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.
If the NFL playoffs started today, these would be the NFC standings. I've included the teams with records of .500 or better.
- Dallas Cowboys (12-2)
- Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1)
- Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
- Detroit Lions (9-5)
- New York Giants (10-4)
- Green Bay Packers (8-6)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6)
- Washington (7-6-1)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
- 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
We 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.
Does Darius Jackson Have A “Puncher’s Chance” Of Landing On Final Roster?
Remember Darius Jackson?
The sixth round running back was an instant fan favorite of Cowboys Nation, as the fanbase hoped Dallas had found the explosive RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott they needed in the very same draft. Jackson, however, had an up-and-down preseason in 2016 and ended up being waived from the team to make room for Darren McFadden later in the year.
Jackson has bounced around the league a bit since then, joining both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers at different points. He's back with the Cowboys, however, looking to fight his way onto the team's final roster.
But does the fourth year running back have more than a puncher's chance to do so?
The Cowboys spent much of the 2019 NFL Draft rebuilding their running back depth. First, they drafted Memphis back Tony Pollard hoping to find a versatile and dynamic threat to compliment the workhorse that is Ezekiel Elliott. Then, in the seventh round, Dallas took another Ohio State running back in Mike Weber who fits more of the "traditional" running back form.
So with two new touted rookies behind the veteran Elliott, and fullback Jamize Olawale more than likely having a roster spot as well, there doesn't seem to be room for Darius Jackson on the Dallas Cowboys.
That didn't stop him from competing at OTAs, however. DallasCowboys.com named Darius Jackson one of their top ten "head turners" from the OTA practices, and considering that Mike Weber is banged up at the moment, Jackson will certainly have his opportunities to fight for that spot.
Still, the odds suggest that Darius Jackson will not be with the Cowboys come the Fall of 2019. Though he entered the league with some fanfare for a day three pick, his production has been more fitting of his draft grade than of his fan hype.
Jackson hasn't been the explosive player/receiving back that they're hoping Tony Pollard will be, nor has he been the every-down type backup runner that they seem to hope Mike Weber will be.
In the end, the Cowboys-Darius Jackson story is likely to close during this year's training camp.
Cowboys Camp: Strong Safety Battle One to Watch
When the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp in late July, they'll have most of the roster settled. On paper, they're a team that doesn't have many holes on the depth chart.
They've added depth at every position and added playmakers on both sides of the football. On defense, there appears to be only one position where the starter heading into training camp may not be the starter come week one. Strong safety.
Veteran Safety Jeff Heath is currently running with the first team defense through the offseason portion of practices. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson were added to the strong safety depth chart featuring Heath and special teams ace Kavon Frazier.
While most teams would be excited about having a returning starter at the position, Heath's 2018 left a lot to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, Heath missed 19 tackles on the season, which was second in the NFL. It seemed that Heath became more interested in attempting to strip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands than actually making the tackle, which became increasingly frustrating as he forced only a single fumble all season long. Though he had a lot of missed tackles, Heath did finish 15th in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops," which are defined as a "play that results in a loss for the defense." Heath was third on the team in total tackles with 85 and tied with Jaylon Smith for third in tackles for loss with six.
The biggest competition for Heath at strong safety will be veteran George Iloka.
Signed to a one-year contract after spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Iloka comes to the Dallas Cowboys adding depth at free safety behind Xavier Woods. He also creates competition for Heath at strong safety, which should help Jeff Heath raise his game and get more consistent with his tackling. Iloka has experience and brings good size and length to the secondary, which should help them defend tight ends in the passing game.
Because of his injury, Kavon Frazier could see his playing time evaporate heading into 2019. If he's unable to get healthy and make an impression early, Frazier could miss out on the 53-man roster when the team makes their final roster cuts.
The player that stands to benefit the most from Kavon Frazier's injury, and the one I'm most interested in watching in the Dallas secondary the rest of the preseason is sixth-round draft pick, Donovan Wilson. The rookie from Texas A&M has made several plays in the secondary that stood out during OTAs. Here's what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had to say about Donovan Wilson during last week's minicamp.
"I haven’t written much about Donovan Wilson since rookie minicamp, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention a nice play he had during the two-minute drill. Kris Richard came with a blitz, which forced Cooper Rush to throw “hot” to Dalton Schultz. Wilson, from several yards away, saw Schultz look up and drove on the ball, arriving at the exact time it hit Schultz’s hands. With his left hand Wilson was able to drag the ball away, knocking it to the ground."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Wilson will be a player to watch in training camp. The Cowboys have had success finding defensive backs in the late rounds of the draft. Anthony Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2016 and Xavier Woods was a sixth-round selection in 2017. Now Wilson, with his aggressive and physical demeanor will have an opportunity -- this year or next -- to carve out some playing time in a secondary that needs more players who can create turnovers.
