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Cowboys news: Dallas clinches playoff berth, Randy Gregory alternate to the 2021 Pro Bowl

Dallas is in the tournament, Randy Gregory gets acknowledged for the incredible season he has had, and more.

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Named 2022 Pro Bowl Alternate - Matthew Lenix, Inside the Star

After an excellent 2021 season, Randy Gregory gets a Pro Bowl nod, being named as an alternate.

Defensive End Randy Gregory has had quite the NFL journey since being drafted in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He’s battled his demons off the field and is now showing all the potential he had coming out of Nebraska.

The 2022 Pro Bowl rosters were announced on Wednesday. Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Right Guard Zack Martin received their eighth and seventh selections respectively. Rookie Linebacker Micah Parsons and Cornerback Trevon Diggs were named starters, and Punter Bryan Anger got his first nod.

On Thursday, it was announced that Gregory was voted a Pro Bowl alternate despite missing five games this season due to COVID and a calf injury.

Gregory has made the most of the opportunities he’s gotten in the nine games he’s played in. His six sacks, 15 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles have all tied career-high marks. Also, Gregory’s produced an interception, a fumble recovery, and a pass defended. With Gregory back and healthy, along with DeMarcus Lawrence who has been causing havoc since his return, the Cowboys’ defense has a formidable pass rush coming off the edge, especially when Parsons is thrown in the mix.

Dallas Cowboys playoff tracker: The Dallas Cowboys have officially clinched a playoff berth - R.J. Ochoa, BTB

The Cowboys are in the playoffs, officially.

The Dallas Cowboys began Week 16 with overwhelming odds to make the playoffs as well as to win the NFC East. It seems as if it is really only a matter of time until Dallas can claim themselves as division champions for the first time since 2018. While this is the case, Dallas doesn’t even have to wait for Friday morning to declare themselves postseason bound as Thursday night’s loss by the San Francisco 49ers officially punched their playoff ticket. The Cowboys are headed to the tournament!

It is very possible that the Cowboys actually clinch the NFC East as soon as the early games come to a conclusion on Sunday afternoon if a few things go their way (see the list of what Dallas needs right here).

Cowboys safety Malik Hooker, running back JaQuan Hardy enter COVID-19 protocols- SportsDay Staff, DMN

Hardy and Hooker are not ruled out from Sunday’s matchup yet, but they now have to pass protocols.

The team announced Thursday that safety Malik Hooker and running back JaQuan Hardy have tested positive for COVID-19.

Cowboys S Malik Hooker has tested positive for COVID-19. Hooker is coming off his best game of season. Status now in doubt for Sunday vs. Washington. He and practice-squad RB JaQuan Hardy both with positive tests today.

— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) December 23, 2021

After being inactive for the opener in Tampa Bay, Hooker has appeared in every game for the Cowboys since. The offseason addition recorded six tackles and an interception in Sunday’s win over the New York Giants.

Hardy, who gained some notoriety during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series in training camp, has only appeared in two games this season, including Sunday. Most of Hardy’s snaps have come on special teams.

The pairing joins defensive line coach Aden Durde, special teams assistant Matt Daniels and defensive tackle Trysten Hill as current members within the organization in COVID-19 protocols.

Their statuses for Sunday night’s game against Washington is still to be determined.

How The Cowboys Can Clinch The NFC East- David Helman, DallasCowboys.com

Dallas should wrap up the NFC East on Sunday, the only question is when it happens.

Yes, the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win on Sunday night, but there are several other outcomes that could hand it to them before they even kick off against Washington.

The easiest among those would be a Philadelphia loss on Sunday. Having just beaten Washington on Tuesday night, the Eagles will host the New York Giants at 12 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Currently sitting on a 7-7 record, the Eagles are still capable matching the Cowboys’ win total. A loss would obviously change that, thereby clinching the division for Dallas if the Giants win.

Even if Philadelphia manages a win on Sunday, though, there is still a path to a division title before the Cowboys kick off – though it is slightly convoluted.

It comes down to the strength of victory tiebreaker.

