Ho Ho Ho!
RJ Claus is in town and I've brought all of you gifts from the NFL Pole!
I've made my list and I've checked it twice, I know which teams are terrible and which are nice. It's a White Christmas for some folks while the Grinch has stolen the playoff dreams of others.
Week 16 kicks off with a Christmas Eve matchup on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. So giddy up, giddy up, let's go! I can hear those sleigh bells ring-ting-tingling which means it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride with you through my weekly picks!
Don't touch the reindeer. They bite. I'm trying to calm them down, but they take after Odell Beckham Jr. so there's not much that I can do about it.
Thursday Night Football: San Diego Chargers (4-10) At Oakland Raiders (6-8)
The boughs of holly are all around the Black Hole this week as it will be the final time that the Raider Faithful will get to see one of the finest to ever lace 'em up - Charles Woodson.
The Heisman-winning Wolverine announced that this season would be his last earlier this week. The Raiders responded by announcing that they might channel his Michigan days and line him up at wide receiver or have him serve some return duties. What a Christmas Miracle that would be!
Charles could line up at all 11 positions at the same time and probably beat this Chargers team as they are pretty spent. The Bolts have quit on the season as they seem to be destined for life in Los Angeles. Things could be worse.
Prediction: Chargers - 17, RAIDERS - 30
Saturday Night Football: Washington Redskins (7-7) At Philadelphia Eagles (6-8)
The NFC East could be sewn up Saturday Night when the Washington Football Club visits the land where Super Bowls run dry... the city of Brotherly Love - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Those Redskins caught a little bit of fire last week with their impressive win over the Bills. The Eagles might as well have been on fire with how bad they played at home against the Cardinals.
Chip Kelly might be the real-life incarnation of The Grinch with all of his smoothie drinking ways. DeMarco Murray is little Cindy Lou Who... confused at how Chip would want to steal happiness and joy from him.
There will be no joy for either Chip or DeMarco as Kirk Cousins, of all people, will put the exclamation point on his Cinderella season. I like that.
Prediction: REDSKINS - 27, Eagles - 23
Carolina Panthers (14-0) At Atlanta Falcons (7-7)
This is your weekly reminder that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons are criminally overrated.
After he throws two interceptions this week, yes it is happening, Matty "Ice" will officially tie Peyton Manning for the league-lead in interceptions this season. As shocking as that sentence is remember that Manning hasn't thrown a pass since November 15th.
As terrible as the Falcons are, the Panthers are equally awesome. I'm convinced that these guys are untouchable. Whether you want them to go undefeated or not you need to accept that the fate of NFL History resting on the Atlanta Falcons is not a good idea.
Prediction: PANTHERS - 37, Falcons - 13
Dallas Cowboys (4-10) At Buffalo Bills (6-8)
The Kellen Moore bandwagon has pulled into town! Are you on it?
As doubtful as that is, I'd imagine that Moore's crowd of supporters is still larger than Rex Ryan's. The Buffalo Head Coach has huffed and puffed more than usual this year, and it's gotten his team nowhere. Shocker.
The Dallas Cowboys are past the point of being desperate for a win. At this point they just want to not be totally embarrassing. The odds of that against 'ol Rexy are pretty good if you ask me.
Although Rex Ryan is as inept as they come, these Cowboys have served as a great tune-up game for those in need. Eddie Lacy was having a terrible year and under some heavy scrutiny up until two weeks ago when he played the Cowboys and everything was perfect again!
Look for all of the Buffalo problems to suddenly be their area of expertise on Sunday.
Prediction: Cowboys - 19, BILLS - 24
Chicago Bears (5-9) At Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
There are so many storylines going on around the NFL all the time that some are bound to slip through the cracks.
Lovie Smith is getting a chance to face his former team at his new casa. He's probably prepping some coal for their stockings.
I want to like the Bears. I really do. They have what should be at least a watchable team, but they find ways to continually ruin it.
Jameis has been so up and down during his rookie season, but he'll find a way to get it going on Sunday. His rookie year will go full circle as he beats the team based in the city where he was drafted. Hooray for circles!
Prediction: Bears - 20, BUCCANEERS - 27
Cleveland Browns (3-11) At Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
Who has a better chance at survival... Frosty the Snowman in July or the Browns against any professional football team? Tough question, isn't it?
