Welcome to Week 15 of the 2015 NFL season!
This is a pretty exciting time in the world.
Star Wars premieres tonight, Christmas Eve is seven days away, and the NFL Playoffs are upon us!
With just three games left on the schedule for each team there is still a lot at stake. We'll see more movement in the standings over this time as there is in the conga line at your work Christmas party.
Here's who's winning this week.
Thursday Night Football: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) At St. Louis Rams (5-8)
Color Rush... yay.
There will be two eye sores on the football field tonight, and they'll be wearing new jerseys each (ba-dum-psh!).
Famous Jameis and his Bucs will travel to the Edward James Olmos (something like that) Dome and look to continue highlighting that Jeff Fisher's squad is the epitome of mediocrity.
You know how your Mom says not to say anything at all if you can't say anything nice? Todd Gurley is good at football. Don't say I didn't say anything about you, Rams.
Prediction: BUCCANEERS - 23, Rams - 13
Saturday Night Football: New York Jets (8-5) At Dallas Cowboys (4-9)
Look at that! Football on a Saturday that isn't college. Quite the nice change of pace, isn't it?
The New York Jets are flying high into this game with, surprisingly, one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Their defense? It's no spring chicken either. They get after you a lot on both sides of the ball.
The Cowboys are coming off of another trouncing, this most recent one happening in Green Bay. If you read my Plan V post then you know that these Cowboys... they're not going anywhere.
I'm not a fan of tanking, but I'm also not a fan of being wrong. Give me New York, easy.
Prediction: JETS - 31, Cowboys - 10
Atlanta Falcons (6-7) At Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8)
I am not going to stop reminding you that the Falcons were once 5-0. People legitimately believed in them. I hope they all learned their lesson.
The Falcons are one of the worst teams in the NFL and the four hundred time winners of that coveted award, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are starting to shed that label.
Jacksonville is on the rise, on the rise I tell you! They'll personify Atlanta's little motto "Rise Up" all over the scoreboard on Sunday.
Prediction: Falcons - 23, JAGUARS - 42
Buffalo Bills (6-7) At Washington Redskins (6-7)
This game is going to frustrate Dallas Cowboys fans.
The Bills are going to come out and take care of business against Washington leaving us wondering, "what if...".
Why's that? Well because the Redskins are the Redskins. Jordan Reed is going to have himself a game, but so is Tyrod Taylor. Circle the wagons.
Prediction: BILLS - 24, Redskins - 19
Chicago Bears (5-8) At Minnesota Vikings (8-5)
The Bears have surprised us all by being a competent football team this year. Maybe we need to start giving John Fox more credit as a Head Coach? Nah, maybe later.
The Vikings are surprising no one this year as they were a popular sleeper pick for the playoffs back during Training Camp time.
Minnesota did shock the world when they hung with the Cardinals a week ago all the way down to the end. People knew they were good, but no one thought they would be that good.
Prediction: Bears - 18, VIKINGS - 30
Tennessee Titans (3-10) At New England Patriots (11-2)
Say all of these things out loud with me.
The Tennessee Titans.
The New England Patriots.
Bill Belichick. Tom Brady.
Too da loo, Tennessee.
Prediction: Titans - 13, PATRIOTS - 33
Houston Texans (6-7) At Indianapolis Colts (6-7)
It's hard to tell who is playing quarterback in this game with all of the injury news. Heck for all I know, it's you and me slinging the rock on Sunday!
The defense that we've come to expect from the Texans was a little absent last Sunday, but hey that was the Patriots.
The Bulls on Parade will return against the Colts... who are having arguably the most disappointing season across the NFL.
Prediction: TEXANS - 23, Colts - 16
Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) At Baltimore Ravens (4-9)
I don't know whether I'm more confident in that the Chiefs are really awesome or that the Ravens are really terrible here.
I know that the Chiefs are going to put it on the Ravens this year, as they've been quietly doing to teams over the last few weeks.
Sure KC barely escaped San Diego last week, but the Chiefs are on fire! The Ravens? What's the opposite of fire? Water?
The Ravens are on water.
Prediction: CHIEFS - 29, Ravens - 16
Carolina Panthers (13-0) At New York Giants (6-7)
It's going to seriously pain me to tell you what I'm thinking.
It would not shock me at all if the Giants won this game.
The G-Men have made it a habit over the years to ball out when the most is on the line. Coming off of a big win on Monday Night Football... they could do just that.
A big reason for that is that the Panthers are starting to pile up the injuries. Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart, sorry fantasy owners, are the most recent casualties. Cam is Superman though, and I'll trust that.
Prediction: PANTHERS - 30, Giants - 26
Cleveland Browns (3-10) At Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
I hope you remember how to say things out loud with me.
The Cleveland Browns. THE CLEVELAND BROWNS.
The Seattle Seahawks.
The 12th Man.
Prediction: Browns - 10, SEAHAWKS - 37
Green Bay Packers (9-4) At Oakland Raiders (6-7)
Packers fans should not be too happy right now.
In back to back weeks they've barely beaten the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. They're building a huge line of dominos and they're about to slip and accidentally dip one over.
Khalil Mack might have already sacked Aaron Rodgers. He's on that level of fire right now. Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and the Mack Truck? Oh boy do I like that.
Prediction: Packers - 16, RAIDERS - 24
Cincinnati Bengals (10-3) At San Francisco 49ers (4-9)
No Andy Dalton? Hmm.
AJ McCarron is going to look for AJ Green all over the field and AJs everywhere will celebrate! RJs kind of count, too.
The Niners are... well they're there.
Prediction: BENGALS - 26, 49ers - 10
Denver Broncos (10-3) At Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
Remember when the Broncos had one of the most stout defense in the NFL? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?
