By: Shaun Morash
The Cowboys have gone from 13-3 to a team in transition quickly. This is going to crush some Cowboys fans’ souls, but it needs to be said: Dez Bryant is no longer an elite wide receiver in the NFL. In fact, he is trending toward being a No. 2 in a hurry. Jason Witten is aging and is no longer an elite tight end, and an offensive line that lost two pieces in the off season is showing it cannot withstand injuries.
Dak Prescott will shoulder blame for Sunday night with his three interceptions – the first three-interception game of his career – but the truth is this Dallas Cowboys front office needs to stop living in the past with a roster built to try and win a championship with Tony Romo under center. Ezekiel Elliot is an elite running back, but a star that you now have to hold your breath that he will remain out of trouble in the offseason. Outside of that, the cupboard is bare on the Cowboys offense. Cole Beasley is an excellent slot receiver; Terrance Williams is not good enough to be your number 2 without a guy like Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. as your No. 1.
If the Cowboys truly want to make a run at a Super Bowl sometime soon, the quarterback is in place, but they need to embrace building around him and understanding the days of Dez and Witten being the focus are over. There is no turning back.
Ten Yard Gain
1-Sean McDermott was wrong in turning to Nate Peterman, and I am ashamed I had no issue with it last week. McDermott drafted Peterman in the 5th round with the promise he may one day be the Bills quarterback – and Tyrod Taylor, it is presumed, will not be in Buffalo next year regardless of whether they make the playoffs or now. The Bills have to know what they have in Peterman before drafting in the first round and Taylor had struggled, so this made total sense – until it didn’t. If Peterman was not ready, as we all now know he wasn’t, then this is the first inexcusable gaffe by McDermott as a head coach. You don’t get 10 of those, so tread carefully, coach.
2-Ironically, Andy Reid needs to consider making a similar move to the one that backfired in Sean McDermott’s face this week. Alex Smith was having a “career” year in 2017, but having lost four of five games after the latest embarrassing offensive no-show to the Giants, the Chiefs need a spark. Unlike Peterman in Buffalo, the Chiefs know Patrick Mahomes is their future by virtue of the first-round pick they spent on him. He has the arm to make plays down the field, an arm Andy Reid trusted Travis Kelce with more than Alex Smith with to try and get a ball down the field Sunday.
3-The Ravens defense tallied their third shutout of the season Sunday. The 2000 Ravens, some consider the best defense of all time, had four shutouts in that regular season. This NFL is considered more of a passing league than it was then. Now I am not saying these Ravens rival those Ravens, but I am saying this Ravens defense is wildly underrated and now has this team in playoff position.
4-The Jaguars are so close to being elite, thanks to that defense, but not helped by continued putrid quarterback play from Blake Bortles. In the snow versus the winless Browns, the Jaguars needed all the sacks of DeShone Kizer they could get while continuously not being able to count on an offense with not many weapons. The Jaguars need to be all in on trying to trade for Eli Manning this offseason. I don’t think it will happen, but Tom Coughlin needs to plead.
5-Marshawn Lynch really is a clown. I know he has become everyone’s favorite NFL cartoon character to laugh at, but what goes through his head is beyond me. If his run onto the field to protect his “cousin” Marcus Peters in a fight with his own team wasn’t enough, now he doesn’t seem to understand injustices to Mexican citizens since he chose to stand for their anthem while kneeling for the American National Anthem. If you are going to protest, then protest, but at least be consistent, not foolish.
6-Everytime Mike Zimmer steps to the podium following a Vikings win, I am convinced it feels like he just rooted for Case Keenum to stumble rather than play flawless football like he did versus the Rams. The Vikings are the feel-good story of Teddy Bridgewater. That story will still happen. Ultimately, though, you would rather this happen now as opposed to becoming the 1999 Buffalo Bills with Rob Johnson taking over for Flutie in Week 17 and ruining a potential playoff win in Tennessee.
7-Hot take alert: This Saints team is better than the 2009 Saints. That Saints team played defense that was just good enough while relying on elite play from Drew Brees. Despite the lapses versus Washington on Sunday, this Saints defense is a better unit, but more importantly they may have the best rushing attack in the league behind Ingram and Kamara. The Saints are in serious play for home field advantage in the NFC, but even if they don’t get it, unlike the 2009 team, this team is built to win cold weather football games in January.
8-Jay Cutler’s season in Miami is officially a failure, but it is still foolish to think it was a bad gamble by the Dolphins. Once Ryan Tannehill was lost, the season was likely shot. Many will point to Colin Kaepernick – and perhaps he would have succeeded with Miami – but the right move was still Cutler. The hardest thing a football team has to go through is the late integration of a player at the quarterback position. Adam Gase and Jay Cutler’s familiarity made too much sense. It didn’t work out but was still the right gamble.
9-Mike McCoy, long considered one of the best offensive minds in the NFL, was fired by the Broncos on Monday. If there was ever proof an offensive coordinator is only as good as his quarterback, this is it. It is hard to win with Brock Osweiler or Trevor Siemian, but perhaps McCoy’s biggest indictment was not having Paxton Lynch ready by now, health notwithstanding. If you whiff on a first-round quarterback, jobs are lost. This is case and point.
