Week 13 Preview and the Picks

Thanksgiving Day, 2012 for all intents and purposes killed any hope of postseason play for the Dallas Cowboys.  The normally stout defense that was responsible for a lot of the success that Dallas had experienced fell completely off the wagon in one second quarter for the ages.  Now the Cowboys find themselves in a time warp of sorts as the Eagles come to town.  Twenty-one days ago, the Cowboys had a must-win situation versus the Eagles and Sunday’s game is no different.  There is no more room for losses.

This week’s Four Quarters will focus more on the reasons why the Cowboys are in this position instead of what they need to do to survive and advance.  Here they are… the Four Quarters.

FIRST QUARTER
- Penalties

The Cowboys are second to last in the league in the number of penalties they have had with over eight per game.  The bottom five teams in this statistic are a combined 26-28-1 with Baltimore being the only team that is currently holding down a playoff spot.  Dallas has not only been penalized a significant amount of times but also penalized at very inopportune times usually in the red zone.  Making things harder on themselves has been one of the best attributes that the Cowboys have displayed this year.

SECOND QUARTER
- Horrible starts

This is obviously not a tracked statistic but realize this has been the most consistent problem that has quelled the Dallas Cowboys 2012 season.  Of a possible 720 minutes played, plus the 8:47 of overtime from the Cleveland game, Dallas has only led for 173 minutes and 10 seconds.  They have never led a game from start to finish but have had two games where they have never led at all.  The Cowboys have not scored more than ten points before halftime all year and have a total of 73 points in twelve games going to half meaning that Dallas averages one touchdown scored going into the half in 2012.

THIRD QUARTER
- Red zone touchdown percentage

Dallas is 26th in the league in touchdowns scored in the red zone.  Field goals or no score at all instead of a touchdown that close in is an absolute killer.  The bottom nine teams in this statistic are all likely to miss the playoffs, combining for a 31-67-1 record.  The fact that Dan Bailey has the same number of extra points made as field goals made (22) belabors this point given that eight of the ten kickers who lead the league in extra points are on playoff bound teams and the other two (New Orleans and Cincinnati) are in the hunt.

FOURTH QUARTER
- Turnovers

The Cowboys are in the bottom five of the league in turnover differential with eleven more turnovers than takeaways.  The eight worst teams in this category are a combined 34-54, with only two playoff teams in the mix.  Tony Romo is tied for the league lead in interceptions thrown, while the extremely high priced secondary acquistions of Brandon Carr (free agency) and Morris Claiborne (top six draft pick) have combined for two of the Cowboys five total interceptions.  Safe to say that this is not the performances that were expected when the year started.

Now for the picks.  Last week was not exactly what you would call an inspiring effort.  After getting back over the .500 mark once the Thanksgiving day games were over, I went right back under Sunday and Monday.  Time is running out on my season as well.

LAST WEEK: 6-10 (.375)
SEASON TOTAL: 85-90 (.486)
THIS WEEK: 1-0 (1,000)

Seattle at CHICAGO -3
+8 MINNESOTA at Green Bay
San Francisco at ST. LOUIS +7.5
+6 ARIZONA at N.Y. Jets
-3 CAROLINA at Kansas City
+6 INDIANAPOLIS at Detroit
Jacksonville at BUFFALO -6
-7.5 NEW ENGLAND at Miami
-6.5 HOUSTON at Tennessee
+7.5 TAMPA BAY at Denver
+7.5 PITTSBURGH at Baltimore
Cleveland at OAKLAND +2.5
-1.5 CINCINNATI at San Diego
+10 PHILADELPHIA at Dallas
N.Y. Giants at WASHINGTON +3

Week 12 Picks

Here are the picks for Sunday and Monday’s Week 12 games.

LAST WEEK: 7-7 (.500)
SEASON TOTAL: 79-80 (.497)
THIS WEEK: 2-1 (.667)

+8.5 OAKLAND at Cincinnati
-1.5 PITTSBURGH at Cleveland
Buffalo at INDIANAPOLIS -3
-10.5 DENVER at Kansas City
Tennessee at JACKSONVILLE +3.5
+7 MINNESOTA at Chicago
Atlanta at TAMPA BAY +1
-3 SEATTLE at Miami
-1 BALTIMORE at San Diego
San Francisco at NEW ORLEANS +1
+1.5 ST.LOUIS at Arizona
+3 GREEN BAY at N.Y. Giants
Carolina at PHILADELPHIA +3

Thanksgiving Preview & Picks

Week eleven brought the Cleveland Browns to town and almost saw them leave with a win.  Dallas did every thing they possibly could to make their afternoon ridiculously excruciating.  At times, the Cowboys played very lethargic and almost appeared to be sleepwalking through the game.  Still, at the end of the day, Dallas did just enough to earn their first back to back wins of 2012, inching closer to the top spot in the division.  This week brings Thanksgiving and the old school rivalry of the Washington Redskins.  Here are the keys to the game as I see it or as I like to call it, the Four Quarters.

