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
Tony Pollard is Just What the Doctor Ordered in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys have what many believe to be the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott. However, you can never undervalue the importance of depth at any position. When the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft came around, the Cowboys added another weapon to the backfield by selecting Tony Pollard out of Memphis.
If you’re looking for a dynamic player maker with the ability to take it to the house at any given moment, Pollard is your man. The former Tiger averaged a touchdown every 13 touches in college. That’s an absolutely insane statistic when you think about it. He also tied an NCAA record with seven kick returns for touchdowns. Long story short, he can get you six points at the blink of an eye.
The versatility in his game is outrageous and undoubtedly the reason why he was drafted. In addition to running for 941 yards on 6.8 yards per rush, he also had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has to be salivating about the possibilities with his new toy. Having a running back that can not only carry the load as a runner but also line up at receiver keeps the defense honest. You never know what angle the offense is going to come from.
This has to be a sigh of relief for Ezekiel Elliott. Now, the Cowboys don’t have to overexert him and can bring Pollard in on third downs if need be. Not just to give Elliott a breather but to change the pace of the offensive attack. You can hand the ball off, throw it to him or run jet sweeps when he is on the field. This sets up a potential combo at running back that could be the leagues very best shortly.
Speed, quickness, and agility are all wrapped up in the Tony Pollard package. The Cowboys now have a running back that can line up at multiple positions if need be. Also, this prevents a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the body of Ezekiel Elliott. This combination has all the potential to set the NFL on fire in 2019.
CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG
Coming off what was clearly the best season of his career thus far, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones underwent surgery to hopefully fix a nagging hip injury.
While he earned both his first All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2018, his first season as a full-time cornerback, Jones still has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Some still criticize him for his lack of interceptions, and there's no doubt his stellar play slowed down a bit towards the end of the year.
I'm willing to wager that the slight decline had a lot to do with his hip troubles, but nonetheless he must come up with his elite level play once again to earn himself a nice contract somewhere in 2020.
Oh, did I forget to mention it's also a contract year for Byron Jones? As it is for so many important Dallas Cowboys, it seems.
So when will Byron Jones be able to return to the Cowboys' lineup? Well, the initial date reportedly set by Jones and the team was late July, giving him a chance to practice and play a bit before the season opener in September. But, according to the Team Site this week, that date may be pushed back a bit, and we might not see Byron Jones until that season opening game against the Giants.
"As for Jones, all along the Cowboys have been targeting his return for the season opener, but hopefully at that. So, don’t expect to see much of Jones in training camp, and if so, certainly no more than individual and walk-through drills." - Mickey Spagnola
Ultimately, as long as Byron Jones is good to go when the regular season starts, that's all that matters, but the fear of rust when Jones returns is a real one.
It's tough to go from no live football straight to the meaningful games, but if anyone would be able to do it it would be the guy with the freakishly athletic traits. The guy who can get out of the bed in the morning and set athletic records at the Combine.
And, of course, that guy is Byron Jones.
Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure
When the 2016 NFL Draft came around the Dallas Cowboys were in search of the heir apparent to Tony Romo. Unfortunately, coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, Romo would find himself on the shelf again after suffering a broken bone in his back during a preseason game against the Seahawks. However, the Cowboys had an ace in the hole, in the form of Dak Prescott who they drafted in the fourth round.
The idea was the groom him for a few years before taking the keys to the car so to speak from Romo, but fate had another idea in mind. Prescott would be thrust into the starting lineup against one of the Cowboys most hated rivals to start the season, the New York Giants. Added to that, was the pressure of living up to Romo's stellar resume as the franchise's all-time leading passer. After struggling in a tough 20-19 loss, no surprise there for a rookie quarterback, Prescott began to take flight.
Over the next eleven games he wouldn't suffer a single loss as the Cowboys were sitting pretty at 11-1. What made this streak more impressive was the efficiency of Prescott. He threw 19 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions over that span. In the process, he set an NFL record for the most passing attempts to start a career without an interception with 176. This broke the previous record held by Tom Brady of 162. It didn't stop there, as he also set a rookie record for completion percentage (67.8), was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys would finish 13-3 and win the NFC East. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the franchise only winning two postseason games in 21 years, Prescott was definitely under the microscope. After the offense struggled to produce points in the first half and fell behind 21-3, Prescott lead a furious comeback. Helping the team storm all the way back to tie the game at 28 and again at 31. He finished with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first playoff start against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Even though the team lost 34-31, Prescott proved how much of a gamer he was as he basically went yard for yard and point for point with one of the NFL's elite signal-callers. It was clear the Cowboys were in good hands going forward.
2017 started off well as the Cowboys were 5-3 and firmly on pace for another playoff run. Unfortunately, All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott lost his fierce battle with the NFL over domestic violence allegations, and Dak along with the offense struggled. After a 9-7 season and falling one game short of a Wild Card berth, the pressure on Prescott heading into the next season was immense.
Once 2018 came about Prescott had more pressure than ever with Elliott back for a full season. After a slow 3-4 start the Cowboys traded for Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, providing the team with it's first true number one receiver since Dez Bryant. Putting even more expectations on Prescott to turn things around, and boy did he ever.
He would complete 71.6% of his passes in the final eight games of the season, and the Cowboys won seven to finish 10-6. Now, with another division title under his belt, came a playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning Quarterback Russell Wilson.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were hanging on to a 17-14 lead. They faced a 3rd and 14 inside the redone with just over two minutes left. After dropping back a few steps, Prescott scrambled for 16 yards setting up a first and goal from the one-yard line. The team held on for a 24-22 victory but here's why that scramble was so important.
If the Cowboys don't convert that 3rd and long that would've set up a field goal attempt. Assuming it would have been successful, that would've only put them up 20-14. Giving Seattle a chance to more than likely win with a touchdown and an extra point or two-point conversion. Prescott essentially won the game with that 3rd down run. Proving once again there's no situation he can't handle.
He's set an NFL record for completion percentage in the first three years of a quarterbacks career at 66.1 percent. No quarterback has won more games than him since 2016 except Tom Brady. No one has more game-winning drives than him since he entered the league. His 13 primetime victories are tops in the NFL over the last three seasons. Simply put, Dak Prescott is a winner and doesn't fold under pressure, instead, he embraces it. There are no bigger lights in the NFL than the ones that shine in Dallas. With those lights come huge expectations and pressure, and it's clear this young man is made of the right stuff to handle it.
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