10-As an NFL fan, I wanted so badly for the Titans to prove they belonged amongst the league’s elite, and had a chance to show that Thursday Night in Pittsburgh. Instead, they failed miserably, and I can’t help but wonder what the ceiling is on Marcus Mariota.
Five Games to Chew On
5-Panthers @ Jets: Two teams are coming off of a bye week, both with somewhat surprising playoff aspirations as we head down the stretch of the season. For the Jets, this game is officially the crossroads. Win, and you are very much in the mix for the mediocre sixth seed in the AFC playoffs; lose, and dreams of a top-five pick are alive and well. For Carolina, they need a win to keep the Saints in their sights for the NFC South but more importantly to further cement themselves as a dangerous wild card team.
4-Chargers @ Cowboys: Suddenly this Thanksgiving game has juice again, whereas three weeks ago it seemed to be disgusting. Shockingly, there may be more playoff juice on the sidelines of the Chargers, who, like the Jets, find themselves one game out and in the hunt for that final AFC Wild Card. 0-4 teams don’t make the playoffs, but maybe this Chargers team can. For the Cowboys, coming off a night game on Sunday and playing this one in between two divisional games is a tough spot, but they usually play Thanksgiving Day like it is their Super Bowl.
3-Vikings @ Lions: The unfortunate part of this game is that unless you host Thanksgiving and live on the East Coast, you generally are in the car at some point during this matchup. This game is enormous for Matt Stafford. The Lions are still right there for a playoff spot, and what better showcase for them to prove they still matter than to beat arguably the best defense in football? Case Keenum is looking over his shoulder after every quarter, will this be the week he implodes leading to the return of Bridgewater?
2-Bills @ Chiefs: Two teams that have been trending dangerously downward the last few weeks square off in the “Panic Button Bowl” on Sunday. A Bills loss here and I almost feel like it becomes a lock that they will lose out, but a Bills win and the whispers for Patrick Mahomes become stronger. Forget getting a bye ahead of the Steelers or Patriots in the playoffs. The 3-seed for the Chiefs now becomes imperative to get the bad Wild Card team that gets the 6-seed in the first round and then likely avoid the top seeded Patriots in the 2nd round. Make no mistake: this game has a lot on the line early on Sunday.
1-Saints @ Rams: A gauntlet for the Rams facing off against NFC powerhouses in back to back weeks. They failed miserably on the road scoring just seven points in Minnesota. Now they come back home with the task of stopping the rush attack of New Orleans, and even if they slow that down, they having to worry about Drew Brees dropping dimes on them. This is gut-check time for Todd Gurley and Jared Goff to prove they can play with the big boys and handle their business at home.
Woof, a 1-2 week again. Will I ever get this right? I sit at 13-19-1 on the season. For this week:
Eagles -13 vs Bears: The Bears gave all they could at home and fell short by a field goal to the Lions on Sunday. Asking them to have big efforts versus potential playoff teams in back-to-back weeks is simply too much. The Eagles don’t just win; they crush your soul. Thirteen points is an uneasy spread to lay with most teams. Not the 2017 Eagles.
Bills +10 @ Chiefs: This may be the most fascinating game of the week. Two teams that are totally reeling come into Arrowhead looking to avoid the panic button. The Bills may in some strange way rally behind Tyrod Taylor this week and play spirited. I expect a good game out of Shady McCoy on the ground. In the end, I think the Chiefs escape with a thrilling victory, but a team coming off losing four of their last five should not be laying 10 points versus Alabama State, let alone the Bills.
Jaguars -4.5 @ Cardinals: Blake Bortles is putrid, nearly costing the Jaguars each and every week, yet they continue to escape. Their secondary rivals the 2013 Legion of Boom in opponent passer rating (Hat tip to Pete Prisco.) The Jaguars front line continues to punish quarterbacks. Can you imagine the heat they put on Blaine Gabbert? They won’t blow the Cardinals out by any means, but winning by a touchdown seems logical and gets you the cover.
Ravens -7 vs Texans: A fourth game to pick this week, which usually signals I am panicking as I head toward .500. The Texans stink. I don’t care that they beat the Cardinals. The Ravens also stink, but they head into this week in control of their own destiny for the final playoff spot in the AFC. They have three shutouts this season, feasting on poor quarterback play. Tom Savage is right in their wheel house. Joe Flacco will do enough. Ravens by 10.
Football Food of The Week:
Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. This is my go-to every season around Week 12 because, frankly, this is the only option you should be considering. You will be tired of family by Sunday, with nothing but leftovers. In fact I’d argue the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the day most NFL fans watch solo more so than any other Sunday of the season.
Therefore, I am proposing a Thanksgiving leftover Sandwich. You take your turkey, ham (if you have it), some stuffing, mashed potatoes, and if you are really feeling frisky some cranberry sauce. You warm it up (except the cranberry sauce) and throw it all between two pieces of rye bread – or any other leftover bread you have from Thursday.
This is the best way to get rid of those leftovers before you head back to work and the best way to empty the fridge that will start to have that five-day-old turkey smell real quick.
Thanks for reading everyone. Happy Thanksgiving! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS