. Huzzah.
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Bonus Bold Predictions
Remember, if you want YOUR Bold Prediction featured here, tweet it at me! It’s that simple! Here are this week’s contributions, thanks to all those who shared!
@rjochoa early #boldprediction first game, cowboys won turnover battle and lost game, this week we lose turnover battle and win the game
We'll talk plenty of #DALvsNYG this week, so our bold prediction for @rjochoa is that @ninjafast22 has a special teams TD! @CowboysNation
@rjchoppy @rjochoa Bold prediction. Anthony Brown shuts down Odell. 2 INTS
@rjochoa ok so for bold predictions: Eli manning is going to throw a pick to give the Cowboys the divison and the win! As well as
@rjochoa bold prediction vs the G-men Sunday RJ, Dak throws for 320, 4 td's, Dez 120 yards 2 td's,Zeke 140 yards 1td,Beasley 100 yards n 2td
@rjochoa I got a prediction Butler and Beasley will get a td.. and Irving will get a force fumble
@rjochoa Bold prediction is that @nino9brown picks off Eli twice, one being a pick 6. And holds his matchup to less than 30 yards.
@rjochoa ...2 int's from our defense and both Dak and Zeke have rushing TD's.
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!
5 Winners from Dallas Cowboys OTAs and Minicamp
The Dallas Cowboys have completed the offseason part of their practices and are now eyeing the start of training camp in Oxnard, California on July 26th. The offseason stuff doesn't necessarily show what a team thinks about a player near as much as training camp, so I won't look at any losers because these practices have varying personnel at times.
That being said, there certainly were some winners during the offseason.
1. Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Every day removed from his injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl is another day closer to potentially seeing the All-American linebacker that would have been a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
With the knee injury, there's always been some doubt about Jaylon returning to that level of play, but as offseason practices wore on it was becoming clear that he's much healthier and much more mobile than he was in 2017.
Both of those things are strong signs in the right direction for the third year pro.
After sitting out his rookie season to rehab and then having some good moments and some really bad moments in 2017, it sounds like he's making progress to be a difference maker in 2018.
During OTAs and minicamp sessions that were open to the media, Jaylon was seen running with the first-team defense every time they took the field. Now, some of that is due to the Cowboys limiting the snaps of veteran All-Pro Sean Lee and rookie first round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who came up with a sprained ankle, but the fact that Smith's snaps weren't limited should only be seen as a good sign.
We still have a long way to go until the Dallas Cowboys strap it on for their week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers, but Jaylon Smith is on an excellent trajectory.
Anyone with a Clear, Eye, View can see that.
2. Anthony Brown, Cornerback
One of the bigger surprises during the offseason practices so far has to be Anthony Brown, and not Jourdan Lewis, running with the first team nickel defense.
Jourdan Lewis proved he was a really good corner in his rookie year, both in the slot and on the outside, while Anthony Brown struggled at times. Knowing that new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers his corners to be tall, long, and strong has led to some speculation that Lewis may not be a fit in Richard's scheme.
That's certainly a possibility. The more realistic possibility is that Brown, with more seniority, was getting the opportunities first as is often the case with Jason Garrett coached teams during the offseason.
While Brown is a pretty good slot cornerback in his own right, this might only be temporary.
3. Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver
As I read reports from OTAs and minicamp practices, one thing that stood out is that Michael Gallup was winning and winning a lot.
When asked in a mailbag who had been building the best rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott, Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com had this to say:
"Bryan: That’s a great question. The guys that come to mind for this [sic] me are Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin. Those guys have found ways to generate space and have been reliable catching the ball when it’s thrown in their direction."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Just a few days earlier Broaddus stated that Cole Beasley and Gallup were the only ones getting open with any consistency.
Now, it's still early and it's padless practice, but that's an encouraging sign for the third round pick out of Colorado State.
Typically it takes a year for wide receivers to adjust to the NFL game, especially with how much press coverage is played by NFL defensive backs. One of the byproducts of Kris Richard's existence as the defensive backs coach is that they're playing more press coverage. He's teaching his DB's to be more aggressive and more physical at the line of scrimmage.
For Gallup and the rest of the wide receiver group, that can only help them as they get ready to face opposing defenses. One way to disrupt timing-based routes or an offense that relies on separation and yards after the catch is to disrupt the receiver at the snap. Every practice, these guys are working to beat the press.
As a rookie wide receiver, this can only benefit Gallup -- in particular -- as that will be a big transition from college where defenses are playing off the line of scrimmage against the countless number of spread offenses that exist.
The fact that he's already winning reps during practices against some pretty good corners is a great sign for the Dallas Cowboys.
He may not be a starter in this offense right away, but I doubt it takes long before he's cemented himself in three and four wide receiver personnel groupings.
4. Chaz Green, Guard
I'm sure you aren't a fan of seeing Chaz Green's name anywhere near a "winners" list. As bad as the Atlanta Falcons game was for him, we can't ignore the fact that Green got a lot of first team repetitions during OTAs and minicamp while Zack Martin negotiated his contract extension.
Either that means the Dallas Cowboys haven't given up on their third round pick from 2015 or they're trying to get as many practice snaps out of him as possible to be able to make a clearer decision regarding his future with the team.
Getting to play with the ones is encouraging, but he still has a lot to prove during training camp to keep a spot on the roster. Green's going to get a long leash as a former premium draft pick. We'll see if he takes advantage of it.
5. Jihad Ward, Defensive Tackle
Maliek Collins hurt his foot -- again -- and David Irving was dealing with off the field stuff -- again -- leaving Jihad Ward with a lot of opportunities to play against the first team offensive line as the three-technique defensive tackle.
On June 4th, I asked Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com who his biggest surprises on offense and defense were during OTAs:
Cedrick Wilson and Jihad Ward https://t.co/kgcgJkTj3U
If Broaddus is encouraged by Ward's progress, I am too.
He's going to have a lot of opportunity to get a strangle hold on the 3T defensive tackle spot with Maliek Collins not set to be back until late in training camp, and David Irving suspended the first four games of the 2018 season.
The Dallas Cowboys liked Ward coming out of college and had him just behind Maliek Collins on their 2016 NFL Draft Big Board.
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There's still a lot of practice reps that have yet to take place, but the Dallas Cowboys have gotten some encouraging contributions from these players. As we look to training camp, who will you be watching to see if the stand-out and can make the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster?
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