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December 30, 2019

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: End of regular season edition, Cowboys are dead

Eagles NFL
123019JerryJones Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The 2019 NFL regular season is officially in the books, and we have three new playoff teams in the NFC. The Vikings, Packers, and 49ers are in, while the Bears, Rams, and Cowboys are out.

In case you missed it, the Eagles beat the Cowboys in Week 16 to take control of the NFC East, and the Cowboys could only hope that the Eagles lost Week 17 to the Giants, keeping their playoff hopes alive. That did not happen, and so, the Cowboys are dead.



Cowboys (8-8): The Cowboys have already reportedly informed Jason Garrett that he will no longer be their head coach, and the guess here is that the overwhelming sentiment will be that he held back this "super talented" team from getting to where they should have gone.

While Garrett wasn't a good head coach and should have been replaced long ago, the notion that the Cowboys have some sort of juggernaut roster is ridiculous. Let's go position-by-position and take a "glass half empty" look, shall we?

Quarterback: Dak Prescott is, in my view, clearly a good starting NFL quarterback. I'd put him somewhere on the cusp of breaking through to the top 10 in the league. Unfortunately for Dallas, a big pay day awaits, and their "maybe/sorta/almost" top 10 quarterback is looking to be compensated like a top 3 quarterback. If Prescott gets what he is looking for, that is going to severely hinder the team's ability to build around him.

Running back: Ezekiel Elliott is obviously, very, very good, but he already has an absurd number of touches. In his 3.5-year career, Elliott already has 1,358 regular season touches (24.25 per game), which is 11th in the NFL among active players. On the eye test, Elliott does not look as explosive as he has in the past, and the numbers back that up. In 2019, Elliott had just four rushes of 20+ yards, and 0 rushes of 40+ yards.

Wide receiver: Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are a really good one-two punch, when Cooper is healthy, which has been a problem for him throughout his career so far. He's also a free agent who is going to get paid this offseason, whether that's in Dallas or elsewhere, as this is an otherwise terrible wide receiver free agent group. 

Tight end: Jason Witten had a predictably ineffective year after being coaxed out of retirement. Can we completely rule out Jerry Jones just hiring him to be the head coach? I mean, that would be utterly insane, but...

Offensive line: Ah, the Dallas offensive line, the most overrated thing in sports. The idea that Dallas has the best OL in the NFL has just been talked into existence for years, but it's not at all the reality. While there were some deserving All-Pros on that line at one time, there has always been holes, and usually no depth. And, hey look, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick will all turn 30 in 2020. Smith already looks like he is in decline.

Defensive line: DeMarcus Lawrence is a good player, but he finished the season with just five sacks. Robert Quinn (11.5 sacks) had a good season, but he's a free agent and is going to cash in somewhere. The rest of this group is nothing special.

Linebacker: The duo of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch looked like they would dominate for years, but they took a step back this year.

Cornerback: The best corner on the team, Byron Jones, is headed to free agency.

Safety: The Cowboys haven't had a good safety tandem in a while, and they still don't.

Special teams: Ranked 31st in DVOA by Football Outsiders this season.

As for the head coaching search, Dallas has deep pockets, but any head coach interviewing there knows full well that working for a meddling owner like Jerry Jones brings additional challenges to the table in what is already an incredibly difficult job to begin with. While the roster gives a new head coach something to work with, that job won't be as attractive as many think.

Anyway, 2019 marked the 23rd season in row that the Cowboys did not appear in a conference championship game. The only teams with longer droughts? Cincinnati (30), Washington (27), Detroit (27), Cleveland (26), Miami (26), and Buffalo (25). That's not exactly great company.





6) Vikings (10-6): If you look at Kirk Cousins' numbers this season vs. Drew Brees' numbers, obviously Brees was better, but are they that far off on paper:

QB Comp-Att (Comp %) Yards (YPA) TD-INT QB Rating 
Kirk Cousins 307-444 (69.1%) 3,603 (8.1) 26-6 107.4 
 Drew Brees 281-378 (74.1%)2,979 (7.9) 27-4 116.3 

If you were to look at the Vikings' roster vs. the Saints' roster, minus quarterbacks, it's pretty close, and yet, the Vikings are the biggest underdogs among the teams playing in the wildcard round, at -8. And nobody who has ever actually watched Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees play in big games would argue that that line is too high.


5) Eagles (9-7): Carson Wentz will play in his first real playoff game on Sunday, but he has already played in 4 quasi-playoff games the last 4 weeks, albeit against 4 teams not in the playoffs. In those 4 games, he completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 1,199 yards (1 yard short of averaging exactly 300 per game), 7 TDs, and 0 INTs, while playing at times without his RB1, RB2, RB3, RB4, WR1, WR2, WR3, TE1, RT, and RG, six of whom have been to Pro Bowls. 

Doug Pederson called him an "elite" quarterback after the Eagles' win over the Giants on Sunday. I think he still has some things to prove, but he's on his way.


4) Seahawks (11-5): In the first eight games of the season, Russell Wilson was sacked 19 times, which isn't a great number, but is fine. In the second half of the season, he has been sacked 29 times, which is obviously far too many.

Wilson is a playmaker who doesn't necessarily need great protection to put points on the board, but at some point his O-line has to make it a little easier on him, and I don't see that happening with Seattle's two best offensive linemen currently out.


3) Packers (13-3): The Packers have a first round bye, and yet, I like the Saints' chances of beating the Vikings and Packers to advance to the conference championship game. Green Bay is just far too sloppy for my liking, and I think they're going to get exposed against good teams in the playoffs.


2) Saints (13-3): The Saints look like the best team in the NFC right now, and the second best team in the NFL. They're rolling, and have a (fabricated, annoying, manufactured, take your pick) chip on their shoulder.


1) 49ers (13-3)By my count, there are 32 active quarterbacks with at least one career playoff start. 22 of those quarterbacks lost their first playoff start, meaning that they were a combined 10-22 (0.313) in their first career playoff starts. Here are the quarterbacks slated to make their first career playoff starts this year:

  1. Josh Allen (Bills) 
  2. Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers) 
  3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans) 
  4. Carson Wentz (Eagles)

Nobody is expecting Allen, Tannehill, or Wentz to win a Super Bowl this season, but Garoppolo has a lot of pressure on him to get it done. We'll see...

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