Week 13 is here, can you believe it?
It feels like just yesterday we were getting used to watching preseason NFL games and here we are... with only five weeks left in the regular season.
Time flies when you're having fun, and that's what we're about to do. Buckle up and get ready for the ride of Week 13 Picks that I'm taking you on.
Flash photography is allowed. Say cheese!
Thursday Night Football: Green Bay Packers (7-4) At Detroit Lions (4-7)
One of the teams entering this game has lost four out of their last five contests and has looked like one of the bottom teams in the NFL in that span.
It's the Green Bay Packers! Don't tell Olivia Munn.
When the Pack lost to Denver and Carolina back-to-back people chalked it up to just how great those teams were. They then lost to division rivals Detroit and Chicago (while Brett Favre's number was retired at halftime in one of the coolest moments ever) at what Ron Wolfe once referred to as the holy cathedral of professional football... Lambeau Field.
The Packers are in trouble right now. A road trip to Detroit who just spanked the Eagles is not what the doctor ordered. These Lions are starting to look like those of East Dillon (10 cool points if you catch the reference) and are playing some good football! Matthew Stafford is feeling good and he will be after this game.
Prediction: Packers - 23, LIONS - 27
Atlanta Falcons (6-5) At Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6)
After starting off 5-0 and getting way, way, WAY too much hype for it... the Atlanta Falcons are 1-5. That is not good.
This team is, and has been, one of the more overrated teams in the NFL. Matt Ryan has JULIO JONES on his team and still manages to have terrible offensive days. It would be difficult to be as bad as he's been even if you tried.
Consider that Brian Hoyer AND TJ Yates are able to effectively use DeAndre Hopkins down in Houston. Matty Ice? More like Matty Wet Towel.
The Buccaneers aren't exactly an elite team in the NFL, but they're better than the Falcons. If I could take over either of these two teams I'd take the Bucs, man. Jameis, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Austin Seferian-However You Spell It... fire the cannons at Raymond James Stadium!
Prediction: Falcons - 17, BUCCANEERS - 27
Houston Texans (6-5) At Buffalo Bills (5-6)
I owe a lot of apologies to the Houston Texans. I did not believe, I'm sorry.
The Texans aren't setting the world on fire, but they're also not the mess I thought that they'd be. They play smart football: throw it to DeAndre Hopkins and get after the quarterback with your elite defense. That's a great recipe.
As much as I want to, I can't take the Texans this week. In the NFL the more desperate team usually finds a way to win games this time of year. The Bills have now lost two in a row and their wildcard hopes are slipping out of their fingers.
Hungry Bills? Hungry Rex? IN Buffalo? Circle the wagons.
Prediction: Texans - 20, BILLS - 24
San Francisco 49ers (3-8) At Chicago Bears (5-6)
Blaine Gabbert is a functional NFL quarterback. That is the world that we are living in.
The Niners have definitely fulfilled their whole "Who's left on that team? They're going to stink!" hype, but they've been in some games that most thought they wouldn't. Just last week they had a chance to beat the Cardinals, but then Super Blaine stepped in and saved the day.
I like Jay Cutler. That's not a real popular opinion across the NFL, but that dude can throw a football for something like 14 miles. He has a cannon!
Jay is going to have a great day against a 49er team that has been in a tailspin since Jim Harbaugh left. Da Bears!
Prediction: 49ers - 14, BEARS - 23
Cincinnati Bengals (9-2) At Cleveland Browns (2-9)
It's never a good time in Cleveland when they're playing a team in December with an inverse record of them.
But is it ever a good time in Cleveland for the Browns?
I've seen a ton of crazy finishes to football games in my life. I've seen many heartbreakers. The Browns suffered one of the most gut-wrenching losses that I've ever seen on Monday Night Football three days ago. Even if they weren't the Browns... there's no coming back from that.
The Bengals woke up from their little slumber with an authoritative win over the Rams last week. A date with the most cursed NFL franchise ever is going to make them feel even prettier than Jeff Fisher did last week.
Prediction: BENGALS - 30, Browns - 13
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) At Tennessee Titans (2-9)
Thank God we don't have to watch this game in those horrible uniforms.
Unfortunately we still have to watch this game. Ugh.
You have to wonder if either of these two franchises is ever going to find a way to be consistently relevant in the NFL again. I've said before that I believe the Jaguars have a bright future with all of their young offensive weapons, but it's hard to imagine that the future will ever get here for either of these teams.
Give me the Jaguars. Why? Because. That's why!
