The NFL world has been a weird place for the last seven weeks.
Peyton Manning is terrible, Andy Dalton is awesome, Devonta Freeman is the hottest running back there is, and the Cowboys new-age triplets are Matt Cassel, Darren McFadden, and Brice Butler. What?
We need to leave this terrible world... specifically the world of the last four months where the Cowboys haven't put a single thing in the win column.
Come with me as I take you on a ride through the Week 8 NFL games where we get to a whole new world.
Do you trust me? You should.
I can show you the world. A shining, shimmering, splendid NFL world.. When did you last let your heart decide on something like that? I can open your eyes, take you wonder by wonder, over through what is and what isn't a catch... on a magic carpet ride through the National Football League!
Thursday Night Football: Miami Dolphins (3-3) At New England Patriots (6-0)
It would appear as if Dan Campbell has been granted at least two wishes as the Miami Dolphins are 2-0 during his tenure as interim coach. To be fair those are against some supposedly professional team called the Titans and a team who's backup quarterback didn't even care enough about playing for them that he missed the team flight to the game.
The Patriots don't need any wishes because they are too good for them. After a showdown against the division rival Jets they now get an opportunity to strengthen their grip on what feels like their four hundredth AFC East Crown. Too da loo, Dolphins.
Prediction: Dolphins - 17, PATRIOTS - 40
London Game: Detroit Lions (1-6) At Kansas City Chiefs (2-5)
London is going to hate us soon if we keep sending them such terrible games to watch. All they want to do is get into the American game of football, but we continually send them teams that don't know how to play it.
The Lions recently fired their offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, the grandson of the great Vince Lombardi. The football gods are going to smite them for this heinous crime as the Kansas City Chiefs call the Queen's Guard to come pick up the Lions after they dispose of them. Cheerio!
Prediction: Lions - 16, CHIEFS - 22
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) At Atlanta Falcons (6-1)
You had ONE job, Bucs. I never ask much of you (except to maybe get rid of those terrible uniforms) and you managed to mess up beating Kirk Cousins and the Redskins? FOR SHAME. Vincent Jackson doesn't even want to play for you anymore!
The Falcons better not read that and giggle. They barely beat the Zach Mettenberger-led Titans. Add that to the list of their super impressive wins: Eagles (Dude it's the Eagles), Giants (when Eli blew it), Cowboys (no Romo or Dez), Redskins (at least they did the job), and the Texans (the dunce of the NFL). This will be closer than most people think, but at the end of the day the Bucs will accomplish the one job they definitely know how to... losing football games.
Prediction: Buccaneers - 23, FALCONS - 26
Minnesota Vikings (4-2) At Chicago Bears (2-4)
It's so disappointing that the Bears are so terrible because this is one of the better division rivalries in football. Nevertheless the Bears are who we thought they were, a Jay Cutler fueled dumpster fire, and the Vikings are finding their 2015 form.
Stefon Diggs has really surprised some folks this season and I bet he'll continue this hot streak he's on as he will easily find a way to ravage the Bears. At least they have the Cubs, right? Oh wait...
Prediction: VIKINGS - 24, Bears - 13
Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) At Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
The Bengals earned a lot of "they're for real"s when they beat the Seattle Seahawks three weeks ago. I'm not here to refute that.
I'm here to say that these two teams hate each other and that with Big Ben back at their disposal... the Steelers are going to put up one ferocious fight.
This is going to be one of the better games of the weekend. The Steelers are going to ride an emotional high with their fearless leader back under center and, as they have for the better part of the 21st century, they're going to show the Bengals who's who in the AFC North.
Prediction: Bengals - 33, STEELERS - 38
Arizona Cardinals (5-2) At Cleveland Browns (2-5)
The Cardinals are awesome and the Browns are the Browns. That's all the analysis you need. High-five!
Prediction: CARDINALS - 30, Browns - 13
Tennessee Titans (1-5) At Houston Texans (2-5)
The fact that these two teams are allowed to compete professionally in the NFL should offend you.
I will say that the Titans have a certain "I don't completely hate everything about them" quality to their team, but the Texans are so past the point of no return that I wouldn't be shocked if they replaced their helmets with brown paper bags.
