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Week 12 Playoff Projection: “Must Win” for Cowboys

Jess Haynie



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.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)
  3. New Orleans Saints (8-2)
  4. Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
  5. Carolina Panthers (7-3)
  6. Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
  7. Detroit Lions (6-4)
  8. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
  9. Green Bay Packers (5-5)
  10. 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.

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!

Player News

Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson

Jess Haynie



Deonte Thompson

The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.

Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.

Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.

Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.

For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class

Kevin Brady



Byron Jones

Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.

By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.

While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.

Byron Jones

The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.

Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.

Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.

Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.

Chaz Green

Okay, hear me out.

The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.

Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.

Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.

Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.

La'el Collins

It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.

Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.

Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.

Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.

If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.

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Player News

Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal

Sean Martin



Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal

At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.

The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.

Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.

A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.

Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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