Prediction: JAGUARS - 27, Titans - 26
Arizona Cardinals (9-2) At St. Louis Rams (4-7)
How is Jeff Fisher still a head coach in the NFL? Seriously.
The guy hasn't had a winning record since 2008, with the Titans, and a few weeks ago he let a concussed player continue to play quarterback! What in the world?!
The Rams are doomed to mediocrity under Fisher's reign. In the wise words of Forest Gump... that's all I have to say about that.
Oh and the Cardinals are good. Really good. Like crush the Rams in their own stadium in front of their own fans by at least 30 points good.
But the Rams get up for these games. It's weird. As terrible as they are and as good as the Cardinals are... just watch. The Rams are going to make this a game. It's going to be one of those big defense, low-scoring NFC West games.
Prediction: Cardinals - 13, RAMS - 16
Baltimore Ravens (4-7) At Miami Dolphins (4-7)
The Ravens blocked off the field at Cleveland with one of the more dramatic finishes to a game that we've seen this season. They celebrated in their locker room, looked around, and wondered who the heck all of these guys were. Where are their franchise players?
They're all hurt. The Ravens have suffered more injuries than even the Cowboys this season with Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr., Justin Forsett, and Joe Flacco among those sidelined for the season. Ouchie.
The Dolphins have had a weird season. They've fired their coach and played good football... then really bad football.
I'm just playing odds here. Dan Campbell's Dolphins (that sounds cool, by the way) have been really hot and cold. I think they're hot this week. Plain and simple. (insert dolphin noise here).
Prediction: Ravens - 17, DOLPHINS - 21
Seattle Seahawks (6-5) At Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
I really want to pick the Vikings here.
Mike Zimmer's group is feeling really good now that they're back in first place in the NFC North. They're going to the playoffs this season... you can count on that.
They are not winning this game.
The Seahawks know how to get hot at the right time. We've seen this scene from them over and over again. They're starting to gel, finally, and are playing their style of football. After a big win over the Steelers there's no way they're losing to a far less potent offense.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS - 30, Vikings - 26
New York Jets (6-5) At New York Giants (5-6)
Start spreading the news! I'm leaving today! I want to be a part of it... New York! New York!
The battle for the Big Apple is on as the Jets and Giants meet in their once every four years clash. How weird is it for the Jets to dress in the visiting locker room this game? These are the things that keep me up at night.
Ryan Fitzmagic is on fire this season. Eli Manning is on whatever the opposite of fire is. He just threw three interceptions... against the Redskins. That Jets defense? Good luck, Elisha.
Offensively the Jets are more dangerous than people fully realize. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Chris Ivory... fire up the Jet Fuel!
Also the Jets Cheerleaders official name is the "Jets Flight Crew". Why are they not the Flight Attendants? Wouldn't that make 1,000 times more sense?
Prediction: JETS - 33, Giants - 17
Denver Broncos (9-2) At San Diego Chargers (3-8)
I would feel badly for Peyton Manning if he didn't have another career as a full-time commercial actor.
How poetically sad is it that Peyton Manning is getting Tom Brady'd and that it happened against the one person that Peyton could never beat... Tom Brady?
"Getting Tom Brady'd" refers to how Brady took the reigns from Drew Bledsoe and never gave them back. It's a sick set of cards that Peyton Manning has been dealt.
Brock Osweiler looks great, though. He's going to keep pouring salt in Peyton's wounds this week against these non-electric Chargers.
Prediction: BRONCOS - 20, Chargers, 14
Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) At Oakland Raiders (5-6)
The Raiders teased us all by looking like a real football team early in the season. Alas, the Raiders we have all known for a long time are back!
So are the resurgent Chiefs. Alex Smith has gone something like 53,238 attempts without throwing an interception while his Chiefs dominate opponents.
There's no way the Raiders are going to be able to hang with KC in this game, but get ready for this:
Alex Smith's streak will end in the hands of Charles Woodson. Yahtzee!
Prediction: CHIEFS - 22, Raiders - 13
Philadelphia Eagles (4-7) At New England Patriots (10-1)
The Eagles are about to go into New England after the Patriots just lost, embarrassingly lost to be clear, for the first time this season at the home of one of their bigger rivals of the last few years.
Stock up on the smoothies, Captain Chip.
Philadelphia is going to be lucky to get a first down in this game. It's going to be a skunk-fest for Eagles fans (or what they call Sundays usually).
Prediction: Eagles - 6, PATRIOTS - 34
Carolina Panthers (11-0) At New Orleans Saints (4-7)
The Panthers are undefeated. They have one of the best offenses in the league. They are going up against one of the worst defenses in the league. The recipe is there.