It's the right time to rock the night away for the Browns. Your season is over, Cleveland. This is who you are. Embrace it.
The Chiefs are rolling right now. If you think the Browns are getting in the way of that then you've had one too many candy canes this year.
Prediction: Browns - 16, CHIEFS - 33
San Francisco 49ers (4-10) At Detroit Lions (5-9)
Our poor eyes.
Go to the store and get yourself a can of chicken noodle soup. You're going to need it after watching this game. I don't care that the Lions are coming off a win on Monday Night Football... these are two of the worst teams on this planet.
This year to, to save me from tears, I'm giving this game to someone special - Ebenezer Scrooge. Take care of this game for me, will ya buddy? Make it go away forever.
Prediction: 49ers - 9, LIONS - 23
Houston Texans (7-7) At Tennessee Titans (3-11)
This is a real thing.
The potentially Brandon Weeden-led Houston Texans can clinch the AFC South, and therefore a home playoff game, by beating the Zack Mettenberger-led Tennessee Titans.
What did we do to deserve this horror? This is supposed to be the season of joy to the world!
Heaven and Nature are singing about how weird of a season this has been, and this game is as much proof as you need.
Joy to the Texans. You're less terrible. Barely.
Prediction: TEXANS - 17, Titans - 6
Indianapolis Colts (6-8) At Miami Dolphins (5-9)
Seriously... what did we do as a society to deserve such terrible football games this late in the season?
I mean, you think "Week 16" and you immediately think about epic games with so much on the line. You think about watching this year's Colts with Matt Hasselbeck and now potentially Charlie Whitehurst versus this year's Dolphins and you feel like someone kicked you right in the jingle bells.
Santa has seen these teams when they were sleeping, and he thinks they play better football there in their dreams than they do on any kind of field.
Watch out, you will cry. You can pout Colts, I'm telling you why.
Prediction: Colts - 16, DOLPHINS - 27
New England Patriots (12-2) At New York Jets (9-5)
Finally! A real game! This is just a stocking stuffer, but get excited.
We've got a great division matchup here between the Patriots and Jets. New England is in contention for the number one overall seed in the AFC while the Jets are trying to keep their wildcard hopes alive. This game smells like a peppermint mocha... nice and epic.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is on fire, man. This is real fire, too, not just a case of playing the Cowboys recently. Tom Brady is Tom Brady, though. Who will prevail?
The Jets are going to get up for this game. They're going to throw the kitchen sink at the Patriots. This is the type of game that usually can overwhelm New England.
Which is why they're going to win it dramatically at the end.
Prediction: PATRIOTS - 34, Jets - 32
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) At Baltimore Ravens (4-10)
I could not care less that the Ravens beat the Steelers in the first matchup of these teams earlier this season.
That was a completely different Steelers team, one that was not scoring at absolute will on teams.
Pittsburgh just proved that their offense can hang with the best with their victory over the Broncos last week. All that Baltimore proved was that they seem to choose the pants that the team wears in the dark, or that they just don't care about looking good at all.
Give me Pittsburgh. Big.
Prediction: STEELERS - 37, Ravens - 10
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) At New Orleans Saints (5-9)
There's a heavy-scoring offense taking the field at the Superdome on Sunday. It's the Jacksonville Jaguars, not the New Orleans Saints.
The Jags are going to let it snow points everywhere! The Saints would have a difficult time hanging with them normally, but consider that Drew Brees is hurting and might not play and you've got a disaster waiting to happen.
You're going to hear some boos in New Orleans during this game. The Saints loyalists are going to reach their limit when they're getting boatraced by the Jaguars. Can you blame them?
Prediction: JAGUARS - 31, Saints - 14
Green Bay Packers (10-4) At Arizona Cardinals (12-2)
Sunday is going to be a silent night in Green Bay.
All of the cheeseheads are under the incredible misunderstanding that they have a good football team on their hands. Has anyone caught more breaks, or had an easier schedule, than the Pack this year? Anybody? Bueller?
This is going to be a trip back down to earth for Aaron Rodgers as he and his friends are going to face an elite team for the first time in quite a while.
It's a shame that Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL last week, but it won't matter during this game. The Cardinals are going to rock around Aaron Rodgers like a Christmas tree.
