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Week 17 NFL Game Picks

RJ Ochoa

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NFL Blog - Week 17 NFL Game Picks 16

Welcome to a New Year’s Day edition of RJ’s Weekly NFL Picks!

When the clock struck midnight last night the 2015 Cinderella Carriage officially turned into a pumpkin as the calendar flipped over to 2016. Can you believe it?

The same will hold true for 26 NFL teams on Sunday when their seasons come to a close as six lucky franchises chase Super Bowl glory.

The 2015 season has been one of the weirdest in recent memory with so many big stars missing significant time. For some teams, like our Cowboys, when the clock hits 0:00 there will be a sense of relief as we can finally move on to a new season, and a new year, of new hope.

Let’s pick every NFL game for the first time in 2016. You and me. We’ll do it together. Happy New Year!

New Orleans Saints (6-9) At Atlanta Falcons (8-7)

Long gone are the days where this matchup would produce almost 90 combined points. 2016 has brought about change to the calendar, but this rivalry has been different for quite some time.

NFL Blog - Week 17 NFL Game Picks

Julio Jones is chasing history so the Falcons are going to air it to him a ton, but Drew Brees is falling apart from a health perspective so it’s hard to imagine that New Orleans can hang with them.

New Orleans is going to be one of the more fascinating franchises to watch this offseason as we see what they’re going to do with the aforementioned Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton. They’ve been such a successful pair for so long… with the end perhaps in sight I think they’ll pull one more out for the Saints faithful.

Prediction: SAINTS – 31, Falcons – 27

New York Jets (10-5) At Buffalo Bills (7-8)

The New York Jets have a win-and-you’re-in playoff scenario. Whether it’s 2015, 2016, or any other year… something that optimistic is never safe in the hands of the Jets.

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The Buffalo Rex Ryans will supposedly be getting up for their Head Coach and the opportunity to spoil his former team’s chances at the Playoffs. Sorry Rexy, not buying it.

The Bills are pathetic. It actually saddens me.

I recently watched the 30 for 30 Four Falls Of Buffalo and if you didn’t know… there is some deep NFL History circling those wagons (I highly recommend the documentary if you’ve got some time this weekend).

Buffalo already announced that they will not be bringing Mario Williams back next year, so perhaps it’s not a far stretch to say that things aren’t exactly super positive around that neck of the woods right now.

J-E-T-S take care of B-U-S-I-N-E-S-S on Sunday. Book it.

Prediction: JETS – 24, Bills – 13

Detroit Lions (6-9) At Chicago Bears (6-9)

This has the makings of a snooze-fest.

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The super inept Lions against the hapless Bears in what will probably be a sludgy Soldier Field… yikes.

So that means this will be a wild and crazy shootout, right? That’s how 2015 treated us all season long.

Prediction: LIONS – 41, Bears – 37

Baltimore Ravens (5-10) At Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)

Who would have ever said back in August that the Case Keenum-led Baltimore Ravens would take down the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers?

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You can put your hand down, Mrs. Keenum.

The Ravens shocked the world last week with a win over their biggest rival, but they’re out of gas when it comes to miracles.

The Bengals may have lost on the Monday Night Football finale, but they’re not a bad team. They’ll take care of business. On to the next one, please.

Prediction: Ravens – 10, BENGALS – 23

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) At Cleveland Browns (3-12)

The Steelers have to be just sick in their guts over last week’s loss.

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Good thing they’ve got the Browns up next.

While Mike Tomlin is actually 4-7 in his last 11 games versus below .500 teams, and even though he’s lost to clumsy Cleveland teams before, this team is just too talented.

Big Ben, Antonio, and the crew will take care of business. They’ll need a Jets loss to get into the dance, though. Things don’t seem likely. The ghost of Case Keenum will haunt them forever. Ouchie.

Prediction: STEELERS – 34, Browns – 20

Washington Redskins (8-7) At Dallas Cowboys (4-11)

How the tides have turned.

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A year ago the already-crowned NFC East Division Champions went on the road in the classic Cowboys/Redskins matchup and handed the home team a bitter loss in their own house.

Those Cowboys feel like so long ago.

The Redskins are officially this season’s division winners and have nothing to play for – the exact same circumstances that we had last season. Ugh it hurts to type.

Dez Bryant, Barry Church, and David Irving have all been sent to IR and therefore won’t play in this game. Kellen Moore will though, if that inspires any confidence in you.

This game will finally put us out of the misery that we’ve endured all season long. Let’s go out in style.

Prediction: REDSKINS – 24, Cowboys – 9

Tennessee Titans (3-12) At Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

Marcus Mariota has been ruled out of this game so it’s hard to say that the Titans are even watchable.

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The Colts enter this contest needing a win and eight other things to go there way to have any chance at the postseason. Things don’t look so good, Indy.

If you weren’t snoozing after Detroit and Chicago this one will make your eyelids heavy. God knows who is playing quarterback for the Colts, but he’s probably still better than Zach Mettenberger.

Give me the Colts.

Prediction: Titans – 10, COLTS – 16

New England Patriots (12-3) At Miami Dolphins (5-10)

The Patriots are coming off of a loss against their hated rivals – the New York Jets.

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The Miami Dolphins are the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

The Dolphins have Ryan Tannehill and Dan Campbell.

Candy from a baby, man.