At least Ryan Mallett can sleep in on Sunday, right?
Prediction: TITANS - 22, Texans - 6
San Francisco 49ers (2-5) At St. Louis Rams (3-3)
It's pretty amazing that the Rams only have one more win than the 49ers, isn't it? I mean... you think about the two of them and you just think that the Rams are significantly better.
They will be on Sunday. Colin Kaepernick has completely forgotten how to play quarterback in the NFL and facing the megadeath pass rush from the St. Louis Rams isn't going to help things. Go Rams.
Prediction: 49ers - 16, RAMS - 24
New York Giants (4-3) At New Orleans Saints (3-4)
How's this carpet ride going? I can pull over if you need to use the bathroom or want a snack. Just say the word!
The national media might lay out the red carpet for Odell Beckham Jr. as he travels on down to Louisiana where he spent his collegiate days. They need to make sure and get him some tissues too because OBJ and the Giants are going to be boo-hooing their way back to New York after this game.
That's right! The Saints are kind of sort of a little bit just maybe the team that we're used to seeing in the Superdome. Drew Brees has them playing legit football (they beat the Colts as I correctly predicted last week) and the Giants offense is struggling... their offense only put up 13 points against the Cowboys. Yuck.
Prediction: Giants - 13, SAINTS - 31
San Diego Chargers (2-5) At Baltimore Ravens (1-6)
Not too long ago this would have been a really fun and awesome game of football to watch.
Now I'm going to watch it through my hands as I try to shield myself from the horror that they're both putting between 100 yards. Give me the Chargers, but just so I can move on from this mess.
Prediction: CHARGERS - 23, Ravens - 17
New York Jets (4-2) At Oakland Raiders (3-3)
I promised you a whole new world and this is living proof of that.
A game between the Jets and the Raiders is one of the best of the week.
As much as I like the Jets, I really do I promise Jets fans, I know that Ryan Fitzpatrick's clock is about to strike midnight and he's going to turn into a pumpkin or however that story goes.
Even if Ryan balls out, the Raiders are for real! Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper... my oh my. The Raiders are going to announce themselves as wildcard contenders in this game with a big win over the J-E-T-S.
Just win, baby.
Prediction: Jets - 27, RAIDERS - 30
Seattle Seahawks (3-4) At Dallas Cowboys (2-4)
I know that you patiently scrolled through all of the games just to get to this one. I thank you for that. And I promise you... it was worth it.
The Seahawks are a legit team. You know that.
They also allowed the San Francisco 49ers (a much less competent offense than the Matt Cassel-led Cowboys) to score 20 points on them last week.
Three out of the last four games (the exception being the Patriots game) the Cowboys have scored 28, 20, and 20. That's with a multitude of changes at major offensive positions. They can certainly hang 20 on the Legion of Boom.
Not to mention that Russell Wilson has been running for his life this season behind a terrible offensive line. Keep in mind that they've been terrible without facing Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, and the rest of the fun bunch.
Hold your head high this weekend, Cowboys Nation! We are, much like we did a year ago, taking out the Seattle Seahawks. Commence the celebration NOW!
Prediction: Seahawks - 17, COWBOYS - 23
Sunday Night Football: Green Bay Packers (6-0) At Denver Broncos (6-0)
There will be an unbelievable amount of hype given to this game as the two teams participating are both undefeated. That's fair.
What isn't fair is to compare the Broncos to the Packers. As great as his career has been, Peyton Manning is being completely carried by this Broncos defense. When Aaron Rodgers drops 30 points on them, he's just not going to be able to compete in that shootout.
The Meltdown in Mile High is on its way.
Prediction: PACKERS - 33, Broncos - 13
Monday Night Football: Indianapolis Colts (3-4) At Carolina Panthers (6-0)
"We have back-to-back number one overall picks squaring off!" will be the theme of the night. Yes, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck will meet. Hooray.
The Colts are also going to meet an onslaught of criticism when the Panthers push them around in this game. Superman flew all over Philadelphia last week and he's coming back for part two or whatever they're calling the new movie against the Colts.
Prediction: Colts - 20, PANTHERS - 34
Thus concludes our magic carpet ride. I hope it was as enjoyable for you as it was for me. Welcome to A Whole New World!
