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Worst To First: It All Starts With Strength Of Schedule

Kevin Brady

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Dez Bryant

The NFL loves to promote parity; the idea that at the beginning of every single season each team has an equal chance of bringing home the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February.

How much parity there really is in the league is up for debate, as I would argue about half the league is not considered a serious contender at any point during a given season. But then again, every year we seem to see a team go from "worst to first" in their division and get themselves a home playoff game. Just last season the NFC East saw this occur as the Washington Redskins reversed their recent misfortunes to win the east and host the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round.

This year us Dallas Cowboys fans are hoping that it will be our team who climes out of last season's cellar and atop the division standings. If this does happen, we will point to all of the reasons why the Cowboys finally started clicking; Ezekiel Elliott ran for a zillion yards, the offensive line was dominant, Tony Romo stayed healthy, the defense created turnovers, etc. etc.

While all of this may have to be true for the Cowboys to be good, the most telling factor for why the Cowboys can climb out of the NFC East basement is something out of their control, their strength of schedule (SOS).

The "strength of schedule" metric is calculated pretty simply by averaging out each opponents winning percentage from the previous season. For example, to find the Cowboys 2016 strength of schedule, you would take the average of their 2016 opponents winning percentages from 2015.

Now that we understand what strength of schedule is, we can examine how important a role it plays in a team going from "worst to first."

I studied the past five NFL seasons to discover how closely strength of schedule relates to playoff appearances, and in each of those five seasons at least one playoff team had one of the five easiest schedules according to this metric. While not all of these teams were a last place team or even missed the playoffs the year before, it is still notable just how easy their schedule was.

Year Team SOS Final Record
2011 Baltimore Ravens .457 12-4
2012 Cincinnati Bengals .438 10-6
2013 Denver Broncos .430 13-3
2014 Indianapolis Colts .430 11-5
2015 Houston Texans .418 9-7
2016 Dallas Cowboys .465 ??

As you can see, teams that we now consider as a perennial playoff contenders have typically taken advantage of weaker opponents in order to kick off their playoff runs.

In particular, I'd like to focus on the 2014 Colts and 2015 Texans. Both of these teams have been towards the bottom of strength of schedule over the past couple of seasons in large part because of the weakness of their division. It's pretty logical to consider that if six of your games will be against opponents with winning percentages at or under .500 the season before, then in turn your schedule will be easier.

This is exactly what we saw last season in the AFC South, especially after Colts quarterback Andrew Luck went down for most of the year. The Texans went 5-1 in their division, taking care of the weak and young teams which they had to play. Finishing with only 9 wins total, just over half of their wins came within the division.

Is asking this years Cowboys to exploit the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles for 3 or 4 wins out of the question? I don't think so. In fact, I think it is likely and necessary in order for them to clinch that playoff birth.

While the Cowboys do have a slightly higher strength of schedule than the other five teams in this chart, it is still well below .500, which should be the league average, at least in theory.

Six of the Cowboys 10 non-division opponents finished well under .500 in 2015, and it is against those teams that the Cowboys must shine. If they can beat the teams they "should" like the Bears, 49ers, Browns, Lions, Ravens, and Buccaneers, then they will put themselves in position to win the NFC East before they even have to beat a true contender.

The Dallas Cowboys can make their "worst to first" climb by taking advantage of these weaker opponents, the same way those other teams in the past with similarly weak strength of schedules did.



Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

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REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Eric Berry Tuesday

Brian Martin

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REPORT: Cowboys Visiting With Free Agent S Eric Berry Tuesday

According to Ian Rapoport, the Dallas Cowboys have a meeting scheduled to visit with Free Agent Safety Eric Berry Tuesday at The Star.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Source: Former #Chiefs S and new free agent Eric Berry is visiting the #Cowboys on Tuesday. His first visit. They have a need there...

Eric Berry has spent his entire career with the Kansas City Chiefs after they drafted him fifth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. After signing Earl Thomas last week, the Chiefs decided to part ways with their former All-Pro Safety.

Berry, 30 is an intriguing free agent for the Dallas Cowboys. When healthy, he is arguably one of the best safeties in the league. Unfortunately, injuries have kept him off the field these last few seasons causing him to only start in only three games since 2016.

This is a move many of us expected to happen after the Cowboys decided not to get into a bidding war for Earl Thomas, a player linked to Dallas for over a year now. In Berry, Cowboys Nation would be getting a similar player with the same kind of red flags. Both Thomas and Berry have to be approached with caution due to their injury history the past few years.

Depending on his asking price, Eric Berry absolutely makes sense for the Dallas Cowboys. He would be an upgrade over Jeff Heath and would pair well with the Cowboys up-and-coming three-year safety Xavier Woods.

This is still just a visit, so we should probably get our hopes up that a signing is imminent. But, I think we can all agree Eric Berry is exactly the "right kind of guy" Jason Garrett is always preaching about. He's a cancer survivor, five-time Pro Bowler, and All-Pro player. What's not to like!?



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BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Signed DE Kerry Hyder

Brian Martin

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BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Signed DE Kerry Hyder

The Dallas Cowboys added more defensive line help today after signing former Detroit Lions Defensive End Kerry Hyder.

