Every single person has that one song that gets them hyped. It's lurks deep within your iTunes library, coming out only on the rarest of shuffle occasions. You skip song after song, wondering why you keep them in your library since you "never listen to them", until that hype song comes on.
You listen to it two, five, maybe even ten times in a row if you can. You vow to put it on your device so that you can carry it with you wherever you go... safely in your pocket and a bluetooth connection away from letting loose.
That's how picking NFL games can be. You go through game after game, acknowledging the blowouts to come, and then that surprising little nugget catches your eye. Whether it's the Giants at Bills in a battle for New York, the Pack headed to San Francisco and the home of Aaron Rodgers, or the Vikings heading to Denver for what should be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIII... the shuffle of NFL games gives you something you like.
DJ RJ is on the 1s and 2s today and I'm going to throw it all the way back to 2004. I'm going to "take that and rewind it back" with Usher's "Yeah!" as I pick each game from Week 4.
Thursday Night Football: Baltimore Ravens (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
There are people who claim that this is "the best division rivalry in the NFL" and I just cannot agree with that. The Baltimore Ravens will run out of the tunnel at Heinz Field tonight with patches on their jerseys that commemorate their 20th year of existence.
You seriously want to dub a 20-year-old rivalry the best one? In the entire NFL? Dude.
Now that I got that off my chest - this is an awesome rivalry. Pittsburgh and Baltimore always delivers on the hype, especially last year in the first round of the playoffs, and Thursday Night Football should be fun.
The Steelers are rolling into this game without their star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a feeling that Cowboys fans can certainly identify with, and might be turning on Usher's "Yeah!" to summon everything great from 2004... including Michael Vick.
The Vick-led version of the Steelers are going to have a tough time against these Ravens. I know that Baltimore is 0-3 (which amazingly is the first time in franchise history that they have started with such a record), but these Ravens are not about to fall to 0-4. Steve Smith almost carried the team to victory over the Cincinnati Bengals by himself last week, and I believe that he'll be successful against Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Ravens - 27, Steelers - 13
London Game: New York Jets (2-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-2)
Harry Potter might be at this game as it is happening all the way across the pond in London!
I made the mistake of not understanding who the Jets have been for their entire lives when I picked them to beat the Eagles last week. This is a team that, when on top of things and expected to win, always butt fumbles their way to doom. Chris Ivory should be a full-go though, and Brandon Marshall is going to be hungry to put on a show after a misguided lateral last week. Defense wins championships, and while there is certainly no Lombardi in their new future... the defense of the Jets is going to win a lot for them this season.
The Dolphins feel like that song in your iTunes library that you just put up with to get to the one you like. This team is a mess. They seem to build the core of their teams through free agency, a mistake in General Management 101, and are stuck in football purgatory right now. I don't expect them to put up much of a fight - they seem to have mentally quit. I wouldn't be shocked at all if they just got blown out and the status of Joe Philbin was a hot topic on their flight back to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
Prediction: Jets - 33, Dolphins - 10
Houston Texans (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-0)
This game is really interesting if Arian Foster plays, and by interesting I mean watchable. The Texans are a mess this season. Watching Hard Knocks I really thought that they'd put up a fight this year, but Ryan Mallett just cannot carry this offense. Think about this for a second. With the, easily, best defensive player in the NFL... the Texans barely beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. Yikes.
Hotlanta is all ablaze these days as the Falcons are riding a 3-0 record. Are they a good team? Yes. Are they one of the best teams in the NFC? Hard to say no at this point. Are they going to sustain this success long-term? I don't think so.
The Falcons have caught a lot of breaks this season. If not for the brain of Eli Manning that we all know and love, they would have lost that game. But they beat the Cowboys!
Yes they did. They beat a Dallas Cowboys team absent of: Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain, so on and so forth. The Atlanta Falcons had to summon all of their energy to beat a heavily depleted team. They do have some things to be proud of, but they're a one trick pony (a pony named Julio Jones). They will falter at some point this season, but as much as I don't believe in them they have a layup this week.