There is a cold hard truth about the NFL and all of the statistical grandeur that comes with it. It does not matter against division opponents.
The Saints are winning this game. That's right. My gut says so.
Prediction: Panthers - 27, SAINTS - 30
Sunday Night Football: Indianapolis Colts (6-5) At Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
It was pretty shocking that Big Ben and the Steelers couldn't get the job done in Seattle. Their offense is as good as it gets right now.
The Colts are riding the wave of a nice little story about how Matt Hasselbeck is undefeated and quarterbacking them to victories while Andrew Luck heals.
That all ends Sunday night, Colts fans.
If you don't remember... last year Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and 6 touchdowns last year against the Colts.
You know where I'm going.
Prediction: Colts - 13, STEELERS - 31
Monday Night Football: Dallas Cowboys (3-8) At Washington Redskins (5-6)
If you've read my Anything Can Happen post here on Inside The Star then you know how much I still believe in these Dallas Cowboys.
The Redskins are playing good football, yes. But remember how I said that the more desperate team in the NFL tends to win? That's us.
The Cowboys aren't done yet, folks. They're going to keep things interesting. And the last complete game they played was Week 17 in Washington last year. They own that joint.
Cowboys. Redskins. With so much on the line... this feels like football.
Prediction: COWBOYS - 23, Redskins - 17
Will Throwing to New Set of Targets Be a Challenge for Dak?
Pass catchers talk is the talk of the 2018 Dallas Cowboys offseason. How wouldn't it be with Dez Bryant being cut and Terrance Williams being in trouble? Not to mention the retirement of 15-year veteran and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten?
It's a new era for America's Team. If everything works out according to plan, an era that will be led by Quarterback Dak Prescott. Hopefully, it's one in which the Cowboys will get back to glory and bring home the much-desired sixth Lombardi Trophy.
A 12-4 record and the #1 seed in the NFC had almost everyone in Cowboys Nation content with #4. However, a rocky 2017 season and a 9-7 record resulted in tough criticism for the second year QB. Although he showed signs of improvement as the team's passer, the team's performance through Ezekiel Elliott's suspension and Tyron Smith's injury earned Dak Prescott a ton of "haters."
Heading into his third year in the NFL, Prescott has a ton to prove. It's time to show whether or not he's the future of the franchise. A good year and he'll probably see a juicy extension soon. A bad year and the front office may find themselves re-evaluating the position for 2019.
Plenty of challenges will be on the way of Dak, including facing the defending Super Bowl Champions twice this season.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the young signal-caller will be the players he's throwing to. During his first two seasons, Prescott has been mainly throwing the football to the same guys. His main targets in the span of two seasons have been Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams.
Witten and Bryant are both out of the picture now. Williams just might be in the future. He's job in Dallas was relatively safe because his contract really provided job security. However, after bringing in a ton of wide receivers in the offseason, he has to earn himself a spot.
Unfortunately for him, he's sitting out for offseason practices due to a foot injury. On top of that, we all know how T-Will got into trouble last week. You see, even before the accident, he arguably was the fourth best WR on the team, with Hurns, Gallup and Beasley over him.
If a suspension does come, Williams will likely be released since his guaranteed money will take a hit. The Cowboys may decide to stick with him, but with the receivers they have on the roster, they may want to use the roster spot on somebody else.
Let's say T-Will is ultimately released. That'll take away three targets that have always been there through Prescott's short career. In order to have a truly successful 2018, he'll have to overcome the absence of these guys and adapt to the new faces. Even if he isn't cut, he likely won't be a starter.
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup are both expected to start once the season takes off. On the tight end side of things, the starting role is still up for grabs. Whether it's Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim or even Rico Gathers remains unknown. The point is, it won't be Jason Witten.
In a year in which Dak has to prove he's the franchise quarterback this team needs, doing so with some of his main targets gone could make things a bit harder... or perhaps not.
At the end of the day, the receivers they brought in are supposed to be the kind of receivers they want on the so-called Dak-friendly offense. Prescott recently pointed out that he doesn't think a team needs a #1 WR.
If the team's plan works out and these receivers are better for a Dak-led offense and the identity they want to take as an offensive unit, the receiving corps should be seen as an upgrade rather than a downgrade. Of course, Witten is the exception. Even still, maybe they try new things with a younger TE lined up.
The new era the Cowboys are about to go into hinges on the success of this offense. Hopefully, both the receivers and the quarterback are able to step up. Let's get excited about it.
Can WR Noah Brown be a Surprise Starter in 2018?
