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Week 12 Playoff Projection: Big NFC Showdowns on Thanksgiving

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten, Redskins

Week 11 in the NFL had minimal impact on the playoff standings. The Detroit Lions moved a notch ahead of the Atlanta Falcons, who were on their bye, but the six playoff teams remained the same.

If the NFL playoffs started today, these would be the NFC standings based on the teams with records at .500 or better:

  1. Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys 3 X Factors Against Philadelphia EaglesDallas Cowboys (9-1)
  2. Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1)
  3. Detroit Lions (6-4)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
  5. New York Giants (7-3)
  6. Washington (6-3-1)
    ----------------------------------
  7. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)
  9. Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)


TIEBREAKERS

  • The Lions  are ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North due to a head-to-head victory in Week 9. They play again tomorrow.
  • The Lions (4-2) are ahead of the Falcons (4-3) due to a better record against NFC opponents.
  • The Buccaneers (4-3) are ahead of the Eagles (3-5) due to a better record against NFC opponents.

We could see new teams in the playoff picture after some big NFC games this week. The most critical game are both tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day.  Here's a rundown of all playoff-relevant action in Week 12, and what Cowboys fans should be rooting for.

Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions

A huge division showdown will kick off Week 12. Detroit can take a two-game lead in the NFC North with a victory as it will give them the sweep over Minnesota this year. The Vikings want to avoid that, obviously, but also need to stay ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles. They lost to the Eagles in Week 7.

At this point it's hard to say what's best for the Cowboys. They will play both Detroit and Minnesota over the final six weeks of the season, so those outcomes will determine what tiebreakers may be in play.

Washington @ Dallas Cowboys

This is one of the biggest showdowns between Dallas and Washington in many years. The Cowboys nine-game win streak began in Washington in Week 2, with both teams playing better now than they were earlier in the year.

The Cowboys will retain their spot as the NFC's top seed even with a loss, though it will put them dangerously closer to their division foes. A loss for Washington would likely knock them out of their Wild Card spot.

Arizona Cardinals @ Atlanta Falcons

Once one of the NFL's hottest teams, the Falcons have come back to earth with three losses in their last five games. They are now only a game ahead of Tampa Bay. Fortunately for Atlanta, they will be hosting a limping Cardinals squad. Arizona will be desperate to win to get back to .500, but Atlanta is coming off their bye week and should be favored.

With Arizona all but out of it, a Falcons loss is what benefits Dallas most. We have a comfortable three-game lead over them in the NFC standings, but every little bit helps.

New York Giants @ Cleveland Browns

Every team in the NFC East gets the gift of playing Cleveland this year. The Giants shouldn't have any trouble with the Browns, but face a much stiffer opponent next week with a another road game in Pittsburgh.

Seattle Seahawks @ Tampa Bay Bucs

A surprisingly meaningful game, the Seahawks fly east to face a Buccaneer team that has the playoffs in their crosshairs. Seattle should clinch the NFC West soon and is now just playing for their seeding. The Bucs are both a game back of Atlanta in the NFC South and just a few wins from a Wild Card spot.

Clearly, Dallas fans will be rooting for a Seattle loss to increase our hold on the NFC's number-one seed. Home field advantage is nice anytime, but especially if it means keeping it away from the Seahawks.

Green Bay Packers @ Philadelphia Eagles

Still only two games back of their division rivals, the Packers aren't dead yet. They still have Aaron Rodgers and the Eagles have lost five of their last seven games. Both teams will be desperate, and the veteran Rodgers can handle that pressure better than rookie Carson Wentz.

Obviously, Philadelphia's pain is Dallas' pleasure. With no strategic value in a Packers loss, we can freely root against the Eagles as nature intended.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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1 Comment
  • John Williams

    As a Cowboys fan, think I’m pulling for the Buccaneers, the Cardinals, Vikings, Packers, and Browns.

Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense

The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.

Cowboys Have a Championship Defense

Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.

The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.

The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.

Offensive Line Woes Are Gone

The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.

Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.

It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?

Dak Prescott Continues To Be Money In Clutch Si

Dak Prescott: Clutch QB

Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.

With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.

Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.

Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Player News

Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?

John Williams

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Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim Quietly Exceeding Expectations? 1

Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.

David Helman on Twitter

Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire

In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.

But in reality, is there?

For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.

The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.

First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.

The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.

Film Review: What's Up with Allen Hurns?

In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.

Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?

Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.

That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.

Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.



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Player News

Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support

Jess Haynie

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Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.

According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.

A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:

“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”

Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.

As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:

“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”

While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.

The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.

Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.



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