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Week 16 Playoff Projection: Little Certainty with Two Weeks Remaining

Jess Haynie

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Dez Bryant
Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Week 15 gave us some interesting movement throughout the seedings. Detroit's loss to the Giants knocked them out of the #2 seed and hurt their cushion over the surging Packers in the NFC North. Washington had a chance to get back into the Wild Card spot with Tampa's loss to Dallas, but blew their opportunity with a loss to Carolina.

Jason Gerrett

Michael Ainsworth / The Dallas Morning News

If the NFL playoffs started today, these would be the NFC standings. I've included the teams with records of .500 or better.

  1. Dallas Cowboys (12-2)
  2. Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1)
  3. Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
  4. Detroit Lions (9-5)
  5. New York Giants (10-4)
  6. Green Bay Packers (8-6)
    ----------------------------------
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6)
  8. Washington (7-6-1)
  9. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

TIEBREAKERS

  • The Falcons are the #3 seed ahead of the Lions because of the "strength of victory" tiebreaker. They are currently tied in conference record and common opponents.
  • The Packers are ahead of the Bucs for the last Wild Card spot due to "strength of schedule." They are tied on conference games, common opponents, and strength of victory.

This week's lineup features plenty of intriguing matchups with major playoff implications. As always, we'll be looking at these from the standpoint of what's best for the Cowboys.

For additional info on what's best for Dallas, check out my ranking of our potential NFC playoff opponents. It will give you more info on why I am wanting certain teams to make the playoffs or get home field opportunities more than others.

Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles

Sean Lee, GiantsWe have to talk about these two games together. The Giants-Eagles matchup tonight could greatly impact things for Dallas and Detroit on Monday.

The Eagles will have a lot of extra support as they look to upset the Giants. A New York loss clinches the NFC East and the #1 seed for Dallas. It also gives the Cowboys the opportunity to start resting some players and playing conservatively, which could be big for a Detroit team trying to hang on to their division and playoff spot.

If the Giants win tonight, they clinch the 5th seed in the playoffs. They need to win out and for Dallas to lose out to get the division and the top seed in the NFC.

If New York does win tonight, Dallas will go all out to get the victory over Detroit. The Cowboys don't want to have anything on the line when they meet the Eagles in Week 17. Regardless of all other outcomes the next two weeks, Dallas can clinch the NFC East, a first-round bye, and home field advantage with a win in one of their next two games.

Detroit can clinch the NFC North with a win over Dallas and a loss by Green Bay. If both the Lions and Packers win this week, or if Detroit loses and Green Bay wins, then next week's game between them will be for the division.

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers

After looking dysfunctional about a month ago, Green Bay has won four straight and "controls their own destiny" in the NFC North. If they win this week and then beat Detroit in Week 17, they would take the division with a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions.

Even if they don't take the division, Green Bay still has a good chance at a Wild Card spot. Neither Tampa Bay (@ Saints, vs Panthers) or Washington (@ Bears, vs Giants) has it easy the next two weeks.

With Aaron Rodgers being the best QB in the conference, I'd rather the Packers not make the playoffs. As much confidence as I have in Dak Prescott, a postseason shootout with Rodgers may be too much to ask from any rookie.

Washington @ Chicago Bears

Last week's loss to Carolina was crushing for Washington's playoff hopes. They are not dead, however. They have a beatable opponent in Chicago and then a home game against the Giants next week.

As I said in my NFC playoff team rankings, Washington is one of the last teams I want to see in January. Division rivals are tough and make for wild games. I'm happy for them to keep on losing.

Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers

The Falcons clinch the NFC South with a win and a Tampa loss. Atlanta can't take the Panthers lightly, who have looked better with back-to-back wins in recent weeks.

Like the Lions, the Falcons don't have much cushion between them and the pack of Wild Card teams. Even one loss could be a disaster. For this week, at least, they can't take their foot off the pedal.

Tampa Bay Bucs @ New Orleans Saints

Tampa is hanging around in both the division and the Wild Card race but need to win out and get some help. The Saints are having a down year but will not be a pushover.

Two weeks ago, Tampa barely got a home win over the Saints. They now will have to stop Drew Brees in the Superdome, a much tougher assignment, with the pressure of their entire season hanging over them. The Bucs are a young team and that may be more than they can handle.

Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks

Seattle clinches a first-round bye with a win and losses by Detroit and Atlanta. With the Lions hosting Dallas and the Falcons on the road against Carolina, it's not out of the question.

With Arizona having nothing to play for, this one will come down to how much the Cardinals care about pride and rivalries. Still, even if Arizona plays their best, the Seahawks should be heavy favorites.



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!

Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

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?

El Draft

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.

Decisiones difíciles

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.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story

Kevin Brady

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Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

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.



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Can QB Dak Prescott Steal Back His Mojo From Atlanta?

Brian Martin

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Can Dak Prescott Regain His Mojo Against Atlanta?
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

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:

24 starts
66.7 completion percentage
102.4 passer rating

Prescott's stats since the Falcons game:

17 starts
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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