Prediction: PATRIOTS – 27, Dolphins – 17

Philadelphia Eagles (6-9) At New York Giants (6-9)

Tuesday, December 29th was a dark day for Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants fans everywhere as the Eagles officially released Chip Kelly of his Head Coaching duties.

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The good news for Giants fans is that Odell Beckham Jr. will get to play for their officially eliminated from playoff contention team, but he’ll probably make some nice catch and everything will be ok.

The loser of this game will have to play in London next year as they will finish third in the division… and as the Rams are playing that team in London next year it would appear as if the loser has to leave the country.

Enjoy your trip across the pond, Giants.

Prediction: EAGLES – 23, Giants – 16 

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) At Houston Texans (8-7)

I’ve been a deep believer of the Jacksonville Jaguars this season.

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I legitimately believe that in a few years they are going to be one of the AFC’s top teams should their offensive playmakers all stay there. They’ve got something special going on.

It’s not enough right now, though.

The Houston Texans sneakily have one of the league’s best defenses and they understand one of the most fundamental things about football that evades most teams: get the ball to your best players.

The Texans throw it to DeAndre Hopkins even if he’s covered by 12 guys. I love that. He’s the best guy on the field – give him a chance.

Prediction: Jaguars – 24, TEXANS – 30

San Diego Chargers (4-11) At Denver Broncos (11-4)

I can’t be the only one that’s annoyed with the Broncos this season.

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It seems like Denver has caught break after break. I mean, how is the fact that Peyton Manning (one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time) not starting one of the biggest stories each and every week?

The Broncos’ luck is bound to run out at some point, but it won’t be against the Chargers. These guys have completely quit and now they’ve lost touch with reality.

Confused? Let me tell you what’s up. San Diego fined Eric Weddle, one of their best players, ten thousand dollars for watching his daughter dance at halftime last week. Then they put him on IR this week.

Considering that they might be leaving San Diego the Chargers could’ve gone out a lot more classy, they deserve to lose.

Prediction: Chargers – 13, BRONCOS – 23

Oakland Raiders (7-8) At Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)

Nine nine nine nine! The Kansas City Chiefs have won nine games in a row!

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The Raiders played perhaps, although I seriously doubt it, their last game in Oakland last week. This game will be the last time that we ever see Charles Woodson. That’s a lot of history going on there.

History is nice and makes our hearts full, but the Chiefs are going to fill up the scoreboard. Boo-ya.

Prediction: Raiders – 17, CHIEFS – 30

St. Louis Rams (7-8) At San Francisco 49ers (4-11)

Jeff Fisher’s Rams beat the Seahawks? Color me surprised.

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The Rams have a rule. They are one of the worst teams on earth outside of the NFC West, but inside of that division they are kings. Hi, 49ers.

One of the national predictions for the season that’s reached fruition seems to be that San Francisco would be flaming hot garbage. The Rams will win this one and we’ll be stuck with Jeff Fisher for another year. Hooray.

Prediction: RAMS – 16, 49ers – 9

Seattle Seahawks (9-6) At Arizona Cardinals (13-2)

Now here is a game!

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There isn’t too much drama as both of these teams have already clinched playoff spots, the Cardinals the division, but we’re looking at a potential playoff matchup in the making here.

I don’t expect Seattle to show everything that they’ve got against Arizona considering that they might be re-visiting the University of Phoenix Stadium in a few weeks. There isn’t a whole lot to gain for Seattle as they seem to be in prime position to travel to Washington during the wildcard round of the playoffs. They’ll “like that.”

Give me the Cardinals. It’s their house and they want that #1 seed.

Prediction: Seahawks – 23, CARDINALS – 33

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) At Carolina Panthers (14-1)

The Panthers are one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL right now, even though they lost last week.

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I don’t totally subscribe to “good losses,” but the Panthers have a lot more mental toughness than most teams. The Buccaneers do not.

Cam and Co. will get back to their winning ways with a nice layup against the Bucs before they take a week off to get ready for the real deal. Swish.

Prediction: Buccaneers – 13, PANTHERS – 37

Sunday Night Football: Minnesota Vikings (10-5) At Green Bay Packers (10-5)

NBC traditionally flexes the most exciting game of the regular season finale into this spot. There’s a sense of calm over Cowboys Nation as it does not feature us with our lives on the line against a division foe.

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Neither the Vikings nor Packers are fearing for their playoff lives in this game as they’ve both already clinched, but the rights to the NFC North are up for grabs. This game also has an interesting twist in that, under some permutations of playoff scenarios, the loser could be visiting the winner a week from now in the wildcard round.

If you follow me on Twitter then you know how hard I’ve pounded the table that the Green Bay Packers are massively overrated. Think about it… who have they beaten this year?

Of course the easy answer is the team they’re playing in this game – the Minnesota Vikings. I trust those Vikings more, though. They flexed some serious muscle last week on Sunday Night Football and I expect that they’ll do it again with the division on the line.

Look out for Adrian Peterson to have one of the games of his life.

Prediction: VIKINGS – 23, Packers – 20

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RJ Ochoa on Fancred

What are your thoughts for the 2015 regular season finale? Let me know! Comment below, Email me at Roel.Ochoa.Jr@Gmail.com or Tweet to me at @rjochoa!

Tell us what you think about “Week 17 NFL Game Picks” in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

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I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

Star Blog

Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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