Prediction: Packers - 20, CARDINALS - 45
St. Louis Rams (6-8) At Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
Jeff Fisher has one pretty reliable consistency with his Rams, and that's that they always get up for division games.
St. Louis has played San Francisco, Arizona, and Seattle pretty tough over the last few seasons. In fact they even beat the Seahawks in Week 1 of this season. The Rams rise above themselves for these big games.
Those days are over.
The Rams are having a Blue Christmas, and pretty much a blue existence. The Seahawks are peaking at just the right time and no one, especially the little baby sheep Rams, are going to get in the way of that.
Prediction: Rams - 13, SEAHAWKS - 33
Sunday Night Football: New York Giants (6-8) At Minnesota Vikings (9-5)
The New York Giants have one of the most explosive and talented receivers on their team.
They will be without his services during this game thanks to his antics last week against the Carolina Panthers.
Odell Beckham Jr. is a game-changer and would have given the Giants a huge chance in this contest. Without him they are left to rely on Elisha and we all know how that can go.
Minnesota has lost a teeny little bit of steam, but a teeny bit is all its going to take to beat the G-Men who have 99 problems... all of them being pretty relative to OBJ.
Prediction: Giants - 17, VIKINGS - 27
Monday Night Football: Cincinnati Bengals (11-3) At Denver Broncos (10-4)
There's a lot riding on this game.
The Bengals and Broncos are both in the running for a first round bye in this year's playoffs. The Broncos might even be getting ahead of themselves with that thought as the Chiefs are only a game behind them in the AFC West race. Yikes.
Good thing they have Brock Osweiler! Against AJ McCarron! What a weird season.
The Broncos are starting to fall apart, we saw it in Pittsburgh last week. A dance against one of the deepest teams in football is not the way to rebound and propel yourself forward.
Prediction: BENGALS - 24, Broncos - 20
Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración
Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.
Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.
Cambios de Coach
A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.
A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.
Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?
A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.
A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.
En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.
La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.
Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.
Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.
No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.
Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story
Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.
Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.
Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.
Here's why those people are wrong.
Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.
Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).
Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.
There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.
Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.
Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.
Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.
Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.
And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.
Can QB Dak Prescott Steal Back His Mojo From Atlanta?
When the Dallas Cowboys last traveled to Mercedes-Benz Stadium they were completely throttled by the Atlanta Falcons. It's a game a lot of Cowboys Nation would like to forget, but no one more so than Quarterback Dak Prescott. That game could very well be where his struggles really began.
It's almost exactly a year later and the Dallas Cowboys still find themselves haunted by that brutal beating the Atlanta Falcons handed them in Week 10 of the 2017 season. The Cowboys seemed to lose all confidence in themselves after that game, but it was almost as if it was the exact point in time where Dak Prescott lost all of his mojo as well.
Before that match up against the Falcons, Prescott was still playing at a pretty high level. But since then, he has been in a slump and there have been very few signs of recapturing any of that magic he once had. Heading back to Atlanta maybe the key for him finding and stealing back his mojo.
Things could definitely go a little differently this time around. The Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith in the lineup this week. Zeke missed the game last year due to the league mandated six-game suspension, and Tyron missed due to an injury. Having those two back in the lineup could pay huge dividends, especially for Prescott.
Without his starting left tackle and running back, Dak was pretty much beaten to a pulp by the Falcons defense a year ago. They applied relentless pressure, hitting and sacking him on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, I think that's where he started seeing ghost in the pocket and its haunted him ever since.
The beating he took at the hands of the Falcons has really thrown off his entire game. His mechanics, accuracy, and effectiveness as a scrambler can all be traced back to that one matchup. He just hasn't been the same QB he was prior to that game.
Prescott's stats prior to the Falcons game:
66.7 completion percentage
102.4 passer rating
Prescott's stats since the Falcons game:
63.3 completion percentage
83.1 passer rating
As you can see, that's a notable difference. His passer rating has shockingly dropped nearly 20 points since last playing the Falcons and it's really hurt the entire offensive production. It's time for that to change.
Prescott has no choice this week. He has to get back up on the horse that bucked him off and hopefully regain that mojo he left in Atlanta a year ago. Fortunately for him, his confidence might be is as high as it's been since that last meeting after pulling off the upset against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
Now, he just has to go out and prove it!
Do you think Dak Prescott can regain his mojo against the Atlanta Falcons?
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