Now that we've crossed into the second half of the season, it's time to start looking at playoff seeding. Every week we'll check out the current standings and seedings while also breaking down each game that has any NFC playoff relevance.
If the NFL playoffs started today, these would be the NFC standings based on all the NFC teams with records at .500 or better:
- Dallas Cowboys (8-1)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1)
- Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
- Detroit Lions (5-4)
- New York Giants (6-3)
- Washington (5-3-1)
- Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)
- Minnesota Vikings (5-4)
- Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1)
- The Vikings are behind the Lions in the NFC North due to a head-to-head loss in Week 9. They play again on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
- The Vikings are behind the Eagles due to a head-to-head loss in Week 7.
The most notable thing here is the overwhelming presence of NFC East teams. The Cowboys would be the top seed with New York and Washington taking both Wild Card Spots. Top top it off, the Eagles are next closest to earning a playoff spot.
Obviously, there's still a lot of season to go and there will be some big shifts. Technically, the 1-8 San Francisco 49ers are still mathematically in the playoff race. However, using common sense, we're going to look at things through a realistic lens.
So, with that said, let's take a look at the NFL Week 11 games that will impact the NFC playoff standings. As always, we'll be look at everything from the standpoint of what helps our Cowboys.
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
The Saints are 4-5 and fighting to stay relevant. The reigning NFC Champions, at 3-6, have won two of their last three and may still be hoping for a late-season surge. A loss here will do considerable damage those goals. Neither team is likely to catch the Falcons in the NFC South, but they could still be Wild Card factors if they string some wins together.
Baltimore Ravens @ Dallas Cowboys
Dallas bring its eight-game winning streak back home to host the 5-4 Ravens. It won't be easy for the Cowboys as they face Baltimore's top-ranked defense, but other strong run defenses haven't been able to find answers for Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas should keep to their winning ways.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Detroit Lions
Detroit's tenuous lead in the NFC North will be helped by a visit from the struggling Jaguars. The Lions have won four of their last five and Matthew Stafford is playing the best football of his career. They should pick up another win here.
Tampa Bay Bucs @ Kansas City Chiefs
Like the Saints and Panthers in their division, the Buccaneers are just trying to stay close. They are 4-5 now but face a tough road test against the 7-2 Chiefs. This will likely be a backwards step in Tampa's postseason push.
Chicago Bears @ New York Giants
The pesky Giants, at 6-3, should get the win at home against the declawed Bears. New York has a head-to-head tiebreaker against Dallas currently, so every week they can keep pace is notable for Cowboys fans. With seven weeks left in the season, a two-game lead doesn't mean much.
Arizona Cardinals @ Minnesota Vikings
Still in the mix with a 5-4 record, the Vikings feel like they're about done this season. They've lost four straight and it whatever voodoo was helping them early in the year has vanished. They might get the win here against a middling Cardinals squad, but neither of these teams has the feel of a playoff contender.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Seattle Seahawks
The biggest game in the NFC this week, the Eagles are hanging around the playoff picture at just a half-game behind Washington. Seattle is starting to look like their old selves now that Russell Wilson is healthy. The Cowboys benefit either way here, but one could argue that an Eagles win does them more good as it keeps Seattle further from the top seed and home field advantage.
Green Bay Packers @ Washington
Desperation has struck Wisconsin as Aaron Rodgers and his head coach are trading barbs in the media. The perennial NFC-contending Packers will be looking right the ship against a solid Washington team. While I enjoy seeing the calamity in Green Bay, a Washington loss is still better here to help pad the Cowboys' division lead.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys, Elliott Should Keep Close Tabs on Le’Veon Bell’s Situation
The deadline for reaching an agreement with franchise tagged players came to an end last Monday, in what turned out to be a pretty uneventful day all around the league. No agreement was reached by any of the teams with their respective players, including the Dallas Cowboys and their promising "War Daddy," DeMarcus Lawrence.
But the Cowboys' front office have something to learn in this process that doesn't involve a player of their own. Something that both the front office and Ezekiel Elliott should be keeping a close eye on.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also failed to secure their franchise tagged player: Running Back Le'Veon Bell. Really, no one expected a deal to be reached among the two parties. The 26-year old football super star is asking for too much money, which has led to the Steelers tagging him twice in consecutive years.
