After seven weeks of the 2018 NFL Season, things are tightly contested in the NFC East. With the Dallas Cowboys on their bye week, it seemed a good time to look at the division and where everyone stands. We'll also look at how the standings could change over the next few weeks of the schedule.
Going into Week 8, here are the current NFC East standings:
- Washington Redskins -- 4-2 overall, 1-0 division
- Philadelphia Eagles -- 3-4 overall, 1-0 division
- Dallas Cowboys -- 3-4 overall, 1-1 division
- New York Giants -- 1-6 overall, 0-2 division
Washington's division win came against the Cowboys last week. Dallas and Philadelphia each have a victory over the Giants.
For this discussion, there's not much point in worrying about New York. Not only are they deep in the win-loss basement, but the team is trading off their talent now (e.g. Damon Harrison, Eli Apple) to prepare for a full rebuild. Their season is over and they know it.
So our focus will be on the Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins. With more than half the season still to go, any of these teams could wind up as NFC East Champion.
And this year, that will likely be their only route to the playoffs.
Barring some big shifts across the conference, it's not looking good for one of the Wild Card spots to go to our division. Teams like the Packers and Panthers, who are currently second in their own divisions, are a game or two ahead of Dallas and Philly right now in overall record.
Again, plenty of time for that to change. Those teams may fall, or the NFC East teams could get hot. But right now, we can only go by what we've seen. Winning the division is always the best bet for making the playoffs, and that's especially true this season.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the bye week will likely result in a bigger lead Washington. They're on the road to face to the Giants, who shouldn't put up much of a fight. The Redskins should be 5-2 and then host the 3-4 Atlanta Falcons. That one could go either way.
The Eagles are on the road this week in Jacksonville, who are in a state of emergency right now. Uncertainty at quarterback and reports of locker room angst could make the Jaguars easy pickings for Philadelphia.
Dallas is already third in the NFC East because of their 1-1 division record, dropping them just below the Eagles, and that could be more solidified after Week 8.
In Week 9, the Cowboys host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football. Both teams are currently 3-4 and will be coming off their bye. The Titans are on a three-game losing streak.
If Washington falls to the Falcons, and Dallas handles business against the Titans, that should bring them to 5-3 and 4-4 in the standings with eight games to go.
Even though the Redskins currently have the top spot in the NFC East, you can't shake the feeling that this will still come down to the Cowboys and Eagles. Washington feels like a team taking advantage of others' misfortune right now, rather than winning on their own merit.
Dallas and Philly still have their two games to play, the first of which will come in Week 10. Being tied currently, the head-to-head and division tiebreakers will become all the more critical as the schedule narrows.
And if the Redskins don't falter, this three-way race could be one of the most intriguing we've seen in the NFC East. The Eagles and Redskins face each other in Week 17 in Philadelphia.
Beginning soon, I will be doing weekly breakdowns of that week's schedule and how it could impact the NFC playoff standings. Hopefully, the Cowboys remain in playoff contention the rest of the way.
But as we've discussed, Dallas' chances of making the playoffs may only be relevant to their positioning in their own division. Unless they go on some post-Amari Cooper trade tear, the Cowboys will have a hard time catching up to the current Wild Card contenders.
For now, in the bye week, we can only watch the pieces move around us. Let's hope they make the path a little easier.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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