It's not often that you struggle through the NFL season, end up in dire straits in Week 16 and then promptly gift wrap a playoff berth to an undermanned opponent at home. But the Cowboys managed to pull it off, and it might very well be time to blow some stuff up in Dallas.
The Seahawks managed just 136 total yards during meaningful football action against a depleted Dallas defense. It wasn't the Cowboys' defensive unit that created problems; the Dallas D bottled up the Seahawks for the most part, save a couple of red-zone throws from Russell Wilson.
It was the offense, the unit Jason Garrett is supposed to coach up, that mangled this thing. Dak Prescott was 21 of 34 for 182 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions -- good for a 51.3 passer rating -- against a Seahawks defense that was missing Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. Prescott was sacked multiple times and under pressure plenty courtesy of Frank Clark and Michael Bennett.
Again, the Cowboys' strength is supposed to be its offensive line. Even the rushing attack, which got 97 yards out of Ezekiel Elliott on 24 carries, badly lacked the sort of situational intelligence you want to see in a game like this.
On first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Cowboys elected to try and run the ball with Prescott instead of giving Elliott the rock. They were stuffed.
On second-and-goal from the 3, Prescott attempted a pass instead of giving Elliott the ball. The Cowboys were flagged for holding.
Suddenly it was third-and-goal from the 23 in a two-possession game, and Prescott was forced to dump off. Dan Bailey came on to shank a field goal that essentially iced the game for Seattle.
Elliott, for his part, did not complain about it.
Ezekiel Elliott on not getting ball near goal line in fourth quarter: "My job is to play football. My job is not to coach, it's not to call plays. I do what the coaches tell me. Coach Linehan has been doing this for a long time. He knows what he's doing. I trust his judgement."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 25, 2017
Jerry Jones does not often leave football games early, especially with his team only down two scores and less than three minutes remaining. But he appeared to be heading that way during a particularly bad stretch for the Cowboys.
Dallas would get another look -- Bailey missed the field goal again! -- but it was probably too little, too late anyway.
This was a massively missed opportunity for Dallas. The Cowboys have a star-filled roster capable of making serious noise in the playoffs. But once again, under Garrett's stewardship, they've fallen short of that goal. He is 66-53 as Cowboys head coach, and while he was dealt a tough hand with the Elliott suspension situation, it's hard to figure out how he made the offense substantially better.
"You've got Zeke Elliott and he has missed six games and he's now playing and you don't give him the ball in a critical situation ... it's hard to justify," Fox Sports analyst and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said during the broadcast.
That's fairly obvious analysis from Aikman, but not in a bad way -- he's completely accurate. But when one of the franchise legends is pointing it out on a national broadcast of his old team, there will be plenty of people who take notice. And that doesn't bode well for Garrett's future either.
Maybe Jerry Jones is too tied to Garrett to make a move. This is his eighth season and Garrett is his guy. The Cowboys do not have a perfectly constructed roster. They battled injuries and overcame a questionable defense that always intended to rely on multiple rookies. Elliott, the NFL's leading rusher last season, missed six games.
But the Cowboys went 3-5 at home, including the Week 16 loss. It's a disappointing end to a very promising season; after going 13-3, it was widely assumed the Cowboys would be one of the top NFC teams again in 2017. It has hardly been the case, and we've seen a little regression from Prescott in his second year. With the Eagles making the leap to dominant division team, it's possible Jones sees an offseason with a lot of big coaching names floating around and wants to make a move.
Garrett could also get a free pass courtesy of rage focused in the direction of Roger Goodell, who dished out the Elliott suspension. That would be misguided from Jones, considering the Week 16 loss was a microcosm for this coaching staff over the years.
Maybe more changes are on the way. Dez Bryant will be 30 next year and has just two years left on his contract. He'll carry a cap hit of $16.5 million and have a dead cap hit of just $8 million. That's a lot of cap space for a team in need of help in a lot of places. We could see more calls for the Cowboys to move on, especially with Dallas' passing game taking a major step back. Prescott is clearly a top talent; it is fair to question if he has enough young pass catchers around him.
Whatever happens, the 2017 Cowboys will be remembered as a tantalizing roster that was dominated by TMZ-like headlines and derailed by the distraction of the legal system.
Seattle's last hurrah?
The Seahawks are going to be the most interesting team in football this offseason. They are dynastic in fashion, with the defense having changed the way some NFL teams craft their rosters (see: Jacksonville) and having been the best in the NFL for nearly half a decade now. But things change quickly in this league.
Earl Thomas was openly talking about wanting to play for the Cowboys .
Richard Sherman is tweeting about "fans that have turned on players and coaches."
1 win away from another 10 win season! The fans that have turned on players and coaches. You should be ashamed of yourself. This team has overcome Tons of adversity and shown incredible resolve. There are teams out there that haven’t had a winning season in years. Be grateful.— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) December 25, 2017
No one expects Seattle to actually do anything in the playoffs, but it has enough in the tank to make life miserable for someone. Russell Wilson sprinkles his nanobubbles to create chicken salad out of a less appetizing item on a frequent basis. The Seahawks' backup-laden secondary intercepted Prescott twice Sunday and returned one to the house for six points. Jimmy Graham is once again lethal in the red zone. Frank Clark and Michael Bennett are dangerous on the defensive line and Bobby Wagner, who once got an MVP vote, is deserving of some DPOY chatter this year.