Bell, conscious of his abilities on the field, is asking for a lot of money from his football team. In 2018, he's set to earn over $14.5M under the tag. That's more than twice the money that Devonta Freeman averages per year - 8.25 million - who's next on the list of highest paid running backs in the league and the highest paid on a long-term contract.
Just to clarify: Steelers' offer to Le'Veon Bell last year averaged $13.3 million per year. Steelers' offer to him this year averaged $15 million per year. But Bell does not believe he should be paid as a RB; he believes he should be paid as an elite offensive weapon.
Le'Veon, whose agent has said 2018 will likely be his last season playing as a Steeler, was reportedly offered $15M per year but that wasn't enough for him. Bell wants to get paid as an elite offensive weapon, which he is. But it turns out he's also... a running back.
It's a complicated situation and one that, if it turns out well for him in free agency next year, could revolutionize the entire running back market in the NFL. If it doesn't, he might end up regretting passing on the Steelers' offer for he won't easily find that kind of money with a team that seems to be a Super Bowl contender on a yearly basis.
The Dallas Cowboys' priorities will rely on other players during the next couple of years, but that shouldn't keep them from keeping close tabs on these events since they could be dealing with a similar scenario when Ezekiel Elliott's turn for a new deal comes around.
Fairly assuming that the fifth year option on Zeke's contract will be picked up after the 2018 season, locking him up through 2020, it's a problem that will be down the road for the Cowboys. But it will have to be dealt with at some point.
When his time is up, Elliott should undoubtedly be looking to become the highest-paid in the game, but the amount of money he gets will depend on the outcome of this whole Le'Veon-Steelers thing. David Johnson and Todd Gurley will also play an important role in determining the future of the running back market.
While Elliott hasn't been used as a receiving threat during his first two seasons in the league, he's still an elite offensive weapon for the Cowboys. The team's offense is based around Zeke and the running game, so it will make sense if his demands are somewhat similar from those by Bell.
Elliott might even be franchise tagged once or twice by the Cowboys if things get complicated in the future. Unlike DeMarco Murray in 2014, surely they won't be willing to let him walk in free agency once his contract comes to an end.
For now, it won't be just the Cowboys who will be keeping close tabs on this situation, but also Ezekiel Elliott and his agent. Hopefully, both parties will manage to handle things better than what we're seeing right now in Pittsburgh.
What’s Left for Cowboys to Offer in Deal for Earl Thomas?
Earl Thomas' latest subtle reference to the Dallas Cowboys on Instagram was not so subtle. In fact, Monday's post was more inspired by Thomas' actions at AT&T Stadium back in December. The Seahawks week 16 win had just eliminated the Cowboys from playoff contention, as Thomas tracked down Dallas Head Coach Jason Garrett in the tunnel afterwards.
Thomas' Christmas Eve wish to the losing coach, who finished 9-7 last season? "Come get me," which is well out of both Garrett's and Thomas' reach. Within reach has been Thomas' social media accounts, which he's used to stir up his displeasure with the Seahawks entering the final year of his contract.
Already seeing four time Pro Bowl Safety Kam Chancellor announce the end of his career this offseason, the Seahawks are going through a transition they have every right to include Thomas in.
The Cowboys, and several other teams around the league that undoubtedly have interest in Thomas, could also help the Seahawks speed up their rebuild by offering a package of young talent or draft picks.
The Cowboys last known offer for Thomas came during the NFL Draft. As first-round talent Connor Williams out of Texas waited patiently at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys made his dream of playing for America's Team come true instead of sending that 50th overall pick to Seattle.
With their new starting left guard in the fold, the Cowboys came back on the clock at 81st overall in the third round. Still in need of a wide receiver, the Cowboys stole Colorado State's Michael Gallup -- with a pick that the Seahawks reportedly turned down as compensation for Thomas.
Now, the Cowboys are preparing for their 2018 training camp with both rookies Williams and Gallup expected to start and contribute right away. The Seahawks will be expecting the same from their veteran in Thomas, as his post above makes it clear he's looking for an extension from the team prior to showing up for camp.
