Welcome one and all!
It's Divisional Weekend around the NFL and if you are unaware... this is perhaps the finest weekend in sports.
The Divisional Round of the Playoffs in the NFL typically features some of its most compelling games. Three years ago there was Baltimore in Denver and we all remember how that went down. Two years ago we saw San Francisco go into Carolina and hand them a big-time loss. Last year Cowboys Nation had their hearts broken when the most obvious catch in the history of football was ruled not to be one.
Alas, Division Weekend is the most sure-fire guarantee that there is in terms of good football. There'll be some great games going on this weekend, and I'm here to tell you how they'll turn out. Let's get to the picks.
This game is very, very interesting.
Rob Gronkowski's health is a question mark, Bill Belichick had a black eye in a press conference this week... what in the world is going on in New England?!
Meanwhile the lone remaining team in the state of Missouri has some problems of their own. Jeremy Maclin is officially listed as questionable... leaving the only legitimate threat for the Chiefs left to be Travis Kelce.
The Patriots have made a living off of supreme January football, but is there any magic left there? The Chiefs have won eleven games in a row, but that has to end too doesn't it?
Ultimately the injuries in this game are a wash towards one another for me. It's the Playoffs and whenever there's a wash you always lean with the better quarterback and Head Coach.
Official Pick: Patriots Win, 27-21.
I spent some time hyping you up for the Divisional Playoff weekend up top. I promise that you're going to see what will likely be three entertaining games... and this one.
These two squared off just a few weeks ago and Arizona wiped the floor with Green Bay... 38-8.
Since then the Cardinals tapered off just a wee bit in the regular season finale to their division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Packers impressively (at least in the eyes of the national media) won a Playoff Game over Kirk Cousins and the Redskins... really "impressive," right?
I've pounded the table throughout all of 2015 that the Green Bay Packers are a mirage of talent. They are not a good football team that only does one thing consistently - catch a parade of inconsistently common breaks. This is who they've beat this year: Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, San Francisco, St. Louis, San Diego, Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas, Oakland, Washington.
We won't be adding Arizona to that list anytime soon. The Cardinals boast one of the league's most efficient and potent offenses. This will be a bloodbath.
Official Pick: Cardinals Win, 42-17.
This has a chance to be the best game of the season.
This will mark the sixth meeting between these two franchises over the last four years. Each of the previous five games was won by a margin of 6.2 points (which is actually inflated by a 14-point victory by the Seahawks in last year's Divisional Round).
These are two very similar teams who like to play the same kind of football. We've got two very strong and quick defenses and, with the emergence of Russell Wilson in 2015, two offenses who can go blow for blow.
Cam Newton will likely be named MVP of the 2015 season when it's all said and done, and it's going to take that kind of herculean effort to win this game. The Panthers were smiling ear to ear when it looked like Blair Walsh was going to boot the Seahawks from the dance. This is the worst possible scenario for them and they know it.
Russell Wilson has only lost one Playoff Game to an NFC opponent in his four year career. He performs best when the water's hottest (with the exception of last year's NFC Championship Game obviously) and with the Seahawks being given a new lease on life last week they'll take advantage of it.
Official Pick: Seahawks Win, 38-37.
The Denver Broncos are annoying.
I was very vocal on Twitter about how much I was against Gary Kubiak switching to Peyton Manning in the regular season finale. Brock Osweiler had earned the starting job, and Kubiak put up with more than enough bad performances from Peyton than to yank Osweiler in my opinion.
Nevertheless the annoying Denver Broncos have caught another break with a ticket to the AFC Championship Game on the line as Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams have already been ruled out of this contest. Never fear though... Ben Roethlisberger is also severely limited. Good thing the Broncos boast what is arguably the league's best defense.
I've got a Bold Prediction for this game that you'll have to come back tomorrow to see, but I just don't see how Pittsburgh sans all of their great weapons, and with a limited Big Ben, has enough to take down Denver.
It took a perfect effort from a completely healthy Roethlisberger and Antonio to beat the Broncos a few weeks ago... with so much going Denver's way this game is well in hand for them.
Official Pick: Broncos Win, 23-16.
Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?
The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.
The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.
All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?
Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.
In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.
That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.
So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.
Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.
It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.
Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.
Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.
Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?
Without Looming Suspension, RB Ezekiel Elliott Should Shine In 2018
NFL Films typically does a good job of exposing some truths around NFL teams. Whether through "Hard Knocks" or Amazon's new "All or Nothing" series, these documentaries do an excellent job of giving fans an inside look of their favorite teams.
If anything was revealed through the Cowboys' All or Nothing series on their 2017 season, it's that Ezekiel Elliott's suspension weighed heavy on his mind all year.