Strong safety is one of the few starting spots where there is actual competition for the incumbent starter. Pretty much every other position has returning starters locked into the starting lineup or, in Travis Frederick's and Robert Quinn's cases, a significant talent upgrade that makes them day-one starters.
The competition at strong safety should help everyone be better for the Cowboys in 2019. If Heath is able to hold off Iloka and Wilson to remain the starter, then he will have once again earned it. With the depth they have this season, including two guys who won't be liabilities in pass coverage, the Cowboys have options if Heath misses tackles in 2019 as he did in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys Shouldn’t Add a Veteran Backup Quarterback
With offseason training activities and minicamps coming to a close, now begins the wait for July 27th and the first day of training camp practice in Oxnard, California for the Dallas Cowboys. In my nearly 20 years following the Dallas Cowboys, this is the deepest and most talented roster I can remember the Cowboys taking to training camp.
Of course, there are areas of weakness, especially when you compare them to other position groups. Unfortunately, there isn't always a simple fix to said area of weakness. If you're looking for one area of complaint, you could point to backup quarterback.
Cooper Rush and Mike White have a combined three regular season attempts between the two of them. I wouldn't hold that against them though, because the reason they only have three attempts between them -- and really it's just Cooper Rush has three attempts -- is because Dak Prescott has been such a durable quarterback that those other guys aren't getting into games.
The only time Cooper Rush has appeared in a game was during lopsided wins against the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.
The reports coming out of OTAs and minicamp are that Cooper Rush and Mike White haven't had very good practices. Reports of interceptions have a portion of Cowboys Nation concerned about the quarterback position after their franchise quarterback.
Those reports can offer some insight into how things are going, but they should hardly be taken completely at face value. Remember what Allen Iverson said, "We talkin bout practice." Just like we shouldn't get too hyped about what Dorance Armstrong or Dak Prescott are doing in practice, we shouldn't overreact to some bad practices by your backup quarterbacks. Remember, they're largely throwing to guys who are undrafted free agents and are likely to be released when the team trims their roster to 53.
So much of where the concern about the backup quarterback position comes from is because of the recent history this team has had with losing its starting quarterback to injury. Tony Romo missed games in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. That's six out of 11 seasons where he was the starting quarterback heading into training camp in which he missed at least one game in a season.
Dak Prescott hasn't missed a start since his sophomore season at Mississippi State in 2013. That's five straight seasons between college and the NFL that Dak Prescott has been available for his team. In 2013, he was splitting snaps with the Bulldogs senior quarterback, but since 2013, has been available for 88 of his team's 90 games. Dak's started 51 straight games for the Dallas Cowboys in three seasons and has the strength and durability to continue to do just that.
Dak Prescott isn't Tony Romo. According to DallasCowboys.com, Dak Prescott measures at 6-2, 238 pounds. That's huge for an NFL quarterback. Romo was 6-2, 230. Romo, however, never looked as strong or thick as Dak Prescott. He always looked more slender playing the quarterback position and his durability was a concern. So far in Dak's career, durability hasn't been an issue, therefore the quarterback position is less of an issue.
The recent history of 2015, when Tony Romo went down and the season went with it, has many leery of going into a season with unproven commodities. But in that 2015 season, they had "proven" commodities at the quarterback position and those players went 2-11 in the starts that Tony Romo missed.
The free agent quarterback market doesn't look all that enticing at this point in the offseason. And that should be obvious. Any quarterback that was worth signing is already on a team. What you're left with is a who's who of bad quarterback options that wouldn't give you much more confidence in that Rush or White if necessary.
- Matt Cassell - Been there, done that.
- Brandon Weeden - See above.
- Mark Sanchez - See Above.
- Brock Osweiler - Miami, Denver, and Houston did that, chose to go another direction.
- Derek Anderson - not a terrible option, but not necessarily better than what you have.
- Josh Johnson - Pass.
- Geno Smith - The New York Giants didn't want him. Very Hard Pass.
There isn't a free agent quarterback that makes sense. They're either old descending quarterbacks or young retreads that have been through a few different organizations and haven't been able to find a landing spot. Let's get into training camp and the preseason and see what Mike White and Cooper Rush do in a game-like situation before making a definitive evaluation.
With Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna as Dak Prescott's main coaching influences in 2019, there's no need for a veteran backup quarterback to "mentor" Prescott at this point in his career. Moore was always considered a very smart player that was viewed as a future coach. Kitna was one of the better backup quarterback options during his career and has spent time coaching in the high school ranks. Dak couldn't have two better guys in his ear during the week or on gameday. A veteran quarterback doesn't really add anything to what these two already bring.
The Cowboys are content to see how the backup quarterback battle plays out between Mike White and Cooper Rush. Let these guys get as many snaps as they can in training camp and the preseason and if, for some reason, neither guy steps up and you feel like you need to add a veteran, then go grab Mark Sanchez since he knows the offense and has a good relationship with Dak Prescott.
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