The Dallas Cowboys aren’t used to being underrated. Yet that’s where they find themselves in 2022, giving the look of a darkhorse contender.
America’s Team isn’t typically the moniker for a team not gaining enough attention.
Yet for the 2022 Dallas Cowboys, it’s somehow reality.
After beating the New York Giants on Thanksgiving afternoon, the Cowboys are 8-3. This despite being without starting quarterback Dak Prescott for five games, and while seeing a schedule that through 11 tilts, has offered six opponents currently in the playoff picture.
None of the obstacles have mattered, largely because Dallas has one of the league’s best rosters.
The Cowboys are authoring an all-time season in the pass-rushing category. Dallas has amassed 45 sacks, easily tops in the league. Micah Parsons is pacing the unit with 12, but he’s joined by the trio of DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler Jr., who combine for another 19 traps. At their current pace, the Cowboys will notch 69 sacks, ranking fourth all-time and first since 1989.
Not surprisingly, the chaos up front has led to the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense. And in a league increasingly dominated by throwing the ball, Dallas’ biggest strength is the biggest fear of most opponents.
But while the law firm of Parsons, Lawrence, Armstrong and Fowler are leading the Cowboys’ case as contenders, the offense is becoming a story of its own.
Since the return of Prescott in Week 7, Dallas has been offensively reborn. In the first six games of their season, the Cowboys scored 21.3 points per game. Since, the average has skyrocketed to 33.8.
But the uptick in production isn’t only about Prescott. Dallas has started to utilize running back Tony Pollard more often. Prior to Prescott’s return, Pollard only had double-digit carries twice. Since, he’s done so in each of the five contests. The result has been 94 rushing yards per game from the reserve, on 5.8 yards per carry.
Additionally, star receiver CeeDee Lamb has started dominating. Over the past three weeks, Lamb has posted his first 100-yard games of the season, including 150 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Of course, Dallas also has another advantage. It plays in the NFC.
While the AFC is filled with heavyweights who possess star quarterbacks and playoff experience, the NFC is loaded with uncertainty.
The Philadelphia Eagles have the league’s best record, but while Jalen Hurts has ascended to stardom, he’s never won a postseason game. The Minnesota Vikings have only two losses, but Dallas hammered them 40-3 in Week 11 and Kirk Cousins has only one playoff victory.
Essentially, the Cowboys will be able to speed up inexperienced quarterbacks in the biggest games of their lives, while the offense trots out a litany of playmakers.
Long over-celebrated, America’s Team is showing that, for once, it should garner more attention.
Top 10 Hall of Fame Modern Era candidates for 2023
1. Joe Thomas, T, Cleveland Browns (10x Pro Bowl, 6x All-Pro, 2010s All-Decade)
2. DeMarcus Ware, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys (9x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 2000s All-Decade)
3. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets (7x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 2010s All-Decade)
4. Zach Thomas, LB, Miami Dolphins (7x Pro Bowl, 5x All-Pro, 2000s All-Decade)
5. Devin Hester, KR/PR, Chicago Bears (4x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 2000s & 2010s All-Decade)
6. Dwight Freeney, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts (7x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 2000s All-Decade)
7. Jared Allen, EDGE, Minnesota Vikings (5x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 136 sacks)
8. Torry Holt, WR, St. Louis Rams (7x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, 2000s All-Decade)
9. Ronde Barber, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 2000s All-Decade)
10. Jahri Evans, G, New Orleans Saints (6x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 2000s All-Decade)
“Schematically, we’re kind of fu**ed.”
– Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on his team’s 25-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers
The Cardinals have taken turns publicly quitting on each other all year. The definition of losers.
The Chicago Bears are the only team to have made the NFL postseason in all 10 decades of its existence.
The Los Angeles Rams come a close second, having reached the playoffs in each of the past nine decades.
Info learned this week
1. Jordan Love’s audition begins now for Packers
Aaron Rodgers needs to sit and rest the remainder of this season.
The Green Bay Packers, who fell 40-33 to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, are 4-8. The competitive phase of their season is over. And with Rodgers now suffering from an oblique injury, it’s time to give Jordan Love five games, uninterrupted.
