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Worst To First: It All Starts With Strength Of Schedule

Kevin Brady



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 am currently a college student. Lets get going.

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Player News

Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson

Jess Haynie



Deonte Thompson

The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.

Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.

Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.

Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.

For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class

Kevin Brady



Byron Jones

Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.

By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.

While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.

Byron Jones

The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.

Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.

Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.

Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.

Chaz Green

Okay, hear me out.

The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.

Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.

Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.

Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.

La'el Collins

It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.

Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.

Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.

Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.

If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.

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Player News

Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal

Sean Martin



Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal

At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.

The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.

Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.

A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.

Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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