FIRST QUARTER
Pass the gravy…

In a perfect world, Cowboys fans would see a balanced attack on offense.  That may be an impossibility until DeMarco Murray returns.  If Dallas is to win this game and possibly get a bit of their swagger back, I feel they need to throw… a lot.  Given that Washington is 29th against the pass and that the Cowboys are experiencing issues pushing the line offensively, I think the Cowboys best chance to sling it all over the field.

SECOND QUARTER
No Moss, no Moss…

Since the arrival of Santana Moss in D.C., he has been somewhat of a “Cowboys Killer” posting four 100 yard games and two multi-touchdown games.  He is definitely the Redskins’ big play threat so the Cowboys safeties must be prepared to defend the deep pass.  If Dallas can limit his impact on the game, that will go a long way towards a third straight victory.

THIRD QUARTER
The Rundown…

Washington is currently second in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging over 160 yards per game.  Their rookie duo of quarterback Robert Griffin, III and Alfred Morris are a large part of the success the Redskins have offensively.  RGIII is in the top twenty in the league in rushing yards and leads the league in yards per attempt.  Morris is fifth in the league in rushing yards and sixth in attempts per game.  The Cowboys must focus on slowing their rush attack or they could get ran out of their own stadium.

FOURTH QUARTER
WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE!!!…

The Cowboys are 2-2 at home.  They have yet to play a complete game at home.  In all honesty, they barely have played four solid quarters total.  If ever there was a game to get the home duldrums turned around, this is it.  Thanksgiving Day.  The Washington Redskins.  A divisional opponent and a possibility to climb into first place should be plenty enough motivation to play with passion, energy and urgency. 

As for the Thanksgiving day picks, I like Houston -3 on the road at Detroit, Dallas -3 at home against the Skins and New England -6.5 on the road at the Jets.  The rest of the picks will be made later in the week.

Week 11 Preview and Picks

Week Ten was all or nothing for the Cowboys and for the first time all year, that scenario went in Dallas’ favor.  Needing a win to keep any faint hopes of a playoff spot alive, Dallas went on the road against a division rival and dominated the late third and entire fourth quarter to earn a 38-23 win.  The schedule now eases up significantly, bringing the 2-7 Cleveland Browns in to Dallas.  Here are the keys to the game as I see it or as I call it, the Four Quarters.

FIRST QUARTER
- Jump off…

The Browns are 22nd in pass defense and 27th against the run.  However Dallas chooses to attack, success should be there.  It is imperative with the type of offense that Cleveland has as well as the quick turnaround of another game in four days that the Cowboys jump on the Browns early and often to take all the drama out of this game.

SECOND QUARTER
- Three’s the key (part one)…

Dallas has not turned the ball over in two consecutive games.  It will be imperative to run that streak to three games since one of the few things Cleveland has been good at so far is taking the ball away.  Cleveland is in the top ten of the entire league in takeaways with 16.  One way under matched teams find to stay around is the turnover battle and Dallas cannot afford to lose that.

THIRD QUARTER
- Three’s the key (part one)…

Without question, the Dallas defense needs to key in on #33 Trent Richardson.  He is responsible for six of Cleveland’s fourteen touchdowns in 2012 with five rushing and one receiving.  The Cowboys will win if the game is left up to Brandon Weeden.  It will be a game if Richardson has a big day.  Simple as that.

FOURTH QUARTER
- The future is now…

The Cowboys CAN NOT get caught up in the future.  It doesn’t matter that the schedule seems “easy” from here on out.  It doesn’t matter that five of the final seven are at home.  Thanksgiving Day doesn’t matter if they don’t win this game.  Dallas has put themselves in a spot that the margin for error is gone.  As big as last week was, if the Cowboys do not take care of business against a team that should not beat them, it is all for naught.

Now for the picks.  Another week on the positive side has me very close to the winning side of things.  Week eleven will be a make or break week in regards to getting to a sixty percent winning clip for the year.  Extending the streak of winning weeks to five will be crucial in helping attain that goal.