Love played the last two drives against Philadelphia and did well, hitting on 6-of-9 attempts for 113 yards and a touchdown. Whether Love can post stats anywhere in that realm over a full game is unknown, but there’s the issue for Green Bay. Love was a first-round pick in 2020, and everything about him remains a mystery.
With nothing to play for, Love should become the focus. The Packers have to make a determination on Love’s fifth-year option this offseason. Nothing else matters beyond the weekly process of evaluating everyone, which will happen regardless of who is under center.
This is a lost season for Green Bay. At least finding out about Love’s potential — or lack of it — will provide some helpful clarity come the offseason.
2. Jets get QB performance they’ve never seen from Zach Wilson
It’s over. Mike White is the New York Jets’ starting quarterback. Now and for awhile.
On Sunday, White went 22-of-28 for 315 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover in a 31-10 drubbing of the Bears.
How terrific are those numbers compared to what Wilson has done? Well, Wilson has started 20 games, and he’s never thrown for three scores, averaged more than 11 yards per attempt, or completed more than 75 percent of his throws. Also, the Jets only topped 30 points once in his appearances.
At 7-4, New York has every reason to prioritize winning over draft slots and development. White gave the Jets much-needed production, and his teammates were rallying around him in the rain at MetLife Stadium.
Wilson had his chance. White has his team.
3. Ravens blow another late lead in crushing loss to Jags
More of the same for the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore is 7-4 and leading the AFC North, but it could be fighting for the No. 1 seed if not for multiple collapses. In Week 2, the Ravens allowed 28 fourth-quarter points to the Miami Dolphins. Two weeks later, Baltimore blew a 20-3 lead to the Buffalo Bills. In Week 6, the Ravens led by 10 in the fourth quarter over the Giants before surrendering two unanswered touchdowns, fueled by a hideous Lamar Jackson interception.
In Jacksonville, the Jaguars trailed 19-10 before scoring 18 points in the final six minutes to win 28-27 over a shocked Ravens squad. Once again, one score was gifted on a turnover, this time a Gus Edwards fumble. Yet despite an answer from Jackson to regain the lead at 27-20, the Jaguars drove 75 yards on 10 plays in 108 seconds.
Despite the additions of edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul and linebacker Roquan Smith, the Ravens’ defense still folding in huge moments. This is an obvious concern come January, when Baltimore will be guaranteed to see elite offenses in the AFC.
4. NFC West race widens with Seahawks loss to Raiders
The Seattle Seahawks thought they were past a defensive performance like this.
After allowing at least 27 points in Weeks 2-5, the Seahawks’ defense permitted only 17.4 points per game in the following five weeks. Then, off a bye and with the 3-7 Las Vegas Raiders at home, Seattle was torched for 40 points in an overtime defeat. The Raiders were led by a virtuoso performance from running back Josh Jacobs, who accumulated 303 total yards and two touchdowns.
For the Seahawks, it’s a loss which drops them to 6-5 and one game behind the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West, who shut out the New Orleans Saints, 13-0. The Niners also beat Seattle in Week 2, putting them in prime position to win the division.
While the NFC West remains in play, Seattle’s chief concern should be snapping its two-game losing streak. The good news? The Seahawks get the Rams and Carolina Panthers over the next two weeks …. before hosting the 49ers on Thursday Night Football come Week 15.
Still, it begins with the halt of regression for the Seahawks. The defense had been much better but fell into old habits against the Raiders. It can’t become more than a one-week blip.
5. Bengals brought smash-mouth to Titans in redeeming road win
The Cincinnati Bengals showed they aren’t all finesse.
In their 20-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium, Cincinnati was revisiting both moments of glory and shame. Yes, the Bengals won there in the AFC Divisionals last January, but also allowed nine sacks. This time around, quarterback Joe Burrow was only sacked once and hit four times, while Cincinnati’s defense held Derrick Henry to 38 rushing yards on 2.2 yards per carry.
