I've never liked saying there's a must-win game before we even get to December, but it's hard to argue against it for the Dallas Cowboys this week. Now 5-5 after losing their first games of Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, they get one of the easiest opponents they'll have the rest of the year. If the Cowboys can't beat the Los Angeles Chargers today, they don't deserve to make the playoffs.
Here are the current NFC standings. With six weeks left to go, we'll include all of the teams with .500 records or better.
- Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)
- Minnesota Vikings (8-2)
- New Orleans Saints (8-2)
- Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
- Carolina Panthers (7-3)
- Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
- Detroit Lions (6-4)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
- Green Bay Packers (5-5)
- Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
- Minnesota is ahead of New Orleans thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker from a Week 1 victory.
- The Falcons are the #6 team with head-to-head wins over both Detroit and Seattle.
- The Lions (5-3 vs NFC) are ahead of the Seahawks (4-3) thanks to a lightly better record in conference games.
- Green Bay is ahead of Dallas thanks to their head-to-head win in Week 5.
Getting back into one of those the NFC Wild Card spots will be tough for the Cowboys. They have given up losses to the Falcons and Packers. Green Bay will likely fall out of the race before long, but Atlanta is looking good to stick around. The Cowboys will have to hope that the Falcons collapse down the stretch.
Here are the NFC-relevant games from the Week 12 schedule:
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
One of the best games of the week; longtime rivals with major playoff implications. If the Lions can use the short week and home field to their advantage, they will pull within just a game of the Vikings in the NFC North and pick up a critical NFC win for their Wild Card positioning. Minnesota will remain the division leaders even with a loss, but they would like to remain in that top two position for a first-round bye.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
With head-to-head tiebreakers over Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, and Seattle, the Falcons have some major leverage in the Wild Card hunt. What's more, with two games left on the schedule against New Orleans and one with Carolina, still winning the NFC South is very much on their radar. They get a soft opponent this week in the 4-6 Bucs to maintain their solid position.
Carolina Panthers @ New York Jets
With a win today against the Jets and a very possible Saints loss in Los Angeles, Carolina could pull even with New Orleans in their division. The Saints do have a tiebreaker from beating the Panthers earlier this year, but they meet again next week in what could be a division-deciding showdown.
Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles should keep on soaring with the sorry Bears coming to town. Philly gets to keep padding its lead both in the NFC East and as the top team in the conference.
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers
After a crushing loss last week to Atlanta, the Seahawks get take it out on the whipping boys of the NFC West.
New Orleans Saints @ Los Angeles Rams
A huge game in the NFC this week as two division leaders square off. The Rams are coming off a tough loss to the Vikings where they didn't really look on their level. They need a confidence-restoring victory here, but the Saints have won eight-straight and are finding ways to win even the games they shouldn't. A loss today by L.A. could be all Seattle needs to retake the NFC West.
Green Bay Packers @ Pittsburgh Steelers
A likely loss to the Steelers on Sunday night should knock the Packers out of the playoff conversation. However, they have winnable games with the Bucs and Browns after. With murmurs of Aaron Rodgers returning before the end of the year, perhaps they can stay alive long enough for him to come back and work some magic.
Trade for Cooper Shows Where Cowboys Stand on Prescott
The Dallas Cowboys clearly needed a starting wide receiver, so they went out and got one. The Oakland Raiders were willing to shop the two time Pro-Bowler and the Jones were willing to pull the trigger. This year, offense has been the problem for Dallas and a WR1 should give the fans a bit of hope for the remainder of the 2018 season, a year in which the division title is very much on reach as it's only led by a 4-2 Washington team.
There's no much debate as to whether or not Amari Cooper's arrival to the team helps the offense or not. Cooper is undeniably better than Allen Hurns or Deonte Thompson and his impact will be immediately felt on the field when the Cowboys play the Tennessee Titans after their bye week.
The concern surrounding this trade has to do with the compensation aspect. Dallas decided to part ways with a first round pick to get Cooper. That's a lot. It's hard to justify giving away a first rounder and Cooper will have to try to fix the offense to prove he was worth it.