In the event that the Cowboys were to lose all of their remaining games and the Eagles to win all of theirs, both clubs would finish with 10-7 records. They’d also finish with identical 4-2 division records, including a split of their two-game season series – not to mention identical 7-5 records in common games and 8-4 records in NFC play.

Clearly, you can see why this is tricky. In this scenario, it would come down to strength of victory, which is the fifth tiebreaker in the NFL’s rulebook.

Strength of victory is essentially the combined records of the opponents that a given team has beaten. That means there are several games this weekend that can swing strength of victory in the Cowboys’ favor.

To make it as simple as possible, there are six games that affect the Cowboys’ and Eagles’ strength of victory – Atlanta vs. Detroit, Minnesota vs. the L.A. Rams, New York Jets vs. Jacksonville, Buffalo vs. New England, L.A. Chargers vs. Houston and Denver vs. Las Vegas.

Two wins from the right six teams would clinch strength of victory, and therefore the division, for Dallas. Wins by Atlanta, Minnesota, New England, the Chargers and Las Vegas – all Cowboys’ opponents this season – would help. A loss by the Jets, who were an Eagles opponent, would also help.

Zeke Looking To Recapture Early Season Success- Staff, DallasCowboys.com

A lot of factors are pointing to a late-season Ezekiel Elliott resurgence.

The last month has produced some disappointing results on the ground, which is likely the reason Elliott was not selected to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday despite being tied for second in the NFC in rushing yards with 862. But, the two-headed monster of Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 135 yards rushing and a touchdown last Sunday against the Giants.

“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Elliott said of the improvement. “Feeling healthier, getting guys back, and playing better upfront. The offensive line has been working their tails off all year and it’s shown.”

Over the past two games Elliott has been wearing a brace on his knee that he will presumably continue to wear in games for the remainder of the season.

“The brace has helped me by giving me confidence and giving me more stability,” Elliott said. He claimed that earlier in the season he would have to come out of games when hit near his injured knee because he felt it would get twisted as he was hitting the ground, but the brace prevents the joint from moving around.

‘Stress is additive:’ McCarthy’s Cowboys prepping for late-season success by practicing less- Todd Brock, Cowboys Wire

McCarthy looks to gain an advantage by... practicing less.

“This is what it’s all about,” McCarthy told reporters earlier this week. “You always want to be playing for something. I think that you learn over the years what it takes from a commitment, and it takes a lot out of you. And that’s the joy of it all, to be competing in December. I like the way this thing lays up; we’re fighting for a division title Sunday night. What else can you ask for?”

Well, Cowboys fans can always find more to ask for. And right now, a return to the scoreboard-short-circuiting fireworks of Weeks 3 through 6 might just top the Christmas wish list. Dak Prescott and the offense averaged 39 points and 473 yards per game over that four-win span. Over the past three victories: 25 points and 342 yards per game.

It’s gotten the job done, of course. And this late in the season, that’s all that counts. Just win. It doesn’t matter by how much; not really. No points for style. Do just enough to get the W, and make sure you’re ready to turn around and do it again.

And that’s a big reason why business around The Star this time of year looks a lot different that it did back in August. It may seem counterintuitive, but as the season enters the true home stretch- when every game has far-reaching implications in terms of playoff seedings and home-field advantage- McCarthy’s Cowboys are actually putting in less work during the week.

Cowboys’ Micah Parsons ‘Easily’ Voted 2021 NFL DROY by Execs: ‘A Hell of a Year’- Adam Wells, Bleacher Report

This should come as no surprise.

It should come as no surprise that NFL executives believe Dallas Cowboys star Micah Parsons will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Per NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, Parsons received 20 of 23 votes for the honor in a survey of high-ranking officials from teams across the league.

One NFC executive said, “Micah’s having a hell of a year” for the Cowboys, adding:

“Every time we study them, he’s making plays all over the joint. And he’s such a versatile piece. Whether he’s playing off the edge, playing in the middle, dropping, moving forward—he’s sideline-to-sideline. He’s easily the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and I don’t know that he’s not the Defensive Player of the Year.”

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