Prediction: Texans - 16, Falcons - 28
New York Giants (1-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-1)
This is a rematch of one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, Super Bowl XXV. This is also a battle for the state of New York (because the Jets don't matter obviously) and this is another chance for Rex Ryan to huff and puff.
The Giants are marching into this game 10 days off of earning their first win of the season, a victory against the helpless Washington Redskins. Odell Beckham Jr. had a nice game last Thursday Night, and Eli Manning looked to be on fire early on. The G-Men are going to play well in this game, but they are going to really need to protect Eli Manning. They're a dangerous team that could very well be 3-0, but they're going to need to hold off one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Circle the wagons! The Bills have a winning record and are looking to stake their claim in the state of New York against Tom Coughlin's Giants. Without the services of LeSean McCoy, Buffalo is going to lean heavily on new quarterback Tyrod Taylor and rookie running back Karlos Williams. And you know what? I like their odds. This team has a swagger about them. It's not a Rex Ryan swagger, those suck, but it's a cool one that makes you want to root for them.
Prediction: Giants - 27, Bills - 34
Oakland Raiders (2-1) at Chicago Bears (0-3)
What kind of world are we living in that the Oakland Raiders are actually favored to beat a professional football team?!
Da Raiders are favored to beat Da Bears at the legendary Soldier Field this Sunday. How sad of a day is that for the city of Chicago? Who knows what is going to happen with the Bears on Sunday when Jimmy Clausen takes the field. All that anyone does know is that it's probably going to be more like Pooh Bear than Da Bears.
Just win, baby! The NFL is a much better place when it's classic teams do well so count me in as one of the people rooting for the Raiders. Derek Carr has this young and talented team on the rise. Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, oh my... what a group they've quietly built amidst recent failures (by recent I mean literally every season since losing Super Bowl XXXVII to the Buccaneers). Carr is going to put on an aerial show against the helpless Bears as the Raiders of the Lost Ark march to 3-1.
Prediction: Raiders - 31, Bears - 6
Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)
The Red Rifle is going to light up the red-uniformed Kansas City Chiefs come Sunday. After exorcising some of his "can't get it done" narratives against the Ravens last Sunday, Andy Dalton draws the Chiefs... a team who is on a short week, mentally devastated and down in the dumps, without the services of one of their starting cornerbacks. I've always associated Andy as the name on the bottom of Woody's boot, but Sunday it's going to be in the box score with 18 touchdowns.
Prediction: Chiefs - 20, Bengals - 38
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2)
Remember the days where this was an automatic 100-0 win for the Colts? It's pretty hard to believe that's not the case given the names on the Colts offense.
It took every bit of Andrew Luck's talent to push the Colts past the Tennessee Titans. Think about that.
The Colts seem to be in a downward spiral and while this could certainly be the game where they bounce back, I'm feeling frisky.
The Jaguars took it to a Dolphins team two weeks ago that is also very talented on offense. The Jacksonville defense is underrated across the NFL, and if it's true that Andrew Luck has some level of injury... that could be the break that the Jaguars need. Give me Blake Bortles and Co. in the shocking upset.
Prediction: Jaguars - 27, Colts -21
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) at Washington Redskins (1-2)
This is the "we don't want to be last in the division" bowl.
Given that this game might not even happen thanks to Hurricane Joaquin, it might be a prediction for another day; nonetheless I will power through and give you one.
It's interesting how great the Eagles looked without the services of DeMarco Murray last week. They played pretty well against a Jets team with a very stout defense. Color me intrigued.
The Redskins actually made a game of what seemed to be a blowout last Thursday Night. Matt Jones is the real deal in that backfield, but unfortunately he's lining up behind Kirk Cousins.