But the meaning of this trade goes deeper than that. Due to Dak Prescott's struggles in 2018, many are rightfully questioning his future on the Cowboys. Is he the franchise QB we thought he was in 2016 or was he really just a "one-year-wonder"?
Playing his third year as the team's starting quarterback, negotiation time is not far for the Cowboys and Prescott. So far, he's not proven to be worth the huge contracts signal-callers have been getting around the league lately.
But this trade is a clear indicator on where the front office stands regarding Dak. They are all-in on him. He's not going anywhere for a while and they just proved it by trading for Cooper. If the Cowboys were to consider moving on from Prescott after 2018, they would've probably saved a first round pick to have the option of going for his replacement on the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Instead, they are getting their young QB a strong weapon for him to throw the ball to.
It looks like Prescott's play would have to keep regressing in order for this front office to consider making a move here down the road.
Trusting Dak is not a wrong decision here. He might not be elite or even close to being among the league's best but he should be able to compete with a strong supporting cast around him. Cooper is great at creating separation which will only help Dak connect with him often and open un the passing game as well as the running game.
On the other hand, though, this should put a bit more pressure on Prescott. He's got a WR1, a great slot receiver and one hell of a running back. He must take advantage of the position the front office is putting him in. There are no excuses now.
Whether or not the Cowboys paid "way too much," their offense is better today than it was last Sunday. We'll have to wait until November 11th to watch him and Dak Prescott connect with each other. With a little bit of execution, they should have Cowboys Nation feeling better about giving away a first rounder.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Offense, Coaches Have a Ways to Go Still
Another week, another mood swing for Cowboys Nation. The Dallas Cowboys failed to get what would have been their first road win in 2018. They fell short of taking the Washington Redskins to overtime in an NFC East match up that was lost as the visiting team kept shooting themselves on the foot.
As Dallas falls back to a losing record on the season, there are a lot of things to point out regarding last Sunday's heartbreaking loss.
Here is this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday! As always, feel free to tell me your thoughts on the comments section below.
Cowboys could've had the "ugly win" but ended up with horrific loss.
The Cowboys have lost four games in total this season and this one is definitely the most painful one yet. Why? Despite all the drive-killing penalties and mistakes they made, Jason Garrett's team actually had a chance to walk away from FedExField as the NFC East leader.
But they didn't. Instead, a "snap infraction" pushed them back five yards and Brett Maher failed his first field goal attempt since week 1 as the football hit the post.
What's even worse, is that once again, this team proved to have a ton of flaws. This isn't just about poor quarterback play, wide receivers dropping passes, offensive linemen getting beat or about coaching.
It's about all of it collectively being bad and inconsistent.
A couple of weeks ago, we were complaining about Garrett not being aggressive enough to go for it on fourth and one on the opponent's 42. In response to the immense backlash from fans, analysts and even Jerry Jones, Garrett went for it on fourth and one in his own territory in Washington.
This was definitely a good call. In this case, coaching was good, but execution wasn't. Dak Prescott fumbled on a simple QB sneak and the drive was done. The Dallas Cowboys have many, many issues. Pointing the finger at one coach or one player will not make the difference.
This isn't your 2016 offensive line.
Since 2014, Cowboys Nation has been proud of this team's offensive line. Filled with elite talent, no one would ever beat them, but things have changed. Ron Leary and Doug Free are long gone and Connor Williams and La'el Collins have taken their places. Travis Frederick is sidelined with an immune system syndrome and well... as much as you and I hate to admit it, Tyron Smith is not the same.
So far today... Tyron Smith penalty kills a great run by Dak. Connor Williams penalty kills a great throw from Dak to Beasley. La'el Collins penalty kills a great run by Dak.
They can make blocks and are an above-average unit, but the penalties make them look like a terrible one. The game started with a huge gain erased by a holding penalty and a few plays later it was the Redskins with the lead 7-0.
Prescott hasn't played very well, and this OL's struggles are a big part of the why.
