Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 14: Amari Cooper trade looks brilliant, so here's an apology to Jerry Jones

Jerry Jones makes for a lovely piñata on social media -- see him do some silly personnel move, fire up the joke machine, hit him hard enough and watch airplane bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue come tumbling out. Well, turns out the joke is on us. And by us I mean everyone, because when Jerry made the big, bold move to give up a future first-round pick for Amari Cooper in a deadline deal with the Raiders, we all piled on. 

Turns out that was shortsighted and silly, because Cooper has completely rejuvenated the Dallas offense and on Sunday provided his biggest impact game yet in the Cowboys' push for the playoffs. Cooper exposed a bad Eagles secondary, catching 10 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning play in overtime to give the Cowboys a two-game lead in the NFC East.

At the time of the deal, Dallas was floundering below .500, sitting at 3-4 and looking lost. Wins over the Giants, Lions and Jaguars? One of those was impressive and only because they hung a 40-burger on the Jags defense. Even in Cooper's first game with the Cowboys, an embarrassing home loss on Monday night to the Titans that had people questioning whether or not Jason Garrett would survive the season, it looked like Dallas was going to try and force-feed their new No. 1 wideout and struggle regardless of the personnel. 

But since then, Dallas has looked unstoppable, winning five straight games and taking over the NFC East. The Redskins are playing Josh Johnson, the Eagles just got swept by the Cowboys and the Giants started too slow to make any real noise. 

So how big an impact has Cooper made? It's pretty staggering. His personal numbers in Oakland versus his numbers in Dallas this season are laughable. 

GmTargets/Rec (Catch %)Yards (Yards/Game)Yards/RecTD
Cooper with Raiders632/22 (68.8%)280 (46.7)12.71
Cooper with Cowboys653/40 (75.5%)642 (107)16.16

Cooper has more receiving yards in his last three games than he had with the Raiders all season long. He's being peppered with targets constantly and he's consistently producing. Jerry clearly knew how the Cowboys were going to use him -- he is the GM after all! -- and with a dearth of options on the Cowboys roster, in free agency and in the draft, he was willing to pay the premium Jon Gruden asked. 

More importantly, though, Cooper is helping the Cowboys win. He's not just putting up numbers that are pushing fantasy football owners into the postseason. Cooper has made Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense better since he arrived. Those numbers might be more impressive than his personal statistics. 

Don't get too caught up in the points per game here, or even the yards. What's been stunning to me is the third-down improvement for the Cowboys since Cooper arrived. He's their go-to guy in that respect. They're also averaging almost five additional first downs per game since he got there. Cooper has been a machine in that respect; he's responsible for a whopping 29 first downs over the last six games.

Pts/GmYds/Gm1D/Gm3D Conversions
DAL O Weeks 1-720.0320.018.629/91 (31.9%)
DAL O Weeks 9-1422.7348.423.248/101 (47.5%)

Look at the difference here: they've seen a bump of 4.6 first downs per game on average since trading for Cooper. And Cooper has been responsible for 4.8 of them per game on average. Against the Eagles, the Cowboys had 32 first downs. Thirty-two! They were also 10 for 19 on third downs against Philadelphia.

Comp %Yds/GmTD/INT
Prescott Weeks 1-762.1202.48/4
Prescott Weeks 9-1472.8251.86/1

The Dak stats are equally as shocking. Prescott's been better, the Cowboys have had more balance and have run the ball better, teams have been less likely to key in on Ezekiel Elliott and they've been substantially more efficient and effective. Do they clog up a little bit in the red zone? Yes, they do. Jason Garrett is conservative and they're willing to take field goals. It's why their point differential isn't as high despite a spike in first downs and third-down conversions. 

Eventually that's going to catch up to them, and it's probably going to be during a rough playoff loss. But that's not the point here. It's to point out that, as it stands right now, Jerry Jones was right and did the smart football thing by pulling the trigger on a trade for Amari Cooper, despite giving up a first-round pick to do so. At worst the Cowboys are going to give up a late-first round pick. At best it could be the No. 32 pick. They're going to make the playoffs, they're going to host a playoff game and that alone almost makes it worth nabbing Cooper. 