Denver is going to need that defense to really show up this week if they want to even compete with Pittsburgh. The Steelers have the most explosive offense in the NFL and you can bet they want a change to prove it against an "elite" defense.
Pittsburgh is about to start peaking at the right time. They're dangerous. Watch out.
Prediction: Broncos - 13, STEELERS - 27
Miami Dolphins (5-8) At San Diego Chargers (3-10)
The Dolphins and Chargers had all of our hopes up when this season began... those were good times.
Miami is a mess, I'll just leave it at that.
This could be the last game ever played in San Diego for the Chargers. They know it. They're not losing it.
Prediction: Dolphins - 16, CHARGERS - 22
Sunday Night Football: Arizona Cardinals (11-2) At Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
It'll be at this point in the day where frustration reaches maximum level for Cowboys fans.
All you'll be thinking about, while the Cardinals are pummeling the Eagles at their house, is how the Redskins and Giants both lost today.
This season sucks.
Prediction: CARDINALS - 32, Eagles - 20
Monday Night Football: Detroit Lions (4-9) At New Orleans Saints (5-8)
It was only four years ago that the Lions in New Orleans was a Saturday Night Wildcard Game in the Playoffs.
These two teams are a long ways away from that day.
The Lions should have had a super long week of rest after a well earned victory, but fate intervened and robbed them of that.
The Saints? They're cute, but they're a flash in the pan this year.
I wish they were from East Dillon (shout out if you know the reference), but I'll take the Lions.
Prediction: LIONS - 20, Saints - 10
How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?
There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.
Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.
Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.
With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?
To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.
Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.
Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.
In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.
Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?
Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.
The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.
Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.
If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?
We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.
But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.
Once again, at least it is for now.
Is DE Kony Ealy At Risk Of Not Making Cowboys Final Roster?
As training camp approaches and we draw closer to the 2018 NFL season, fans are beginning to get excited for new faces, old stars, and new beginnings for the Dallas Cowboys.
One player which has been a bit forgotten about over the last few months, and even overlooked when he was first signed back in April, is defensive end Kony Ealy. Of course, some of this overlooking is justified, as Ealy's career has been filled with more valleys than peaks thus far.
With a fresh start in Dallas, though, some expect Kony Ealy to rekindle his career, and look like the player he was during the Panthers' Super Bowl 50 loss just a few seasons ago. The problem is, that game looks like the outlier and not the norm over his professional career.
Originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers, Ealy has had a shaky start to his career. Now joining his third team in the same number of seasons, it's certainly fair to say he hasn't lived up to his second round draft selection.
At 6'4" and 275 pounds, however, Ealy fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive end in the Cowboys' scheme. While he isn't the explosive pass rusher that other players on the roster are (and can be), he could provide solid rotational depth across the defensive line.
With fellow former second round pick Randy Gregory gaining reinstatement to the NFL this week, Ealy could struggle to salvage any real playing time with the Cowboys at all. Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Taco Charlton all feel like locks to make the team.
Then there is 2018 day three pick Dorance Armstrong and former fourth round pick Charles Tapper providing competition as well.
Tapper and Armstrong are unproven, but have the athletic profiles to become solid edge rushers at the professional level. For both, especially Tapper, health is of the upmost concern going forward. If Tapper can remain healthy, he has a real shot of making the team and having his impact felt as early as 2018.
That "if" has been a serious one thus far, however.
When the Cowboys first signed Kony Ealy back in April, I really believed he could provide solid and cheap depth along their defensive line. Now in July, I still have those beliefs, but it's become fair to question if he will even find himself on the final 53-man roster based on the competition around him.
Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin’s Footsteps?
Connor Williams has yet to play a single snap the NFL, but there are already some pretty high expectations for the rookie Guard. That's because he will be sandwiched between two Pro Bowl players in Center Travis Frederick and Left Tackle Tyron Smith. But, it's the Dallas Cowboys third Pro Bowl offensive lineman Williams should try to emulate and follow in the footsteps of.
Yes, I'm talking about Zack Martin.
Zack Martin's career couldn't have gotten off to a better start coming out of Notre Dame. He hit the ground running as a rookie with the Cowboys and put together a dominating performance his first year in the NFL, earning his first Pro Bowl bid as well as being named to the All-Pro team. He continued to play at a high level ever since and has not only turned into the best player at his position, but continued his Pro Bowl streak every season since entering the league.
To ask, or even expect Connor Williams to have the same kind of immediate success as Zack Martin is probably a little unfair, if not impossible. The kind of success Martin has had already in his career is almost unheard of. But, that's not to say Williams isn't going to try to follow in Martin's footsteps and to become the best player he can.
The footsteps I think Connor Williams should try to follow as it pertains to Zack Martin is how well he made the transition from a collegiate Offensive Tackle to an NFL Guard. I think that should be Williams' main focus right now with training camp coming up.
Williams will be inserted into the starting lineup as the Cowboys new Left Guard. It will be a new position for him after playing mainly Tackle at the University of Texas, that will require an entirely new mindset and technique. But, it's in transition I believe he can make rather smoothly.
Connor Williams should benefit from Zack Martin's similar transition from college OT to an NFL OG. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the rookie shadowing Martin throughout training camp to soak up as much knowledge as possible. It's probably the best way for him to jumpstart his career.
Now, I fully expect to see some growing pains from Williams throughout the 2018 season. It's to be expected from any rookie, especially one transitioning to a new position. But, I do believe he will not only be an upgrade at LG for the Cowboys, but will make the entire OL even better.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what kind of player Connor Williams ends up being this season.
Do you think Connor Williams can follow in Zack Martin's footsteps?
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