The six playoff teams did not change after Week 12. However, Washington's loss to the Cowboys brought them perilously close to the edge. We also now have teams like the Packers and Saints close enough to merit consideration.
If the NFL playoffs started today, these would be the NFC standings. I've included the teams with 5-6 records as they are still in the hunt.
- Dallas Cowboys (10-1)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1)
- Detroit Lions (7-4)
- Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
- New York Giants (8-3)
- Washington (6-4-1)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-5)
- New Orleans Saints (5-6)
- Green Bay Packers (5-6)
- Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
- The Lions (5-2) are ahead of the Falcons (5-3) due to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Buccaneers (5-3) are ahead of the Vikings (4-5) due to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Saints (4-3) are ahead of the Packers (4-4) and Eagles (3-6) due to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Packers are ahead of the Eagles based on a head-to-head victory in Week 12.
The Week 13 schedule is full of intriguing matchups with major playoff implications. As always, we'll look at each game with a bias towards what's best for the Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings
Both teams played on Thanksgiving so nobody's coming into this game with extra rest. The Vikings are coming off a critical loss to the Lions, giving them a major advantage in the NFC North as Detroit now has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
A win here sets the Cowboys up to potentially clinch the NFC East next week against the Giants. Securing playoff positioning as early as possible could be vital for Dallas as they have several defensive players nursing injuries. It would also allow them to be judicious in how they use Ezekiel Elliott in potentially meaningless games, saving him for the postseason.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons can't let up as Tampa Bay is just a game behind them in the NFC South. They will have a tough one this week against the 8-3 Chiefs.
Cowboys Spin: The Falcons are too far behind to realistically threaten Dallas for the #1 seed. That said, I'd be happy to see them collapse and fall out of the playoffs. I don't want to see our secondary trying to stop Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
Now that they've clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker over the slumping Vikings, Detroit's biggest concern could be the Packers. They lost to Green Bay early in the year and play them again at home in Week 17.
The Saints likely won't be able to catch up in their division but could still threaten for a wild card spot. Their last give games are all against NFC opponents: Detroit, Arizona, Atlanta, and two with Tampa Bay.
Cowboys Spin: Both Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees are playing great this year, so I can't say there's one of them I'd rather see in the playoffs more than the other. I'm pretty indifferent on this one, but I'll lean towards the Lions as I don't want to see the Packers sneak into the playoffs.
Houston Texans @ Green Bay Packers
Despite losing four in a row, last week's win in Philadelphia has kept the Packers in the conversation. They're still just two games behind Detroit in the NFC North and get to play them again in Week 17. They have a very realistic shot at saving their season.
Cowboys Spin: While we've seen Dallas beat this team in their own house, the playoffs are a different story. Aaron Rodgers and his receivers might perform better in AT&T Stadium than they would've at home in January. I'd rather they just miss the postseason all together.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Cincinnati Bengals
Last week's home loss to the Packers was a major shot the Eagles' playoff hopes, dropping them below .500 and raising concern about Carson Wentz's rookie wall. While the Bengals are having a bad year, they still have a tough defense which could frustrate him further.
Cowboys Spin: We are free to root against the Eagles in this one.
New York Giants @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Giants are just two games behind Dallas and have that pesky head-to-head win from Week One. They are still front-runners for a wild card spot even if they can't catch up in the NFC East.
Thankfully, the Steelers are in their own division dogfight and will be playing hard for the win. They are currently tied with Baltimore in the AFC North and are behind other teams for the wild card spots. They will give the Giants all they can handle, and hopefully more.
Cowboys Spin: Obviously, we want to see the Giants take as many losses as possible the rest of the way. Other than our own game with them in Week 14, this is probably the best chance for that to happen throughout their remaining schedule.
Washington @ Arizona Cardinals
Washington is hanging on to their wild card spot by a thread. Their tie with the Bengals is the saving grace right now; they'd be behind the Bucs otherwise due to a worse conference record.
Cowboys Spin: The Cardinals have become a non-factor this year. After two tough games this season, I'd rather not see Washington a third time. Them falling out of the playoffs is just fine and dandy.
Tampa Bay Bucs @ San Diego Chargers
After an upset victory over the Seahawks, Tampa has put themselves in striking distance. They are only a game behind the Falcons in the AFC South and have already split the season series with them. Albeit on the road, they have a winnable game here against the middling Chargers.
Cowboys Spin: As said already, I'd like to see the Falcons miss the postseason so we don't have to deal with their passing offense. Tampa has its own offensive weapons but isn't as consistent or explosive. I'd much rather face them in January.
Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks
The Panthers are likely out of it at 4-7, meaning this is all about the Seahawks. They took a tough loss last week in Tampa and will likely right the ship at home.
Cowboys Spin: Every Seattle loss increases our cushion for the number-one seed, so obviously we know who to root for here.
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.
In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:
It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.
Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.
The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.
Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.
The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.
Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.
Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time. I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.
Back to the chart.
Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.
So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.
Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.
When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.
At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.
If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.
Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III."
Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.
The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.
Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.
43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.
I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.
But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.
The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.
Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.
Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.
I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.
I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.
"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.
Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.
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:
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