With all of the new faces the Dallas Cowboys added to the wide receiver position it's easy to overlook someone like Noah Brown. Everyone is anxiously awaiting to find out what the "new toys" can do, but they tend to overlook an ascending player who's already on the roster. That is exactly what I believe Brown is in his second-year and why he could be a surprise starter in 2018.
Noah Brown didn't have a large offensive role as a rookie in 2017, but he did show flashes of a player whose arrow is trending upward. And now that the Cowboys have revamped pretty much the entire receiver position, Brown has a chance to climb the depth chart and become much more than just a role player.
There is really no way of knowing exactly where and how the Dallas Cowboys plan to deploy their WRs this season. The only thing we really know right now is that Cole Beasley will once again be the slot WR. Everything else is completely up for grabs, which is why this could be the position battle to watch throughout the remainder of the offseason.
With Dez Bryant, Ryan Switzer, and quite possibly Terrance Williams all gone, someone is going to have to catch passes from Dak Prescott in 2018. Allen Hurns, who the Cowboys signed as a free agent, is expected to replace some of that lost production as either the X or Y WR. But, behind him there's a lot of unknown.
The third-round draft pick Michael Gallup has the skill set to also play either X or Y, and should be part of the equation as well. But, you never really know how these collegiate players will transition to the speed of the NFL.
That is why I believe Noah Brown has a real shot at becoming a starter this season. This is especially true with Terrance Williams recent off the field troubles. I kind of doubt he has a job much longer.
With Williams likely on his way out, Noah Brown moves up the depth chart. I believe he can immediately step in and replace #83's production in the passing game and as a blocker in the running game as well. We got a glimpse of him doing just that last season, which might be why he's getting first-team reps in organized team activities (OTA's).
Second-year WR Noah Brown got a ton of work with the first-team. Lance Lenoir did also
It's easy to forget, but Noah Brown was mostly utilized as a blocking WR/TE last season. At 6'2", 225, Brown is now the biggest and most physical receiver on the Cowboys roster. His blocking ability is what got him on the field as a rookie, but he's no slob in the passing game if given the chance.
Brown is already a solid route runner, but he has been working during the offseason with a WR Guru, David Robinson, to improve this area of his game.
Now, I may be a little biased since I was a fan of Noah Brown's before the Cowboys drafted him. I actually had a fourth-round grade on him coming out of Ohio, so I was ecstatic Dallas was able to get him in the seventh.
But, despite my favoritism, I can really envision him becoming a surprise starter when the season opens up. He not only has the skill set to do it, but a year in the system could gives him an advantage over these new additions. It could of making all the difference.
Do you think WR Noah Brown be a surprise starter in 2018?
Creating a Monster: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line
After years of building, drafting, and retooling, the Dallas Cowboys have completed their offensive line. And in the process, they've created a monster. The addition of Connor Williams in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft has reasserted the Dallas Cowboys offensive line as the best in football -- and it may not be close.
The team has been on this path since 2011 to create an identity for their football team that starts up front on the offensive line.
What transpired in the 2009 and 2010 seasons had a lot to do with the direction the team has taken over the last 8 seasons to ensure they were great up front.
The End of 2009
In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East and proceeded to win their wild card game to reach the divisional round for the second time in three years, only to be beaten by the Minnesota Vikings 34-3.
What transpired in that game should have been enough for the Cowboys to address their offensive line in the 2010 draft as quarterback Tony Romo was sacked six times and threw an interception.
On the season, Romo was sacked 34 times, which is more than twice a game. Perhaps the wins on the season and the division title masked the issues the team had up front.
The Debacle of the 2010 Season
The team had lofty expectations heading into 2010. They had been to the playoffs three of the previous four seasons and, despite the drubbing at the hands of the Vikings, were still a formidable offensive team with some star power on defense in DeMarcus Ware.
Unfortunately, it was never to be.
Tony Romo only started six games and was sacked seven times in that span. Cowboys quarterbacks were sacked a total of 31 times, which would be right outside the top ten for most sacks allowed in the NFL in 2010.
Tony Romo went 1-5 in his six starts that season, getting sacked seven times in those six games before giving way to Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee for the final ten games of the season.
Head Coach Wade Phillips was replaced by Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett after a 1-7 start that culminated in an embarrassing loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
More Than a Coach Was Changed
The change in coaching signaled a change in philosophy from a 3-4 defensive minded head coach to an offensive one who was rooted in the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys of the 90's.
Those teams were known for their elite offensive line play that set the tone for the rest of the team. They protected Troy Aikman, who is in the Hall of Fame, and paved the way for the NFL's All-Time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith.