If you're the Rams, you don't want to see Seattle again. The Saints don't want them either. This isn't the same Seattle team, and it would be coming on the road, but the Seahawks have nothing to lose -- don't be surprised to see them play loose against Arizona and stroll into the postseason.
The NFC South scenarios
For a full playoff breakdown of every team's situation, check out. But here's the dirty on the NFC South: Just about everything is still on the table.
But they don't look like a trustworthy team any more than they have most of the season. We look at Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and their talent on defense and it's easy to fall in love with the upside. It might be time to relegate the Falcons to the same class as the Seahawks, a tier below the rest of the NFC contenders. Week 17 is a chance to prove everyone wrong.
The Saints are the extremely likely favorite to win the division. If they beat the Buccaneers in Week 17, they take the division title. They're 7.5-point favorites in Tampa, according to Sportsbook.ag, so it's a pretty good bet they walk away with a win. Tampa is playing tough down the stretch, but New Orleans should be able to take care of business in this spot. If New Orleans loses and Atlanta wins, the Saints would still take the division. New Orleans is likely to be the No. 3 seed, but No. 5 is on the table with a loss.
The Panthers have more volatility left than anyone else. More than likely they'll be the No. 5 seed. But, if the Vikings lose to the Bears (they are 13-point home favorites, so it's unlikely), and the Saints lose to the Buccaneers, and the Panthers beat the Falcons (Atlanta is a 3.5-point favorite), Carolina would win the division and become the No. 2 seed in the NFC by virtue of jumping the Vikings via head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Panthers win and the Saints lose, but the Vikings win, Carolina would be the No. 3 seed, with the Saints falling to the No. 5 spot. If the Saints and Vikings win and the Panthers lose, they would remain at the No. 5 seed. Neither Seattle nor Atlanta can catch them. So for Carolina, No. 5 is the floor and No. 2 is the ceiling, with the fifth seed being most likely.
The Falcons can end up as the No. 6 seed, where they currently reside, but can miss the playoffs as well. It is win and get in for Atlanta, although the Falcons can also make the playoffs if the Seahawks lose to the Cardinals (Seattle is a 9-point favorite).
Do the Chargers live?
They do! They're not my Chargers, they're our Chargers, and they are not dead. In fact, the Chargers have a 32.9 percent chance to make the playoffs now according to SportsLine's model. The Chargers need a lot of help, but the help they need isn't all that crazy:
- Titans lose: This has to happen for Los Angeles to make the playoffs. If Tennessee is involved in a tiebreaker with Los Angeles, they win on their conference record.
- Chargers win: This also has to happen. If the Chargers lose they are eliminated because they would finish 8-8 and remain behind the Titans in the tiebreaker.
- Ravens win or Bills lose: One of these is required, because a Ravens loss and a Bills victory would create a three-way tie with the Chargers at 9-7, regardless of the Titans, which would put the Bills first among the three teams, with the Ravens holding the tiebreaker over L.A. The Chargers cannot be involved in a three- or four-way tiebreaker or they are out.
So, with that in mind, what do the Titans need? Simply beat the Jaguars. Win and they are in. Lose and they are 8-8 and likely out. (In theory, the Bills, Titans and Chargers could all lose and Tennessee would be in at 8-8. No one wants that.)
The Bills need to get involved in a multiple-team tiebreaker. That seems weird, but remember when Sean McDermott decided to bench Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman against the Chargers earlier this season? Yeeeeeeeeah, about that. The Chargers smashed the Bills, and that result means that if they are involved in a two-team tiebreaker situation with the Bolts, they miss the playoffs.
The Ravens can still miss the playoffs in the pretty unlikely situation that they lose to the Bengals while the Titans and Bills win. The Titans would be in as the No. 5 seed on conference record while the Bills would beat out the Ravens on strength of victory. That feels like the least likely scenario, but it's worth remembering the Ravens are not locked for the postseason yet.
Gronk Is an Unstoppable Freak of Nature of the Week
There is not a weapon like Rob Gronkowski in football. And there are many different and impressive weapons in football. But he's a superhuman monster who has the size and strength of the Hulk and the agility and dexterity of Spiderman.
Christmas Cheer Celebrations of the Week
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around these parts, and that means its time for the Salvation Army buckets out on the street and at Dallas Cowboys football games. You remember, the one Elliott jumped in last year and OH NO.
It's perfect because it brings to light some of the fun stuff about the season but also mocks Elliott and the Cowboys in a friendly way. Coleman was flagged and will probably get fined. He better have the NFL donate the fine money to charity.
The only thing better? Andy Reid celebrating a win by dressing up as Santa Claus for his postgame press conference.
Great stuff from Big Red. Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy the football. It's almost over. Oh, and your family too or something.