All jokes aside here, this game comes down to DeMarco Murray for me. I feel very confident in the Eagles if he sits out (aka if Ryan Mathews gets the bulk of the work), but I feel like they'll force the issue if he's in there. I don't have a lot of confidence in Kirk, but with the game in Washington they could rally around the hometown vibes.
Prediction: Eagles - 23, Redskins - 13
Carolina Panthers (3-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)
Cam Newton is in the discussion for MVP in my book. He is absolutely carrying a group of wide receivers that is barely more talented than you and I.
I thought that the Bucs would be a little bit more dangerous than they seem to be this year. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are big weapons on the outside, but maybe it's taking Jameis Winston some time to realize that you should throw to the good guys. Even though they're at home, where the pirate ship or whatever fires off, I don't have a lot of faith in Tampa Bay.
Superman is flying south for the winer on Sunday. Give me Cam all day.
Prediction: Panthers - 27, Buccaneers - 10
Cleveland Browns (1-2) at San Diego Chargers (1-2)
How shocking that Josh McCown isn't the guy that is capable of leading the Cleveland Browns to victory. The Browns are in need of a miracle and until they get one, a miracle named Johnny Football, I don't have much faith that they can tie their shoes let alone win an NFL game.
San Diego...Super Chargers! I was a little surprised that they lost to the Vikings last week, but maybe Teddy Bridgewater and the gang are finally living up to their hype. Philip Rivers isn't about to let his team fall to 1-3, plus I think that Melvin Gordon is going to have a breakout game here and light up the Browns.
Prediction: Browns - 13, Chargers - 17
Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at Denver Broncos (3-0)
Welcome back to relevance, Adrian Peterson.
The 2012 league MVP seemed to return to his normal form last week against the Chargers, but he's got a pretty tough matchup this week. Adrian Peterson is going to have to, like he has throughout his entire career, absolutely carry the Vikings if they have any shot at winning. The Broncos have an incredible defense and are going to shut down Teddy Two Gloves fairly easily.
The days of Omaha have felt far away at certain points of the 2015 season. Peyton shocked us all last week in Detroit when on 4th and 1 he went up high to Demaryius Thomas for an incredible touchdown. Defensively the Broncos are a Super Bowl contender, but with a questionable Peyton and no run game at all... can they sustain this success all year? Or even this Sunday?
The Vikings don't post a big enough threat to expose this Broncos team. Give me Denver at Mile High.
Prediction: Vikings - 10, Broncos - 23
Green Bay Packers (3-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2)
I don't know if we'll hear more about how Aaron Rodgers grew up in California or that the Packers are hoping to return to Levi's Stadium for Super Bowl 50. You predict that one.
Don't look now, but Colin Kaepernick might have just thrown another pick six against the Arizona Cardinals. Yowza what a terrible game. This team is a dumpster fire right now, and it's hard to believe that they're going to get back on track against one of the most lethal offenses in the NFL.
I wonder how hard the Giants cry every time James Jones scores a touchdown. Seriously... James Jones, what's up? The Packers offense hasn't skipped a beat without the services of Jordy Nelson or Davante Adams, and that success should be contributed to Aaron Rodgers. We're watching one of the finest quarterbacks of this generation at work every Sunday and on this particular one he's going to make the 49ers cry pretty hard themselves.
Prediction: Packers - 38, 49ers - 14
St. Louis Rams (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (3-0)
Remember when St. Louis beat Seattle on opening day and people were ready to send them to the playoffs? That was only three weeks ago, but it feels like so much longer. The Rams do have a very good defense, but man they are just so boring on offense. The days of the Greatest Show on Turf are so far gone that the Rams are resorting to doing new things to their turf... like lighting it on fire.
Carson Palmer has been listening to "Yeah!" too I can see. The dude is straight BALLIN right now throwing touchdowns like they're Colin Kaepernick Pick Sixes. Not to mention that this Arizona Cardinals defense is intimidating everybody that gets in their way. St. Louis better watch out or they themselves, not their turf, are going to get set on fire come Sunday.