The impact that the offensive line had on the Cowboys teams of the 90's can't be understated.
So in 2011, Jason Garrett's first NFL Draft as the Dallas Cowboys head coach, he convinced Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones that they needed to do more to protect their most valuable asset (Tony Romo) while becoming a team that could run the ball and control the clock.
With the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Tackle Tyron Smith.
That selection was history making. It was the first time in the Jerry Jones era that they had spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman. A span of more than 20 years saw the Dallas Cowboys never invest a first in the offensive line.
Jason Garrett's work to make the Dallas Cowboys in the image of the Super Bowl glory days of the 90's finally came to fruition.
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line led the way for Running Back DeMarco Murray to lead the NFL in rushing. They protected Tony Romo to have the best season of his career, leading the NFL with a passer rating of 113.2.
Everything looked to be coming together for a team that went 12-4, won the NFC East, and beat some notable teams like the Seattle Seahawks along the way.
Then the "Dez Caught It" moment happened and we all came crashing back to Earth.
That season, though it didn't end in a Lombardi Trophy, was still a success as it created a template that could be successful in the NFL. As teams attempt to spread out their formations to throw the ball, the Dallas Cowboys, while still using a lot of 11-personnel, showed the NFL that you can still be a run-first, physical football team and win.
With the template set, all the Dallas Cowboys have to do is to continue to retool.
Creating a Monster
Let's review how the Dallas Cowboys have collected this impressive group of humans to block for their football team.
- Tyron Smith was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Though he started out as a right tackle his rookie season, he made the move to the left side in his second year and has been considered one of the best tackles in the NFL since. Back issues have slowed him down, but he's still in his prime heading into his eighth (!!!) NFL Season.
- Travis Frederick was the 31st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. A lot of the draft analysts around the league believed that to be a reach at the time when the Dallas Cowboys traded back to 31 to select Frederick. They don't think it's a reach now.
- In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys, yet again, selected an offensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft. It was widely reported that if Ryan Shazier would have been there at pick 16, that he would have been the selection. Shazier's been a great player in the league, but I'm actually glad that they got Martin. He's considered the best guard in the NFL and will probably be so for the next ten years.
- Right Tackle La'el Collins would have been a first round draft pick had his name not been attached to the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Instead of being a first round draft pick, the Dallas Cowboys, led by GM Jerry Jones, wined and dined Collins into signing a pretty nice deal for a UDFA. After rotating with Leary for a couple of seasons, he's now the RT for the best offensive line in football.
That brings us to the newest addition of what has been coined The OLuminati.
Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world knew -- or hoped -- the Dallas Cowboys would address the left guard spot early on. When the first round came and went, most of us, including this writer, thought they'd likely have to trade up in the second to still come away with a plug and play guard at pick number 50.
So when they landed Connor Williams while staying put at 50, Cowboys Nation erupted with joy.
Connor Williams is strong enough to play on the interior but comes with the movement and flexibility to get to the perimeter and the second level. Though he was good last year, Jonathan Cooper was the weak link because of his movement limitations.
Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy
I just watched season one of the YouTube Red production Cobra Kai, which follows the lives of The Karate Kid's main characters Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults.
Johnny, broke as a joke, relaunched the Cobra Kai karate brand based on the philosophy, "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy." While it's a harsh philosophy to be teaching a bunch of teenagers, it certainly has its place with the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
This group has the attitude and the ability to ruin days for opposing defenses. They aren't just going to get in your way, they're going to hit you and go through you.
This group of lineman has no weaknesses and if we talk about the signing of Cam Fleming, now you have a guy that played tackle for the New England Patriots during the Super Bowl as your tackle off the bench if you need him.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to be able to run inside and outside and to both sides of the offensive line with regularity because of the strength, physicality, and movement ability of their starting five. Opposing defenses aren't going to be able to load up on one side of the line because of a perceived weakness on the other side.
With Ezekiel Elliott running behind them, who's shown the ability to stretch a play outside and make a big run or find a crease in the middle of the line for a huge play, this is the Dallas Cowboys running game that Jason Garrett has been looking for since he took over in 2011.
While they've had success in the past, I have huge expectations for this group in 2018. 1,600 rushing yards for Elliott if he plays 16 games should be the floor. There's no reason he shouldn't flirt with a 2,000 yard season.
Now, whether that leads to a Super Bowl Championship remains to be seen, but we've seen in the past that when the Dallas Cowboys have success in the run game, it usually leads to wins, and lots of them.
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