LAST WEEK: 8-6 (.571)
SEASON TOTAL: 72-73 (.497)
THIS WEEK: 1-0 (1,000)

+3.5 PHILADELPHIA at Washington
-3.5 GREEN BAY at Detroit
Arizona at ATLANTA -10
-1.5 TAMPA BAY at Carolina
+7.5 CLEVELAND at Dallas
N.Y. Jets at ST. LOUIS -3
+9.5 INDIANAPOLIS at New England
+16 JACKSONVILLE at Houston
Cincinnati at KANSAS CITY +3.5
-5.5 NEW ORLEANS at Oakland
San Diego at DENVER -7.5
-3 BALTIMORE at Pittsburgh
+6 CHICAGO at San Francisco

Week 10 Preview & Picks

Week nine continued the Dallas Cowboys extremely excruciating season as the Cowboys did everything necessary to win yet once again fell short. A very spirited effort versus an undefeated Atlanta opponent turned fruitless as Dallas could not finish and left the Georgia Dome with a 19-13 loss. The latest defeat dropped Dallas to 3-5 and setup, for all intents and purposes, a season-defining showdown this week on the road against the hated Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia, also 3-5, is clearly in a similar spot. Both teams will be looking to get their season off life support as the loser of this game can forget post-season aspirations. Here are the keys to the game as I see or as it is called, the Four Quarters.

FIRST QUARTER
- Protect and serve

Last week, the Cowboys did two things very well. The line protected Tony Romo, only allowing one sack and the offense did not turn the ball over at all. While this unfortunately did not translate into points, it did keep the Cowboys close the entire game on the road against an undefeated opponent. To duplicate this effort can only create positive situations. The points will eventually come if Romo is kept clean and we omit the drive killing turnovers that seem to fuel opponents.

SECOND QUARTER
- To huddle or not to huddle

In the last two games versus the Giants and Falcons, the offense seemed to struggle until they went to a more hurried, no huddle type offense. Specifically in last week’s game, the Cowboys were unable to score a touchdown until they went to the no huddle offense. I really believe that Dallas needs to implement more of this style as it seems to keep the offense in a positive rhythm. Maybe this would cure the early game struggles that continue to plague this team.

THIRD QUARTER
- The Real McCoy

In my opinion, Philadelphia does not feature LeSean McCoy enough. He is by far their most dynamic player and the most dangerous threat to any defense. McCoy has been the true barometer of success or failure for the Eagles versus the Cowboys since he came into the league in 2009. The Cowboys are 3-3 against Philadelphia in the six games McCoy has played in. In the three wins, Dallas has held him to an average of 27 yards per game and zero touchdowns. In the three losses, McCoy has rushed for an average of 123 yards and scored two TD’s. Simple and plain, shut down Shady and you’re likely to see a Cowboys win.

FOURTH QUARTER
- Vicktorious

The other fairly certain way to ensure a Cowboys win? Let Vick be Vick. Michael Vick is at or near the top in a few fairly auspicious categories. Vick has been sacked 27 times, which is the third highest total in the league. His nine interceptions put him in the top six for this stat, while his six fumbles lead the league. It seems all that is needed is for the Cowboys defense to get pressure on Vick and the dominoes fall from there.

OVERTIME

For the first time this year, I am using an extra quarter. Obviously with nine weeks in the books, for this to appear for the first time, there must be a special occasion. This week, two former Dallas Cowboys greats called the organization and specifically Jerry Jones into question. Former coach Jimmy Johnson chose to share his opinion on Jones’s comments earlier in the week that stated Jones has always been the owner and general manager calling that notion “completely a bunch of crock.” Johnson also insinuated that the current team acts like “it is a country club where everybody is buddies.” Former QB Roger Staubach noted about Jones, “it’s his team. He owns the team. He’s passionate about it and I can’t tell him what to do. So I’m just a big Cowboys fan and hoping for the best.”

I have mixed feelings about Jones. I love his passion and competitive nature. I truly believe he loves the organization. I believe he would be willing to spend any amount of money to make the team great. I also believe his skills at talent evaluation have also been getting progressively better. The issue I have is that I feel that it is more important to him to be the reason why the Cowboys ultimately have success instead of just being a part of it. It hurts as a fan to feel that there are former greats associated with the storied franchise who may have useful input based off of experience but do not get listened too. Jimmy is without question one of the most successful college and pro coaches ever. Roger is arguably the best quarterback in franchise history and the persona of a winner. I am not saying Jones should listen to everyone with an opinion but Jimmy and Roger ain’t just anyone.