Prediction: Rams - 13, Cardinals - 30
Sunday Night Football: Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-3)
During Week 4 of 2014 the Dallas Cowboys squared off against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. They had a huge win that set the tone for their season and after the game Jason Witten spoke about how they "wanted to win each quarter of the season" by getting to a 3-1 record.
The Saints, with or without Drew Brees, are a mess. Their offense is so stagnant and so unproductive that it is actually painful to watch. There seems to be a culture issue there as even Jimmy Graham thinks getting out of New Orleans is a blessing. It's hard to believe that these guys aren't about to come completely unraveled.
3-1 is the goal for Sunday Night. Getting there won't be easy as the Brandon Weeden-led offense of the Cowboys was somewhat exposed last week during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons. While there are talented players to dump the ball off to in Cole Beasley and Lance Dunbar, the Cowboys are going to have to push the ball downfield in the Superdome. I believe that they can, and they will. Brandon Weeden has a rocket for an arm and it's taking off in New Orleans on Sunday Night Football.
Prediction: Cowboys - 30, Saints - 13
Monday Night Football: Detroit Lions (0-3) at Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
You know the phrase "sacrificial lamb"? It's ironic that, since it's usually the hunter, the Lion is going to be sacrificed on Monday Night Football. The Lions will definitely be lacking in courage when they see the Seahawks run out of the tunnel on Monday Night. I have zero faith in them this season.
First name Russell. Last name Wilson. Marshawn Lynch is limited so the Seahawks are going to do what they do in times of need... lean on #3. Russell is going to have a big game in the final act of Week 4 as the Seahawks look to get to .500 on the season. You can bet that they're tired of hearing how the Packers and Cardinals run the conference. They're out to send a message. I'm scared for the Lions.
Prediction: Lions - 10, Seahawks - 41
QB Dak Prescott Continues To Come Through In Clutch Situations
Dak Prescott is possibly the most criticized quarterback in all of football.
Of course, this comes with the territory of being the Cowboys starting quarterback, but each throw Prescott attempts is placed under an intense microscope, even by NFL standards. We analyze every snap of every game, looking to find where Dak was right or wrong with this reads.
There's no question, though, that Prescott has been inconsistent throughout his young career. Week to week, drive to drive, and even play to play, we seemingly have no gauge on just how Dak Prescott will perform.
One scenario where we can say with confidence he will come through, however, is when it matters most. Last Sunday, in yet another must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott orchestrated a game winning drive to lead his team over the favored Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys offense was pedestrian for much of the afternoon, but when Prescott got the ball in a tied game, I felt confident he would give Brett Maher a chance to win the game. Even on the road, and even after the offense had struggled a bit through the air all day.
Prescott got the ball late in the fourth quarter, looking to answer former NFL MVP Matt Ryan's game tying touchdown strike to Julio Jones. Dak went for it all on the first play, looking for Michael Gallup deep down the sideline, but the ball fell incomplete. After that throw, Prescott went 4/5 for 45 yards, including a huge completion to Cole Beasley, putting Dallas in game winning field goal range.
This confidence in Dak Prescott is justified, as is shown by his numbers in late game situations. Prescott now has 12 game winning drives, tying him for the league lead over the last three seasons. For comparison sake, Eagles starter Carson Wentz has just 3 game winning drives over that same stretch.
Overall the box score shows a rather quiet day for Prescott, but it was exactly the kind of Sunday they need from him. He completed over 60% of his passes, ran for a touchdown, and avoided the key turnover which could have sung this close game.
He played efficient football, and gave the Cowboys a chance to win it late. Then, he did what he does best, making plays in clutch situations and coming through in the 2 minute drill.
For all of Dak Prescott's flaws, those end-of-half and end-of-game situations have been a clear strength for the young quarterback, and continued to be this week.
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.
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