Like most teams which prefer to pass, Cincinnati is often labeled as soft. On Sunday, the Bengals were anything but. They continuously gained extra, tough yards on the ground from reserve backs Samaje Perine while the offensive line did enough to keep Burrow upright and dangerous.
Come the postseason, a win like this will serve Cincinnati well, giving it something to harken back on when the passing game isn’t in top form.
The Buffalo Bills are still a force, but they desperately need to get healthy.
Buffalo continues to take on injuries, suffering two significant ailments in its Thanksgiving win over the Detroit Lions. Left tackle Dion Dawkins was forced out with an ankle injury, while edge rusher Von Miller sustained a torn meniscus, putting him out indefinitely.
Regarding Miller, a prolonged absence would add another big name to the defensive woes, with edge rusher Gregory Rousseau, linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde (out for season), and corners Kaiir Elam and Tre’Davious White all missing time in recent weeks.
While much of the injury attention in recent weeks has been about quarterback Josh Allen’s elbow — and rightfully so — it’s the defense which has been decimated.
At 8-3, the Bills are in the mix for a third straight AFC East crown and the conference’s top seed. But the defense needs to get near full strength first, or Buffalo won’t reach its potential.
Inside the league
Now is the time.
Ask anybody in the NFL when the season truly begins, and they’ll all point to the same date.
Well, Turkey Day has come and gone. The weight gained, likely not so much. With only six regular-season weeks remaining, the contenders now shift from figuring themselves out into narrowing playbooks and gameplans to highlight strengths and minimize weaknesses. The weeks are no longer about winning while understanding what works best. It’s only winning. Everything else should have been figured by now.
Glancing across the league, there are a quartet of tight division races and a slew of teams vying for the six wild card slots. Of course, many of those clubs will play each other, knowing the result will mean much more than a simple victory or defeat.
Ultimately, it’s time for playoff hopefuls to become what they can, because time is running short.
BetSided’s best bet
Dolphins-49ers UNDER 47 (-110)
I have major concerns for Mike McDaniel’s return home vs. Kyle Shanahan, but not for the reasons one might think.
McDaniel’s offense was humming at home vs. the Houston Texans, but they now face a 49ers team that pitched a shutout over the Saints, and haven’t allowed a point in their last four second halves.
More importantly, stud left tackle Terron Armstead is out with a pectoral injury and the moment he left the game, Tua Tagovailoa was not the same.
If Miami’s offensive line can’t handle the pressure coming from the Texans front, they’re in for a world of pain dealing with San Francisco.
I lean 49ers at -3.5, but a few books still have 47 on the board while others are down to 46/46.5.
Grab it while you still can.
– Ben Heisler
One of the wildest moments in NFL history took place after a 1976 AFC Divisional clash between the Baltimore Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.
A two-time defending champion, Pittsburgh visited Baltimore and hammered the Colts, 40-14. In the minutes after the Steelers’ triumph, a private plane crashed into the upper deck of Memorial Stadium. Incredibly, nobody was seriously injured or killed, making the incident more historical curiosity than tragedy.
The Steelers went on to lose the following week, falling to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game.
It’s become a weekly question. Should the Denver Broncos fire Nathaniel Hackett now or later?
Really, the question is moot. Whether it’s today or the night of Jan. 8, Hackett is gone. He’ll be one-and-done in Denver, with some other poor coach stuck trying to revive Russell Wilson. And if that unknown replacement can’t do so, he’ll be the second victim of perhaps the worst contract in NFL history.
The argument for axing Hackett now is obvious. It placates an irate fanbase and starts turning the proverbial page towards 2023. It also allows for Denver to start speaking with candidates. Conversely, the argument to wait until the season concludes is one less distraction for the players to answer for.
Frankly, it’s becoming harder to defend Denver holding onto Hackett. He’s been one of the worst head coaches in NFL history, being wholly unprepared and overwhelmed since jump.
Ultimately, though, the Broncos’ season is long done. Hackett will eventually leave, and that exposes the real work ahead of figuring out how to fix Wilson, and who the right person is to maximize whatever he has left.
Broncos fans will exult when Hackett is fired, but that’s only step one of a long road to respectability.