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Cowboys news: Is Cowboys Nation in for an Amari Christmas?

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Gut Feeling: Predictions For Cowboys-Bucs - Staff,
Win and you’re in. A Cowboys win on Sunday will make them NFC East champions. How do the writers over at the mothership think they will fare against the 5-9 Bucs?

Nick Eatman: I don’t think this will be an easy game at all for the Cowboys. Nothing really comes easy for this team, especially late in the year. But I do think the Cowboys have been humbled a little bit this week. If anything, the shutout loss to the Colts will serve as a wake-up call. And I think the Bucs are the perfect opponent for this team. They’re good enough to be taken seriously, but not good enough to beat the Cowboys – IF – they’re playing their best football. I think they will bounce back and play better football this week and get this win. But don’t be surprised if the Bucs get some big plays. To me, this is one of the games where Dak Prescott is the best QB on the field and he’ll play much better this week. I also expect a very big change in the Red Zone. I even predicted earlier this week they will have a 100 percent touchdown ratio this week. Maybe it’s just 1 for 1, or 4 for 4. But I’m calling for a big improvement there. Give me Dallas, 30-21.

Week 16 NFL guide - score predictions, playoff scenarios - Staff, ESPN
ESPN catches you up on Sunday's game.

What's at stake: The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East title with a victory, or with losses by the Eagles and Redskins. They can secure at least a wild-card berth with a tie and a Vikings loss. -- Seifert

FPI win projection: DAL, 69.0 percent. After being shut out by the Colts, a date with Tampa should get the Cowboys' offense back on track. The Bucs have allowed the second-highest Total QBR this season and have been the fourth-least-efficient defense. Even with a loss, though, FPI has Dallas as a solid favorite to make the playoffs (82 percent) and win the NFC East (78.5 percent).

Todd Archer's pick: The Cowboys have the second-worst red zone offense in the NFL, scoring touchdowns on 19 of 43 trips inside the opponent's 20. Maybe it's a good thing they are seeing the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has the worst red zone defense, giving up 40 touchdowns in 51 inside-the-20 drives. The Cowboys don't want to face a win-or-else game in Week 17, so it will be imperative for them to finish off drives with touchdowns. And if they win and clinch a playoff spot, red zone opportunities will become even more important in the postseason. Cowboys 27, Buccaneers 17

Cowboys get some good news for offensive line - Stefan Stevenson, Star-Telegram
The Cowboys may get healthy at the right time in week 16.

Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin is hopeful that he’ll be available Sunday.

The Cowboys’ 23-0 loss to the Colts last week was the first game Martin has missed in his five-year career. He has dealt with an MCL sprain in his left knee for more than a month and aggravated it two weeks ago against the Eagles.

“I’m feeling better and hopeful for this week,” Martin said. I’m going to keep listening to the trainers. I have a few days to keep getting better but I’m hopeful.”

The Cowboys’ offensive line has been thin all season. Rookie Connor Williams started at guard last week. Left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo left last week’s game after getting poked in his left eye. He’s recovering well and will start on Sunday. He’ll play with a visor on his helmet protecting his eyes. He said it’s still sensitive to touch and a little light.

Cowboys can afford to ease Sean Lee back in lineup - Charean Williams, ProFootballTalk
Due to the play of Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Damien Wilson — the Cowboys are able to ease Sean Lee back into the lineup, something they haven’t been able to say/do in the last few years.

Sean Lee might be playing his final few games for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys will have a decision to make after the season, and it likely won’t be a hard one. Lee, who has missed eight games this season, 13 games over the past two seasons and 50 games in his nine-year career, has a $7 million base salary and a $10.1 million salary cap hit for 2019.

The Cowboys can save $7 million by cutting him before next season, and Lee would count only $3.075 million in dead money.

They drafted linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round this spring, and Vander Esch has become a defensive rookie of the year candidate in Lee’s absence.

However many games Lee has remaining in his Cowboys’ career, he hopes to make them count.

Geoff Swaim headed to IR – Charean Williams, ProFootballTalk
The Cowboys are expected to place Swaim on IR today.

Swaim, who became the starting tight end when Jason Witten retired, broke his wrist in a Week 11 win over the Falcons. He finished 2016 on injured reserve, too, after surgery to repair a right torn pectoral muscle.

He made 26 catches for 242 yards and a touchdown in nine games, surpassing his career totals in his first three seasons. He missed one game with a sprained knee.

Running back Darius Jackson will get the call-up from the practice squad. The Cowboys drafted Jackson in the sixth round in 2016. He is in his third stint with the team and also has spent time with the Browns and Packers.

Cowboys turn up physicality in practice, a rarity this late; want to clinch division now - Clarence Hill, Star-Telegram
Will the division on the line, and time running out, the Cowboys used the last of their padded practices to up the intensity ahead of this Sunday’s matchup.

The Cowboys want it so bad that they broke from the norm with physical practices this week.

Teams usually ease up on padded practices late in the season. More to the points, the NFL limits padded practices to 14 during the regular season, 11 of which must come in the first 11 weeks of the season.

The Cowboys had one on Wednesday.

The defense lacked physicality and intensity against the Colts, a point that was driven home like a “branding iron” this week, per Jones.

“This time of year and especially if you think you need to have that left eye looking at the playoffs you normally think maybe we need to step up a little bit,” Jones said. “We had great practices last week. We didn’t have as physical a practice. We had great practices. And I’m not one that this time of year is into that physical a practice because I want to save it for the game. And the key game would be a playoff game. But last weekend reminded us all we don’t have it yet. We need to get it. I think they are going to play better.”

Film room: 3 bold predictions for Cowboys-Buccaneers, including 4 total touchdowns from QB Dak Prescott - John Owning, SportsDay
Who doesn’t love bold predictions? John Owning of SportsDay gives us three awesome ones ahead of the Cowboys matchup with the Bucs.

Dak Prescott throws 3 TDs and runs for another

The Buccaneers’ defense isn’t good -- there’s no other way to say it. Tampa Bay allows the fifth-most yards per game (386.6), sixth-most passing yards per game (258.5) and third-most points per game (28.8). Moreover, the Buccaneers allow the eighth-most yards per drive (34.67) and fifth-most points per drive (2.48).

All this means is Dak Prescott is primed for a big day.

While Prescott isn’t the most talented passer in the NFL, he does possess enough arm talent to take advantage of the Buccaneers’ soft pass defense. Tampa Bay is especially susceptible at the second level, where each linebacker (except for Lavonte David) struggles mightily in coverage, meaning Prescott should have a field day in the short-to-intermediate zones -- his favorite area to target.

While Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense have struggled mightily in the red zone this season, ranking 31st in red-zone touchdown percentage, the Buccaneers’ defense could be the perfect antidote, as it allows a touchdown on 78.43 percent of its opponents’ trips to the red zone (worst in the NFL by five percent).

If Prescott and the offense can’t find success in the red zone this week, Dallas’ red-zone offense may truly be broken beyond repair. One thing you may see Dallas do more of in the red zone moving forward is use Prescott’s legs at a higher frequency.

Team hopes DeSean Jackson’s return helps vertical passing game - Eduardo Encina, Tampa Bay Times
All signs point to the Buccaneers getting back WR DeSean Jackson for this week’s matchup. What can he bring to their offense that they haven’t had in his absence?

The production of Jackson, whose 18.8 yards per catch average on the season is the best in the league, diminished before he was sidelined. His last game was a three-catch, 19-yard showing against the 49ers, and quarterback Jameis Winston’s inability to connect with Jackson — especially on deep balls — continued to be a season-long theme.

Before arriving in Tampa Bay, Jackson spent his entire career in the NFC East playing for the Eagles and Redskins, so he’s played the Cowboys many times and has seen success against Dallas. His 1,123 receiving yards against the Cowboys in 16 games is his most against any opponent, and he’s averaging 20.05 yards per reception against the Dallas.

Two Newcomers Among Cowboys Game-Wreckers - Scott Smith,
Each week, Bucs Head Coach Dirk Koetter compiles a video called "Game-Wreckers" which identifies the 3-4 opposing players most likely to affect the game's outcome. This week's choices:

  1. Ezekiel Elliott
  2. DeMarcus Lawrence
  3. Amari Cooper
  4. Leighton Vander Esch

Did Koetter get it right? Who are your game-wreckers for tomorrow?

Get Ezekiel Elliott in your Week 16 DFS lineups - T.J. Hernandez,
Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 30 touches per game over the last six weeks and the Cowboys are touchdown-favorites against the Buccaneers. That's as sure a formula for DFS success as exists.

Via Fanduel: For the second straight week, Ezekiel Elliott is projected as 4for4’s top value across all positions, with the Cowboys at home and favored by a touchdown. Despite that fact that Zeke is averaging 30 touches per game over the last six weeks, with no fewer than 25 touches in a game in that span, there are still three running backs priced higher than Elliott. In fact, he’s $800 cheaper than Todd Gurley, the most expensive back on the slate. Dallas’ 27-point implied total is their highest projection of the season, giving Zeke high touchdown equity, and while game script should favor a run-heavy game plan, his usage in the passing game is a great insurance policy.

More than sacks: Quantifying DeMarcus Lawrence’s impact for Cowboys - Daniel Houston, WFAA
DeMarcus Lawrence makes his living terrorizing quarterbacks but his success is so much more than just sacks.

Here’s a quick summary of accomplishments from DeMarcus Lawrence’s season:

17 stops on 3rd or 4th down

6 failed plays forced with goal-to-go

3 turnovers involved in, including 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery

18 failed plays forced on quarterback hits, including 9 sacks

48 negative-EPA tackles involved in, including 14 tackles for loss

Lawrence’s season is unlike any other in the NFL. No player is playing such a balanced game from the edge this season, where they can both blow up running plays with regularity and get meaningful pressure on the QB.

He may not be getting home as often this year, but Lawrence deserved his Pro Bowl selection every bit as much, if not more so, than any other edge defender on the ballot.

Scott Smith of on Leighton Vander Esch.

The Cowboys wanted another playmaker for the middle level of their defense in this year’s draft, especially with linebacker Sean Lee continuing to have bad luck in the injury department. Vander Esch has been just what the team wanted, filling up a stat line with a team-leading 114 tackles to go with two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, two interceptions and seven passes defensed. A top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Vander Esch has impressive sideline-to-sideline range despite being a bigger linebacker and has excellent play recognition, particularly for a rookie.

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