If you've read my work before, hi Mom, then you know that I used to have a collection of mini helmets for all of the NFL teams.
There was a gum ball machine at my school while I was growing up that dispensed one for a quarter, and each day I would beg my parents for another chance at securing the missing teams from my set. Finally, like Ash Ketchum, I caught them all.
I have since upgraded to a new set that I use for extremely important football purposes. What's that exactly? Well whenever there's a game going on I set the helmets of the active teams up facing each other in front of my tv.
After each week of the NFL season I update my helmets to reflect the current standings within the NFL. So welcome one and all, to the tradition of RJ's Mini Helmets.
NFL standings through Week 4 -- according to my mini helmet display.
In the spirit of gameday traditions, please allow me to gather some help from my mini friends throughout this week's game picks. Let's roll.
Thursday Night Football: Indianapolis Colts (2-2) At Houston Texans (1-3)
The swashbucklin' Matt Hasselbeck will be the Colts QB as Indy takes on the helpless Texans. It's really too bad that JJ Watt can't play all 11 positions because then Houston might have at least a 75% chance at being relatively competitive.
I expect Bill O'Brien to run Arian Foster as much as he can in this game, but the Texans are a long ways away from being able to beat a team like the Colts... even without Andrew Luck. This will be a snoozer as far as primetime games are concerned, but look for the Colts to rally around Matty and his bunch.
Prediction: COLTS - 20, Texans - 10
Washington Redskins (2-2) At Atlanta Falcons (4-0)
Welcome to relevance, Washington. The Redskins have surprised folks this season by not turning the ball over on each possession. Kirk Cousins played well last week, but it just feels like he's due for a 19 turnover game.
The Atlanta Falcons are one of the few undefeated teams in the NFL, even though Roddy White wants more targets. Julio Jones is going to feast on the Washington secondary that allowed Sam Bradford of all people to have a decent stat line last week. Look out for Matty Ice to Julio all day long.
Prediction: Redskins - 13, FALCONS - 33
Buffalo Bills (2-2) At Tennessee Titans (1-2)
Oh Rexy, the one moment that Cowboys Nation needed you and you couldn't even beat the Giants? For shame. The Bills shot themselves in the foot last week with what seemed like 400 penalties. No LeSean McCoy or Karlos Williams isn't exactly a recipe for success this week, especially as the Titans are coming off of their bye.
Super Mario has shown that he has a bright future in the NFL through his first three weeks. I'm very curious how he's going to come out of his first bye week, but he struggled against Cleveland when they threw pressure at him. The Bills have arguably the best defensive front in the NFL, and I think they're going to simply overwhelm the rookie. Circle the wagons.
Predictoin: BILLS - 27, Titans - 21
Chicago Bears (1-3) At Kansas City Chiefs (1-3)
The poor Bears finally earned their first victory of the season last week... over the mighty Oakland Raiders. Jay Cutler actually looked like an NFL quarterback again, and Martellus Bennett had himself a day. Alshon Jeffery might play, but even if he doesn't I think Eddie Royal is going to go off against a depleted Chiefs secondary.
Three straight losses against the Broncos, Packers, and Bengals aren't exactly anything to be ashamed of, but the Chiefs are in a downward spiral. I really thought they had a chance to challenge for the AFC West title this year, but they just don't have any offense outside of Jamaal Charles. I fear that they will find a way to continue their losing ways, even if it is against the Bears.
Prediction: BEARS - 20, Chiefs - 16
Seattle Seahawks (2-2) At Cincinnati Bengals (4-0)
The Seahawks are coming off of a narrow victory aided by a controversial call from their home stadium on Monday Night Football. Raise your hand if you've heard that one before! Really though, the Seahawks haven't looked like the elite team we're accustomed to seeing in a while, arguably in all of 2015. The Jimmy Graham experiment has yet to take off, and Russell Wilson is running for his life... without Skittles by his side.
I am a believer in the Cincinnati Bengals. Outside of the quarterback position, is there one portion of their roster that the Seahawks are more talented in? The answer is no. The Bengals might not have the same pass rush that the Lions gave to Seattle last week, but they're going to cause havoc. Coupled with an elite offense and a, surprisingly, lethal Andy Dalton... Cincinnati is going to stay undefeated.
Prediction: Seahawks - 16, BENGALS - 28
Cleveland Browns (1-3) At Baltimore Ravens (1-3)
The Brownies put up more of a fight against the Chargers last week than I think any of us anticipated. Josh McCown has them in this weird state of not terrible, but not even above average, so it's kind of football purgatory for Cleveland fans. I don't believe in them long term and at some point they will revert back to their classic, and terrible, Brown-ish ways.
No team has ever tried harder to give away a game than the Steelers did to the Ravens last Thursday Night. Baltimore has a much needed breath of life on the 2015 season. Even though Steve Smith Sr. is banged up I believe that they're going to come out on fire and ready to recapture some momentum for this season. They know they've been given a new lease on life and they're not going to waste it.
Prediction: Browns - 13, RAVENS - 24
St. Louis Rams (2-2) At Green Bay Packers (4-0)
Jeff Fisher has a weird ability to get his team up for big games and come out totally flat in small ones. At 2-2 the Rams have victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. Can they do it again? I say yes! Their pass rush is going to stifle Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field, and Todd Gurley is going to justify all of his pre-draft hype.
As great as the Packers are, they are undefeated after all, I'm not totally convinced that they're an elite team. They've beaten the Bears (yawn), Seahawks (who aren't what we expected), Chiefs (yawn again), and the Niners (stop yawning). The combined record of those four teams this year? 5-11. St. Louis, and their epic pass rush, are just the type of trap game to bring them down to earth.