Whether or not Earl actually passes on the money he's due to play this season prior to hitting the open market is a different story. It should be one of little concern to a Cowboys team with expiring contracts on Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and other key players next offseason.
So what does the optimal (and rare) late-July trade for a star player look like for the Cowboys landing Thomas, and dealing with his contract situation afterwards? Here are a few scenarios that the team could see play out in training camp.
Confidence in Kris Richard Enough for Cowboys to Trade Young Secondary Piece?
Thomas' appeal as a member of the Cowboys goes far beyond his own interest in the team, his roots in Texas, or Dallas' old habit of bringing in premier talent at any cost.
The cost here for Thomas is whatever the Seahawks hold over the Cowboys head, relying on him being a starter in their secondary for the ninth consecutive season. The 13th overall pick at the 2010 draft could come the Cowboys way if they're willing to also help the Seahawks patented "Legion of Boom" secondary remain a strength of that team.
The Cowboys already have a key member of this Super Bowl winning Seahawks defense, their Secondary Coach Kris Richard. Richard takes over as the Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator, setting expectations sky-high for young starters like Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods.
Letting Richard coach up this unit for a full year before the Cowboys part with anyone is a smart approach. Given the impact Thomas would have from the safety position in Dallas though, a spot the Cowboys currently lack a true difference maker at, moving on from some depth at cornerback could get a deal done with the Seahawks.
Players like Lewis, Marquez White, and Duke Thomas were all used sparingly as backup players in the Cowboys OTAs and mini camp. Knowing what Lewis can give them still as an outside or slot cornerback, the Cowboys may see their strength at CB as enough to upgrade significantly at safety.
Offering the Seahawks an athletic defender like Byron Jones, the converted safety that's projected to start on the boundary at CB for Richard's secondary, could be the most mutual trade these two teams make.
The Seahawks need a lot more than just a cornerback for Thomas, and the Cowboys need a more fortified reason to move on from any secondary players before a deal like this gets done.
Thomas agreeing to an extension with the Cowboys or the team not being able to get a Lewis or Anthony Brown on the field in Oxnard would be one thing to look for if actual trade talks are going to rekindle between these clubs.
Future Draft Compensation, Riskier for the Seahawks or Cowboys?
Let's preface this look at the Cowboys draft capital by remembering how high the team themselves -- and not just draft scouts, analysts, and college coaches -- are on Connor Williams.
Holding the Cowboys rookie offensive lineman to the standards of Earl Thomas, with 25 career interceptions and 11 forced fumbles, is preposterous.
The certainty Williams may offer the Cowboys at LG could ultimately be the key to getting Thomas in the silver and blue however.
Also committing to swing tackle Cam Fleming and backup Guard Marcus Martin in free agency, the Cowboys offensive line is looking as deep and talented as ever.
The team would obviously like it to stay this way, especially after seeing Dak Prescott sacked 32 times last year. I wouldn't anticipate the Cowboys trading away anyone of value on their offensive line for Earl Thomas, despite how much a need this is for the Seahawks.
The Seahawks did spend a fifth round pick on Ohio State OT Jamarco Jones. It was the only investment the team made into their offensive line, doing so with their fourth and final pick of that round.
Just how much a future second-round pick would mean to the Seahawks is impossible to define. For the Cowboys, it currently means Connor Williams, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jaylon Smith. Their three most recent selections in this round should put a rest to the narrative that they consistently blow this pick by taking massive risks.
Thus, sending away any pick that Will McClay and the Cowboys can get their hands on is risky for the Cowboys. Being one they were willing to take back in April, the pressure remains on the Seahawks to trust their draft process and get compensation at the end of Thomas' career.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Earl Thomas being traded to the Cowboys remains a story for Dallas because they are constantly the team expected to make a move like this. Few players have been as public about the team they want to join than Thomas bartering the Cowboys, and even fewer can believe that Jerry Jones has not gotten a deal done for him because of this yet.
With plenty still to offer and the 2018 season rapidly approaching, the Cowboys have time to wait this out -- so much so that Thomas could happily play for the Seahawks this season and become a free agent in 2019.
Enough waiting is going on throughout Cowboys Nation though. The Cowboys don't arrive in Oxnard until next Wednesday, with Thomas no closer to arriving then, later in training camp, or never.
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