Simply put, Dak needs to be better.
Before we say Prescott is a terrible quarterback and a one-year wonder, let's try to find some middle ground. Dak is not a great quarterback. He's not an elite gunslinger that will put the team on his back and lead them to victories. He's definitely not that. But he's also not a terrible quarterback and he's not the worst QB in the NFL.
With a strong supporting cast, I think Dak Prescott is a very capable QB. Does that make him special? No. Does that make him a bad player? No.
Now granted, this has been a bad year for him and that needs to change. He's taking longer to make the throw, his poise isn't nearly as good as in 2016 and his in-pocket awareness needs improvement. Against the Redskins, we might've seen one of the worst plays in his career.
With Michael Gallup breaking open deep, Prescott doesn't make the throw and instead tries to roll out of the pocket. First off, there is simply no excuse in not making that pass. He didn't even have to "throw him open." He just had to take the shot. But he didn't.
Then, he fumbles the ball and Washington takes it in for six. Yikes.
We know he can be better, we've seen him playing way better football than he is right now. Even if the OL isn't performing as well or his receivers are dropping balls (because they are), he must step up. It's okay if he doesn't put up elite performances, but come on.
Despite the scoreboard, Cowboys defense is legit.
Before we end this Takeaway Tuesday, let's say goodbye with a positive note. The Cowboys' defense is very, very good. The Redskins' first TD came early in the game after a rare bad punt from Chris Jones that gave Alex Smith and company a very good spot to start the offensive drive.
In a disastrous opening performance, the Cowboys let them march the ball into the end zone and give them the early seven-point lead. After that, Dallas only allowed six points on defense. Note that the Redskins' second touchdown came from Prescott's fumble mentioned above.
Sean Lee was great in his comeback to the field. The defensive line also put a nice game and the secondary made sure to exploit a banged up receiving core. At least we have our defense to feel good about.
History Working Against Amari Cooper Trade Working Out For Dallas
When it comes to trading for wide receivers, the Dallas Cowboys don't exactly have the best track record. That is why I wasn't all that happy to hear the Cowboy sent their 2019 first-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Amari Cooper, especially knowing how a couple of trades just like this have worked out in the past.
Giving up a first-round draft pick is a tough pill to swallow, especially after we saw the New England Patriots acquire Josh Gordon for just a fifth rounder. Talk about a slap in the face. I personally believe Gordon is a better WR than Cooper, but that's a discussion for another time. What I want to talk about today is history hopefully not repeating itself for the Cowboys.
Unfortunately, the Amari Cooper trade looks a lot like a couple of wide receiver trades the Dallas Cowboys have made in the past. Yes, I'm talking about the acquisitions of Roy Williams and Joey Galloway, arguably the worst two trades in Cowboys history.
You may have forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys sent to first-round draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks in a trade to acquire Joey Galloway back in 2000. He spent three whole seasons and part of a fourth in Dallas and never really lived up to the expectations he brought with him from the Seahawks. His most productive season with the Cowboys was in 2002 where he caught 61 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns, hardly worth two first round draft picks.
The Dallas Cowboys didn't learn their lesson from the Joey Galloway trade and decided to throw caution to the wind once again when they acquired Roy Williams in 2008 from the Detroit Lions. Williams only spent three seasons in Dallas and like Galloway, didn't live up to the 1st, 3rd, and 6th round draft picks traded away to acquire him.
I really don't know how all of you feel about history repeating itself, but the Amari Cooper trade just has way too many similarities to the acquisitions of Roy Williams and Joey Galloway for me to have too much hope of it being successful. I guess we could take a little solace in the fact the Cowboys just gave up one draft pick if that helps any.
Amari Cooper has about a year and a half with the Dallas Cowboys to prove the organization doesn't have some kind of curse when it comes to trading for wide receivers. He becomes a free agent in 2020 unless an extension is worked out before hand. It's not a lot of time to prove oneself, especially since he's joining a new team with a new QB, but that's the situation he finds himself in now.
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