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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!

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How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?

Sean Martin

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How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary?
(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.

Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.

It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.

Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary? 2

Dallas Cowboys S Kavon Frazier (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Safety Kavon Frazier

Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.

This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense.  Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.

The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.

Safety Xavier Woods

Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana State. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.

The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.

Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.

Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.

How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard's Secondary? 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Anthony Brown, S Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath

Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.

There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.

Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.

With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.

Tell us what you think about "How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys' Pass Rush: Who Will Be QB Sack Leader In 2017?
Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports

For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.

On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself  by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.

However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving. 

First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.

We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.

For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.

Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear.  In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.

Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.

The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.

However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.

Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.

We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.

Tell me what you think about "No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?

Brian Martin

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Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?

The Dallas Cowboys are extremely thin at the safety position. Fact. They haven't really brought in anyone to upgrade the position from last season. Fact. I just wanted to point that out because there's a lot of discussion as to whether or not the Cowboys need to add another safety before training camp.

I don't know where you stand on this debate or how I feel about it personally, but it's definitely something that needs to be discussed from the Cowboys end. It is the one position where there is a lot of unknown and inexperienced. If one of their current safeties were to go down with an injury and miss any time, the whole defense would suffer.

As things stand right now, Jeff Heath is the only one who will reprise his starting role on the backend of the Cowboys defense. Behind him are Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier, but knowing exactly how they fit in at this moment is completely up in the air.

Unfortunately, that's the top three safeties for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2018 season. What's even more bothersome is their fourth might be an undrafted rookie, Tyree Robinson. I don't know about you, but I find that very concerning. But, maybe Kris Richard, the defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, knows something we don't.

Kris Richard

Dallas Cowboys DB Coach Kris Richard

Fortunately, Kris Richard was recently asked if he had any concerns about the safety position on the "Doomsday Podcast" with Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. He said he had "none".

"I'm confident. I feel really good at this point in time and it's because the level of character of our guys," he said. "We're going to get better. That's the deal because our guys are young, focused, I think the hunger's there. I love the look in their eyes. I love how everyone is buying in, is focused and paying attention to detail. It makes a difference when guys care. It makes a difference when each one wants to teach one. We're trying to build something special. We want to be tribe-like. We want to be more than a team."

It certainly sounds like Kris Richard is excited about the Dallas Cowboys current safeties. Of course, he would never just come out and say that this group is terrible or he wished they'd add Earl Thomas another available safety. That's just not how things work. He's here to coach up the guys on the roster and not worry about personnel moves.

I don't know about you, but I know I would feel a lot better if they had one more experienced safety who could come in and compete for a starting job. Maybe someone like Tre Boston or Kenny Vaccaro, who are still unsigned. Maybe make that trade for Earl Thomas? That's a dream that just won't die.

Regardless, the Dallas Cowboys need to do something to address their depth at the safety position. I don't know what their plans are moving forward, but hopefully they have a contingency plan in place. It's just smart business.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to add a safety before training camp?



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