Prediction: RAMS - 23, Packers - 20
New Orleans Saints (1-3) At Philadelphia Eagles (1-3)
If it weren't for a few things here and there the New Orleans Saints would still have yet to record a win this season. Nevertheless they beat the Cowboys and kept their playoff hopes (relax, I know it's Week 5) alive. Drew Brees will surely have regained even more form than he had last week, and I expect him and his Saints to have a lot of confidence heading into Philly.
Losing to the Falcons and Cowboys was somewhat justified, but dropping a game to the Redskins was the ultimate low point for the Eagles last week. They haven't shown anything through their first four games that instills confidence in them as a team, and if anything they have shown that they are on the path to complete and total disaster. Not touching the Eagles this week or any.
Prediction: SAINTS - 19, Eagles - 13
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) At Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)
The Battle for Florida aka the battle of the ugliest uniforms in the NFL. I boldly picked the Jaguars to win in Indianapolis last week, and that was a missed field goal or two away from becoming a reality. These Jaguars aren't the total catastrophe of years past, and I think Blake Bortles is going to take advantage of a terrible Buccaneer defense on his way to a nice stat line.
I really believed that Lovie Smith had a chance to turn the Bucs around, but even if he does it's not happening anytime soon. Growing pains are expected with a rookie quarterback, and the Bucs are going to continue to have them. I don't think that the Bucs can go blow-for-blow with the Jags so in the leading candidate for game that you're most likely to nap during, give me Jacksonville.
Prediction: JAGUARS - 26, Buccaneers - 17
Arizona Cardinals (3-1) At Detroit Lions (0-4)
Despite wearing their super awesome black uniforms last week, the Cardinals fell to the division rival St. Louis Rams. Bruce Arians has undoubtedly lamented over this all week and told his Cardinals that they are never allowed to lose again. This team is far more loaded offensively than they were a year ago, and I don't see any way that they drop two in a row.
The Detroit Lions should join the Cowardly Lion in his search for bravery or a win or whatever it was. They suffered one of the more heartbreaking losses that we've seen this season last week on Monday Night Football, and it's hard to imagine that a date with one of the NFL's best is going to make things any better. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have yet to show us the explosiveness that we're accustomed to seeing from them, and I don't think that they start to this week.
Prediction: CARDINALS - 33, Lions - 13
New England Patriots (3-0) At Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are on a mission in 2015: Humiliate EVERYONE. Coming off of a bye, an extra week of preparation, it's hard to imagine that momentum coming to a stop... or even slowing down. Rob Gronkowski is going to have a big day as the Patriots deflate yet another team's dreams.
The Cowboys could very easily be 4-0 or 1-3. They've had breaks go both directions for them this season, and they are going to need the biggest ones this week. I expect Morris Claiborne to do a great job on Julian Edelman, like he did with Brandin Cooks, but it's going to be difficult for them to contain Rob Gronkowski. If they have any chance to win it'll be predicated around generating a pass rush and disrupting Tom Brady all day, but that's one big if.
Prediction: PATRIOTS - 34, Cowboys - 16
Denver Broncos (4-0) At Oakland Raiders (2-2)
The Orange Crush might be on its way back. The defense of the Denver Broncos is ferocious, and something that opposing quarterbacks aren't looking forward to dealing with this season. It's a strange world to see Peyton Manning merely manage a game, but at some point the lack of run game behind him is going to plague them. This could be that week.
I believe that the Oakland Raiders are going to be extremely hyped for this game. They're 2-2 and have a legitimate level of hope for their season (a rarity for the Raider faithful in October). Given the NFL's growing likelihood of a team returning to Los Angeles, and that team potentially being the Raiders, the Oakland fans are going to want to send a message. My bold predictions for the Cowboys and Patriots game will debut Saturday, but here's an appetizer for you. Raiders win, baby.
Prediction: Broncos - 19, RAIDERS - 20
Sunday Night Football: San Francisco 49ers (1-3) At New York Giants (2-2)
The 49ers have fallen a long way since beating the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football in Week 1. They've looked unorganized, confused, and just terrible all around. Colin Kaepernick really needs to find his 2012/2013 form or this team has no shot of even finishing .500. I expect them to try to get their ground game going with Carlos Hyde, it just won't be enough.
The New York Football Giants have clawed their way back from an 0-2 record to sit nicely at 2-2. They have what seems to be a layup in front of them in San Francisco, but their prized possession Odell Beckham Jr. has caused quite a distraction this week. As big of a prima donna that OBJ might be, the Giants could easily be 4-0 this season. I expect them to handle the Niners easily and get above .500 for the first time this year.
Prediction: 49ers - 13, GIANTS - 27
Monday Night Football: Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) At San Diego Chargers (2-2)
Hopefully the Steelers have learned by now that when the game is on the line Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are far better options to explore than Michael Vick. Pittsburgh has had a long time to sit and stew about their Week 4 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and they're probably not too happy. Even though Martavis Bryant is coming back, I don't believe they have the offensive competence to beat a team like San Diego. They're in trouble.
Who would have thought that the Chargers would have to summon all of their strength to beat the Browns? San Diego is a quiet 2-2 this season, but Philip Rivers is balling right now. Antonio Gates is coming back and that's great, but Keenan Allen is the Charger that's really going to light it up on Monday Night Football. This is a chance for San Diego to show on a national level that they're for real and they're going to take it. Give me the Bolts.
Prediction: Steelers - 14, CHARGERS - 32
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.
Can QB Dak Prescott Steal Back His Mojo From Atlanta?
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.
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:
66.7 completion percentage
102.4 passer rating
Prescott's stats since the Falcons game:
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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