The Pro Bowl running back did not look, act, or play like himself while awaiting decision on his incoming suspension. And, once it was finally announced he would serve the six games, the entire team collapsed in Atlanta.
Despite the clear and detrimental effects Elliott's suspension had on the Cowboys' season, Zeke still put up more-than-respectable numbers; rushing for almost 1,000 yards and averaging a league leading 98.3 yards per game.
Now, Ezekiel Elliott enters a season with no doubts about his own availability. Scott Linehan gets to coach an offense that knows they will have their best player for the entire season barring major injury. And, Jason Garrett can lead his team without addressing questions about Elliott's future day in and day out.
Of course, these effects aren't quantifiable. We can't sit here and say that without the pressure of court appearances and suspensions that Elliott will be worth "X" amount of more yards and "Y" more touchdowns.
But I do believe we can say, without question, that playing with a clear mind and without a looming suspension will breed the type of production we saw from Zeke his rookie year.
We can say that Elliott has had a weight lifted off his shoulders, and could be looking for revenge on a league he feels did him wrong.
And, for the Cowboys sake, I hope this is true. Because they are going to need Ezekiel Elliott to be even better than he ever has been if they hope to make a run at the Super Bowl in 2018.
Cowboys en Español: El Regreso de Randy Gregory
A sólo días de que los Dallas Cowboys aterricen en Oxnard, California para dar inicio a su training camp como todos los años, el equipo recibió excelentes noticias respecto a la selección de segunda ronda del 2015: Randy Gregory. Después de pasar todo el 2017 suspendido, el ala defensiva ha sido oficialmente reintegrado por la NFL.
Gregory, quien tuvo muchos problemas debido al uso de marihuana, ha pasado los últimos meses rehabilitándose para poder volver a vestir la estrella y volver al emparrillado. Los Cowboys, quienes siempre apoyaron a su joven jugador, sin duda estarán felices de verlo de vuelta en el equipo por motivos más allá que el football americano.
Sin duda alguna, antes de estar emocionados y felices por verlo en el campo intimidando a quarterbacks rivales, deberíamos estar alegres por el logro personal de Randy como un ser humano. Realmente hizo un esfuerzo consciente en un lugar en el que muchos se hubieran rendido y dejado sus sueños de ser parte de la NFL. Pero no lo hizo, y ahora, todos sus esfuerzos han valido la pena.
El siguiente paso en su lista por-hacer, es volver al campo y poco a poco, ganarse su puesto en el equipo y después, la titularidad. La última vez que vimos a Gregory en el campo, fue contra Philadelphia, en el final de temporada del 2016.
En este juego, Gregory mostró muchos destellos de lo que sería capaz de hacer semana tras semana en la liga y porque valió la pena nunca dejarlo ir, lo cual no hubiera tenido sentido hacer, dado que los Cowboys no les costaba nada (literalmente) mantenerlo en el equipo.
Sean Martin escribió un artículo recientemente en el que analiza este partido a fondo.
El potencial de Gregory es inmenso, suficiente incluso, para aventurarse a decir que se convertirá en el defensive end (ala defensiva) derecho antes de lo esperado. El reto más grande para el jugador de 25 años será regresar a una condición física óptima para la NFL.
Afortunadamente, a diferencia del 2016, Gregory no estará regresando a media temporada. Su llegada toma lugar justo a tiempo para el training camp, dándole tiempo para regresar a la forma en la que tiene que estar.
Una vez ahí, ¿qué tanto le tomará ganarse un rol más importante que el de Tyrone Crawford y Taco Charlton? A pesar de que prácticamente no lo hemos visto jugar en Dallas, sabemos el potencial que tiene para convertirse en un defensivo de suma importancia para los Cowboys.
Un año después de ver la mejor temporada en la carrera de DeMarcus Lawrence, los Cowboys tendrán el potencial de una estrella similar en el lado derecho de su línea defensiva. Gregory tiene una montaña que escalar para cumplir las expectativas de los aficionados, pero no será una sorpresa si lo logra.
Vaya, no olvidemos que si no fuera por sus problemas fuera del campo, hubiera sido seleccionado en el Top 10 del Draft del 2015. Tiene el potencial de conseguir diez sacks por temporada.
Con un poco de suerte, no nos equivocaremos en tenerle fe al jugador que ha tenido un gran viaje para llegar a este punto. El punto de ponerse el casco e ir a trabajar con su equipo.
Incluso si sólo llega a ser un jugador de rotación, sin duda será importante para el éxito del equipo. Entre DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Randy Gregory y el resto del talento que los Cowboys tienen en la línea defensiva, el equipo podría tener un frente de muy buena calidad.
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