As I do every year at the mid-season turn, this week marks the beginning of my annual Playoff Projections. As long as the Dallas Cowboys are in playoff contention, each week we will look at the NFC standings and the games on the schedule that could impact Dallas' playoff positioning.
After a scary 2-3 start to the season, the Cowboys have won three-straight games and pushed their way back into the top six. It helps that only seven of the 16 NFC teams have winning records at the moment.
Here are the current NFC standings. With much season left to go, we'll include all of the teams with .500 records or better.
- Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)
- New Orleans Saints (6-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
- Los Angeles Rams (6-2)
- Carolina Panthers (6-3)
- Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
- Seattle Seahawks (5-3)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-4)
- Detroit Lions (4-4)
- Washington (4-4)
- Green Bay Packers (4-4)
- Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
- The three-way tie between the Saints, Vikings, and Rams will have a lot more clarity as the season goes on. The Saints (5-1 against NFC) are ahead of the Vikings (4-1) and Rams (4-2) right now because of a better record in conference play. Even though Minnesota beat New Orleans in Week One, the Rams make it a three-way tie so the head-to-head tiebreaker doesn't apply. However, the Vikings and Rams play each other in Week 11 and then the Saints and Rams meet in Week 12.
- The Cowboys have a slight edge over the Seahawks because of a 4-2 record against NFC opponents, with Seattle at just 3-2. They will play each other in Week 16 in Dallas.
- The five-way cluster of 4-4 teams is all based on in-conference play. It's too early in the season to worry about that. We'll see how these teams factor in the playoff picture as things move along.
The Cowboys are currently looking good for one of the Wild Card spots and, of course, still have two games left with the Eagles to try to catch them. This week they face a critical game against a solid NFC opponent. Let's take a look at that, plus all of the other Week 10 games that may have a bearing on these NFC standings.
Dallas Cowboys @ Atlanta Falcons
The Cowboys bring their winning streak into Atlanta to meet the reigning NFC Champions. The Falcons have struggled with Kyle Shanahan's departure to San Francisco and are not close to the offensive juggernaut they were last year. What's more, their once-vaunted home field advantage as vanished. They are 1-2 at home this season and only 10-9 since 2015. The Cowboys have a better road record (12-8) over the same span of time.
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals
Tonight's game is a big one for Seattle, who can't afford to take their division rival lightly even without Carson Palmer. It's a short week and a road game for Seattle, who's offense still has some issue that the Cardinals' defensive stars could exploit. While Arizona doesn't project to be a factor in the NFC by the end of the season, they're still in the hunt and will be motivated to win.
New Orleans Saints @ Buffalo Bills
The Saints have been a big surprise this year, but a cold day in upstate New York may be an issue for their finesse offense. The Bills are also a strong team at 5-3 and have the weapons on both sides of the ball to win. This should be one of the best game of the week.
Minnesota Vikings @ Washington
Another of the better games this week, the Vikings take a four-game win streak into Washington. Despite losing Dalvin Cook and Sam Bradford, Minnesota keeps finding ways to overcome thanks to a great defense and solid play from QB Case Keenum. It may be tough this week, though, against a 4-4 Washington team who is desperate to keep their season afloat.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears
Much like the Cardinals, the Packers will likely fall out of the race soon without their starting quarterback. The Bears would love to hang a loss on their hated rival, but do they have the talent to do it? Brett Hundley may still be better than Mitch Trubisky at this point.
Cleveland Browns @ Detroit Lions
The Lions get a gift this week with the Cleveland Clown Show coming to town.
Houston Texans @ Los Angeles Rams
The Rams' electric offense shouldn't have much trouble against the struggling Texans. With J.J. Watt gone, Houston is barely average and particularly bad against the pass. The Rams should be able to keep their stunning season on track.
Miami Dolphins @ Carolina Panthers
Despite allowing 179 points this season and only scoring 116, Miami has a 4-4 record. That's almost the same scoring margin as the Browns or Giants, who are a combined 1-15. Something tells me the Panthers will handle their business.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys Address TE Injuries and Inexperience With This FA?
Star Blog1 week ago
Why is Jerry Jones “keeping a very close eye” on the Kareem Hunt Case?
Player News2 weeks ago
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch a Dominant Defensive Duo
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Will Kris Richard’s Success End Jason Garrett’s Era in Dallas?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
David Irving’s Return Could Make Cowboys’ Defense Even Scarier
Player News2 weeks ago
Cowboys Reinforcements on the Way, How Should Dallas Deploy Them?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Randy Gregory Is Looking Like We Always Thought He Could
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup Making a Huge Impact for Dallas Cowboys