There's more to praise here for Jerry too by the way: Leighton Vander Esch looks like an absolute stud, Michael Gallup is developing well, Jaylon Smith is paying dividends and the defense generally looks great. The Cowboys are a balanced team with a ton of young stars on both sides of the ball. 

You did this, Jerry. We doubted you. You were right. 


Packers' playoff path

There is one team just absolutely lurking on the fringe of the playoff picture, and the Packers' zombie potential should absolutely terrify everyone. To no one's surprise, Aaron Rodgers looked fantastic on Sunday against the Falcons. It made too much sense; fresh off Mike McCarthy getting canned, Rodgers came out at home and shredded a terrible defense to let everyone know it wasn't his fault the Green Bay offense has been struggling for the last few months. 

Rodgers finished 21 of 32 for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns. I don't think anything is necessarily fixed in Green Bay right now, but I do think the tension release of McCarthy being gone coupled with an easy schedule down the stretch could put the Packers, now 5-7-1, in play for a postseason berth. 

Let's be clear: a lot has to happen. First of all, the Packers need to win out. Getting to 8-7-1 is paramount if they want to have a prayer of getting help and sneaking in as a wild card. And even that just gives them about a 43 percent chance of making it. (Also, just beat the Cardinals. 9-6-1 has a great shot of getting in at this point.)

The Packers will be favored in two of their final three games -- they'll certainly be a dog to the Bears in Chicago, but will be favored over the Jets in New York and the Lions at home. Every Bears fan will tell you Rodgers is capable of doing damage in Chicago regardless of how the Packers look this season. 

Winning the NFC North is out of the question after the Bears won on Sunday night against the Rams. The Packers can't catch them. 

But if the Packers win out, I believe they will jump the Panthers (who play the Saints twice in the final three weeks), the Eagles (who have the Rams and Texans left) and the Redskins (who are terrible). That leaves Minnesota (6-5-1) and Seattle (7-5) to jump. The Seahawks aren't getting caught, not with the 49ers and Cardinals on the slate. At the very least, they're not going to go 1-3 down the stretch. 2-2 would eliminate the Packers. 

Can Green Bay pass the Vikings? Yes, but they need help. Very specifically, the Packers need the Vikings, who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay, to lose three of their final four games. I think it's possible. Two of those games are on the road, including the Seahawks on Monday night. One of those games, at home, is against the Bears. Chicago could be locked into a playoff spot that point, and Matt Nagy is a first-year head coach. We have zero idea how he'll handle that situation, although it's worth noting he did sit players in the preseason. At 6-5-1, if the Vikings win two more games, it's over. 

But for now the Packers have a very slim chance.

Steelers in serious trouble

Wrote about this at length for my weekly playoff picture updates piece (new info after every set of games!), but the Steelers should be extremely concerned following their loss to the Raiders.

Ben Roethlisberger is hurt and so is James Conner, and no one's sure when the running back will return. Pittsburgh hasn't won since before Thanksgiving, and the next two games on the Steelers' schedule are the Patriots (home) and Saints (road). They won't be favored in those games. Lose them both and Pittsburgh will be 7-7-1 with a game against the Bengals in Week 17.

That matchup might not even matter -- if the Ravens can win two of their final three games, they would be 9-7 and win the division. The Steelers would then be battling for a wild-card spot against the Titans, Colts and Dolphins, all of whom are currently 7-6 and all of whom have the potential to get to nine or 10 wins fairly easily. The Colts and Titans play each other in Week 17 -- one of them is very likely going to get to nine wins. 

Pittsburgh's playoffs essentially start in Week 15. 

Gronk at safety?

The Dolphins and Patriots had one of the wildest endings you'll ever see in a football game at any level. Miami's consistently flummoxed the Patriots in South Beach, but it looked like New England was escaping with a win until the Fins pulled off an impossible hook-and-ladder pitch to Kenyan Drake that left Hard Rock Stadium in absolute pandemonium. 

Here's the question everyone needs to be asking: What on Earth was Rob Gronkowski doing back as a safety? Did Bill Belichick think that Ryan Tannehill was going to throw a, um, 75-yard Hail Mary?

It's one of those rare tactical mistakes you don't see from a Belichick-coached team very often. And it might end up costing them the bye -- if the Pats lose to the Steelers and the Texans win out, Houston would secure the No. 2 seed instead of New England. All because of Gronk playing safety. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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