How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?
There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.
Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.
Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.
With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?
To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.
Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.
Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.
In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.
Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?
Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.
The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.
Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.
If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?
We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.
But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.
Once again, at least it is for now.
Is DE Kony Ealy At Risk Of Not Making Cowboys Final Roster?
As training camp approaches and we draw closer to the 2018 NFL season, fans are beginning to get excited for new faces, old stars, and new beginnings for the Dallas Cowboys.
One player which has been a bit forgotten about over the last few months, and even overlooked when he was first signed back in April, is defensive end Kony Ealy. Of course, some of this overlooking is justified, as Ealy's career has been filled with more valleys than peaks thus far.
With a fresh start in Dallas, though, some expect Kony Ealy to rekindle his career, and look like the player he was during the Panthers' Super Bowl 50 loss just a few seasons ago. The problem is, that game looks like the outlier and not the norm over his professional career.
Originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers, Ealy has had a shaky start to his career. Now joining his third team in the same number of seasons, it's certainly fair to say he hasn't lived up to his second round draft selection.
At 6'4" and 275 pounds, however, Ealy fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive end in the Cowboys' scheme. While he isn't the explosive pass rusher that other players on the roster are (and can be), he could provide solid rotational depth across the defensive line.
With fellow former second round pick Randy Gregory gaining reinstatement to the NFL this week, Ealy could struggle to salvage any real playing time with the Cowboys at all. Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Taco Charlton all feel like locks to make the team.
Then there is 2018 day three pick Dorance Armstrong and former fourth round pick Charles Tapper providing competition as well.
Tapper and Armstrong are unproven, but have the athletic profiles to become solid edge rushers at the professional level. For both, especially Tapper, health is of the upmost concern going forward. If Tapper can remain healthy, he has a real shot of making the team and having his impact felt as early as 2018.
That "if" has been a serious one thus far, however.
When the Cowboys first signed Kony Ealy back in April, I really believed he could provide solid and cheap depth along their defensive line. Now in July, I still have those beliefs, but it's become fair to question if he will even find himself on the final 53-man roster based on the competition around him.
Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin’s Footsteps?
Connor Williams has yet to play a single snap the NFL, but there are already some pretty high expectations for the rookie Guard. That's because he will be sandwiched between two Pro Bowl players in Center Travis Frederick and Left Tackle Tyron Smith. But, it's the Dallas Cowboys third Pro Bowl offensive lineman Williams should try to emulate and follow in the footsteps of.
Yes, I'm talking about Zack Martin.
Zack Martin's career couldn't have gotten off to a better start coming out of Notre Dame. He hit the ground running as a rookie with the Cowboys and put together a dominating performance his first year in the NFL, earning his first Pro Bowl bid as well as being named to the All-Pro team. He continued to play at a high level ever since and has not only turned into the best player at his position, but continued his Pro Bowl streak every season since entering the league.
To ask, or even expect Connor Williams to have the same kind of immediate success as Zack Martin is probably a little unfair, if not impossible. The kind of success Martin has had already in his career is almost unheard of. But, that's not to say Williams isn't going to try to follow in Martin's footsteps and to become the best player he can.
The footsteps I think Connor Williams should try to follow as it pertains to Zack Martin is how well he made the transition from a collegiate Offensive Tackle to an NFL Guard. I think that should be Williams' main focus right now with training camp coming up.
Williams will be inserted into the starting lineup as the Cowboys new Left Guard. It will be a new position for him after playing mainly Tackle at the University of Texas, that will require an entirely new mindset and technique. But, it's in transition I believe he can make rather smoothly.
Connor Williams should benefit from Zack Martin's similar transition from college OT to an NFL OG. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the rookie shadowing Martin throughout training camp to soak up as much knowledge as possible. It's probably the best way for him to jumpstart his career.
Now, I fully expect to see some growing pains from Williams throughout the 2018 season. It's to be expected from any rookie, especially one transitioning to a new position. But, I do believe he will not only be an upgrade at LG for the Cowboys, but will make the entire OL even better.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what kind of player Connor Williams ends up being this season.
Do you think Connor Williams can follow in Zack Martin's footsteps?
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