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.
Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson Benefits Most From Terrance Williams Issue
The fallout from Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams' arrest yesterday remains to be seen. Whether or not it costs him a roster spot is hard to say, but a suspension is likely. Whatever the case, veteran Deonte Thompson stands to be the biggest beneficiary of Terrance's issues.
Signed last March to a minimal one-year, $1.8 million contract, Thompson is a 29-year-old late bloomer who only last season got some notice in Buffalo. Given the limitations of the Bills' passing game with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, Dallas clearly hopes that Deonte could do more with a more traditional offense and passer.
The Cowboys acquisition of Thompson was quickly overshadowed after they picked up Allen Hurns just a few weeks later. Deonte was actually signed just a couple of days after Hurns' release from Jacksonville, so it's fair to question if Dallas would have even signed him if they'd already picked up Hurns.
Even with Dez Bryant's release, the depth chart still didn't look good for Thompson. He was clearly behind Hurns and Cole Beasley and was likely battling with Terrance Williams for targets. Once the team drafted Michael Gallup in the third round, things looked even worse for the veteran.
But now, if Williams is going to miss time or be gone completely, Deonte Thompson could find himself with a big role to start the year.
While Gallup is exciting, he's also a rookie. Thompson has been a starter the last few years and played in a few different systems. Dallas may lean on his experience early if Terrance is gone either temporarily or permanently.
One reason the Cowboys brought Deonte in was for speed, and that value doesn't change regardless of who else is on the roster. Essentially, Thompson is the new Brice Butler; intriguing qualities but just no consistent production at other stops.
If Deonte can do more with what Dallas throws him than Butler did, he might carve out a steady role. Brice always seemed to follow up his big plays with blunders, never gaining any real momentum during his time as a Cowboy.
Before Williams' arrest, there was a legitimate question as to whether or not Thompson would even make the 2018 roster. If younger prospects like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir made noise, perhaps Dallas would've just let the 29-year-old walk.
But with Terrance's availability now the big question, Thompson's experience becomes vastly more important. It could mean a big early role in 2018.
Depending on what he does with his opportunity, Deonte Thompson could've gone from an offseason afterthought to a major part of the team's success.
Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?
This will hardly be the last article written about the wide receivers of the Dallas Cowboys entering the 2018 season. However, we can only hope it's the last off-field incident that will factor into the difficult decisions the Cowboys will make on their final depth chart at WR. Yesterday, veteran Wide Receiver Terrance Williams was arrested for public intoxication after leaving the scene of a crash involving his Lamborghini.
Cowboys WR Terrance Williams released a statement on his recent arrest detailing several facets of the incident: "I have always been an upstanding citizen and handled the situation the best way I know how.
Details concerning the severity of the incidents that led to Williams arrest remain somewhat unclear. His on-field production certainly has not been though, putting himself in an expendable position by failing to catch a touchdown in 2017 and only going for over 100 yards once.
Handling this Terrance Williams situation in whatever the "right way" is will be yet another critical decision the Cowboys make under Head Coach Jason Garrett. A team that has clearly valued continuity under Garrett, there is precedent for the Cowboys keeping a now-troubled player like Williams if the void he'd leave behind is too large.
It is widely believed that this is a Cowboys coaching staff working to keep their jobs in 2018. Losing Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams in one offseason may very well be too much.
Already dealing with a broken foot that expects to keep Terrance Williams out of football activities until training camp though, it is becoming increasingly easier for Williams to become forgotten about in new WR Coach Sanjay Lal's room.
New additions to this unit include FA signings Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, along with rookies Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. Joined by the likes of KD Cannon, Lance Lenoir, and Malik Earl, all of these receivers are going to stake their claims for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys before Williams even catches another pass from Dak Prescott.
Once perceived to be fighting for positions below Hurns, Williams, and Cole Beasley as locks on the final 53 man roster, Williams' arrest is the epitome of "next man up" in Dallas. Even if Williams remains with the team in 2018 - as cutting him would only make moral sense for the Cowboys, not financial - his days as a starting receiver may very well be numbered.
As mentioned, this won't be the first look we have at the status of the Cowboys receivers. I'm already on record having high expectations for Michael Gallup, and believe Cedrick Wilson was one of the steals of the draft for the Cowboys in the sixth round. The unproven nature of this pass catching unit (through to TE with rookie Dalton Schultz) is going to make for fascinating training camp battles, competing for spots in an offense that could still be one of the league's best.
Terrance Williams Arrest: Salary Cap Impact if Released
The news of Cowboys Wide Receiver Terrance Williams' arrest yesterday sent a shockwave through an otherwise quiet mid-May news cycle. Many fans are wondering what the team might do, and what effect the decision could have on Dallas' salary cap.
Unfortunately, moving on from Terrance won't bring the team any cap relief. But given their current cap space and where we are in the offseason, the Cowboys should have the freedom to cut the receiver if they choose to.
Depending on who you ask (OverTheCap, Spotrac), the Cowboys have somewhere between $5-$9 million in current cap room. If they release Williams before June 1st, his cap hit accelerates from $4.75 million to $7.25 million in dead money. That means he counts $2.5 million more off the team than on it.
If Terrance is cut on June 1st on later, the 2018 dead money is $4.75 million for a net-zero wash. That extra $2.5 million counts against 2019.
While that may sound cost-prohibitive on the surface, you have to remember where we are in the offseason. May is very different from March when you're talking about cap space.
Free agency is essentially over. The Cowboys don't need to worry too much about their 2018 cap room at this point, so they can absorb Williams' dead money if they want to cut him loose.
Martin's 2018 cap hit is currently around $9 million. Once he signs his new long-term deal, which is almost sure to come before training camp, that number should go down significantly. Dallas can do an immediate Year One restructure and potentially create around $6 million in cap space.
That alone would facilitate cutting Terrance Williams, but then they also have the hopeful new deal for Lawrence. The $17 million that Lawrence currently counts as a franchised player will go way down with a long-term contract. If Dallas can get that done, they may not have to touch Martin's deal.
The point here is that while cutting Williams is not a financially beneficial move, the money shouldn't stop the Cowboys if they don't want him around anymore.
If Terrance has proven anything during his five years in Dallas, it's that he doesn't have the talent to step into a primary role. With new arrival Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley both showing they can produce at a high level at times, plus exciting rookie Michael Gallup now in the mix, the Cowboys' season hardly relies on Williams' presence.
Of course, the Cowboys have a history of sticking by their guys during times of personal problems. Josh Brent did way worse than Terrance and remained supported by the organization.
But each situation and player are different, and the coaches may have already soured on Williams after a lackluster 2017. They may have only kept him because of those cap numbers we discussed before.
Terrance's latest dropped ball may have been the final straw, though. If so, the salary cap shouldn't stop Dallas from cutting him.
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