Kerry Hyder Jr. on Twitter

Going back to Texas! #CowboysNation

Kerry Hyder provides more depth at the defensive end position and as a chance to become the starter opposite DeMarcus Lawrence while Randy Gregory is out serving his suspension.

Hyder, 27 originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech with the New York Jets in 2014. He spent a year in New York before signing a future/reserve contract with the Detroit Lions in January 2015.

He had a breakout eight-sack year with the Lions in 2016, but tore his Achilles in 2017 causing him to miss the entire season. In 2018 he had just one quarterback sack after Detroit switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme.

Overall, this is a good depth signing by the Dallas Cowboys. Kerry Hyder has starting potential, but shouldn't keep the Cowboys from upgrading the position further through either another free agent signing for the draft.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Free Agency: Week One Recap

Jess Haynie

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Tavon Austin

It's been just a week since NFL free agents could begin negotiating with other teams, but it feels like a lifetime for anxious Cowboys fans. Dallas' seemingly passive approach to 2019 free agency has left many disappointed. Still, there are some moves to recap.

As has become their strategy in recent years, the Cowboys have focused on filling up their depth chart and trying to avoid any glaring holes prior to next month's draft. They've re-signed several backups and added at least one likely rotation player.

It's still far too early to judge Dallas' activity. Comparing the 2019 roster to last year will depend heavily on the draft, growth from current players, and other factors. But with the "second wave" of free agency upon us, it's a good time to look at who's come, gone, and stuck around so far.

New Arrivals

  • TE Jason Witten (unretired)
  • TE Codey McElroy (Rams)
  • DT Christian Covington (Texans)

The biggest addition so far this offseason wasn't even a free agent, at least not in the purest sense of the term. Jason Witten's surprising return from retirement helped shore up one of Dallas' biggest needs, though it may not preclude them from drafting a tight end high in April.

Also at tight end, Dallas signed developmental project Codey McElroy. His experience is in baseball and basketball, having played just one year of college football. But at 6'6'" and 255 lbs., and having spent last year working with the Rams, the Cowboys must see something they're intrigued by.

Last week Dallas signed Christian Covington, who had 3.5 sacks for Houston in 2018 playing as a 3-4 defensive end. He should move to DT in the Cowboys' scheme and should be a solid addition to their rotation.

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Free Agency: Week One Recap

Former Cowboys WR Cole Beasley, now with the Buffalo Bills. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Departures

  • WR Cole Beasley (Bills)
  • TE Geoff Swaim (Jaguars)
  • DL David Irving (shenanigans)
  • LB Damien Wilson (Chiefs)

Beasley is heading to Buffalo on a four-year, $29 million deal. It appeared the relationship soured between Cole and Dallas over his playing time last year, and clearly the Cowboys didn't fight hard to keep him.

Damien Wilson followed Anthony Hitchens to Kansas City to help round out their linebacker corps. Once it was announced that Dallas was hanging on to Sean Lee in 2019, it was fairly certain that Wilson wouldn't be back.

Also not expected back was TE Geoff Swaim, who signed with Jacksonville. Even before Witten came back, Dallas appeared likely to stick with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz for returning talent and then add an upgrade via free agency or the draft.

While still a free agent, nobody expects David Irving back in Dallas or even the NFL after recent activities. Irving appears focused on a Hollywood career and advocating for medical marijuana use at this point.

Keepers

  • FB Jamize Olawale
  • WR Tavon Austin
  • WR Allen Hurns (team option)
  • OT Cam Fleming
  • G/C Joe Looney (team option)
  • DE DeMarcus Lawrence (franchise tag)
  • DT Daniel Ross (ERFA)
  • LB Justin March-Lillard
  • S Darian Thompson

While Dallas put the franchise tag on prized pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, his return in 2019 is far from settled. Lawrence has previously sworn he wouldn't play under a second franchise tag this year, and last we heard the two sides are far apart on a long-term deal. Could a holdout be on the horizon?

The Cowboys doubled-down on WR depth by re-signing Tavon Austin and exercising their team option on Allen Hurns' contract. Both are able to play out of the slot, meaning we could see more of a rotation approach to replacing Cole Beasley next year.

Dallas also re-signed fullback Jamize Olawale, which was a surprise given his low usage rate last year. Perhaps the change to Kellen Moore at offensive coordinator was behind this one, hoping to take better advantage of Olawale's receiving skills going forward.

Joe Looney and Cam Fleming will also be back as valuable backups on the offensive line. Looney started 16 games last year at center and also helps at guard, while Fleming will be the swing tackle once again for his second season in Dallas.

On defense, Dallas kept Daniel Ross in their DT rotation after solid performance in 2018. Justin March-Lillard return at linebacker, particularly for his value on special teams. And Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick by the Giants, is back as an ongoing developmental player.

~ ~ ~

Today we're already seeing a flourish of free agent activity in Dallas. Reports this morning have them meeting with WR Randall Cobb and S Clayton Geathers, and we haven't even had lunch yet.

If this is any indication, next week's recap may have a lot more to discuss.



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