Now for the picks. Last week was by far my most stellar week as I was able to match my weekly high for wins while also setting a new record low for losses. I will be going for four straight weeks with a winning record. Hopefully I will find myself above the .500 mark for the first time since week two.

LAST WEEK: 10-3 (.769)
SEASON TOTAL: 64-67 (.489)
THIS WEEK: 1-0 (1,000)

Atlanta at NEW ORLEANS +3
+13 BUFFALO at New England
-4 DENVER at Carolina
-3 DETROIT at Minnesota
-4 N.Y. GIANTS at Cincinnati
Oakland at BALTIMORE -7.5
+3 SAN DIEGO at Tampa Bay
+6 TENNESSEE at Miami
+6 N.Y. JETS at Seattle
-2.5 DALLAS at Philadelphia
St. Louis at SAN FRANCISCO -12
+1 HOUSTON at Chicago
Kansas City at PITTSBURGH -12.5

Week 9 Preview and Picks

The Cowboys’ “even Steven” season continued in Week 8 as the Giants came to Cowboys Stadium and walked out with a win taking Dallas to 3-4. This was due in large part to the continuous theme of the Cowboys season: finding ways to lose games that should be won. Use whichever adjective you like: gut-wrenching, heart breaking, devastating, painful, frustrating, maddening. All would suffice. Dallas now gets to take a trip to the Dirty South to face the undefeated Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football. Here are the keys to the game as I see it or as I like to call it, the Four Quarters.

FIRST QUARTER
– Road Warriors…

Dallas will be playing its fifth game out of eight on the road. Aside from the Seattle game, they have been fairly impressive away from home. Two of the three wins have come on the road and a very inspiring effort in Baltimore gives this team hope when it come to the seemingly impossible task of beating the league’s last remaining unbeaten team in their building.

SECOND QUARTER
– Grounding the Bird…

Atlanta has a dynamic offense, particularly in the passing game. They feature Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside with quite possibly the best tight end ever in Tony Gonzalez cleaning up the middle. With all three in the top 30 in receiving yards and QB Matt Ryan in the top three in passer rating, the Falcons can score fast or eat up big chunks of yards. Dallas will need to rely on their two additions, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne as well Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins to help slow the aerial attack of the Falcons.

THIRD QUARTER
– False Starts…

I am not talking about the penalty. I am talking about the pathetic beginnings to games that Dallas has continually put up. Only two of the seven games have seen the Cowboys score points in the first quarter. Only two times this season have the Cowboys had a halftime lead. Continuously being in a position of deficit has put Dallas in a bad mind set and has forced predictable play. The Cowboys cannot do this against the Falcons who are third in the league in takeaways with 17, ten of which have been interceptions.

FOURTH QUARTER
– Protect the football…

Simple concept. Giving the ball away stops you from being successful. The Cowboys have 20 turnovers on the year in eight games, including the current league leader in interceptions. Dallas is giving away far too many opportunities to score. Only six of those have not turned into points for the other team. What’s worse is that the 20 turnovers have led to 78 points for the opposition. That is almost HALF of the total points scored against the Cowboys on the season. Only the Chiefs have a worse turnover differential than the Cowboys. Bottom line: TURNOVERS ARE KILLING THE SEASON. If Dallas wants to win and turn this year around, they will need a mistake free game when it comes to giving up on chances to score or putting the defense in an impossible position to do their job.

Now for the picks. Last week started off strong with my first win on Thursday Night Football however teams like Chicago and Philadelphia could not protect their home field which took me to my own “even Steven” record.

LAST WEEK: 7-7 (.500)
SEASON TOTAL: 54-64 (.458)
THIS WEEK: 1-0 (1,000)

-3.5 DENVER at Cincinnati
+10.5 ARIZONA at Green Bay
-2.5 MIAMI at Indianapolis
-3.5 BALTIMORE at Cleveland
Buffalo at HOUSTON -10.5
+3.5 CAROLINA at Washington
-4.5 DETROIT at Jacksonville
-3.5 CHICAGO at Tennessee
Minnesota at SEATTLE -4.5
+1.5 TAMPA BAY at Oakland
+3 PITTSBURGH at N.Y. Giants
Dallas at ATLANTA -4
+3 PHILADELPHIA at New Orleans

Week 8 Preview & Picks

Week Seven of the NFL season saw the Dallas Cowboys get their record to an even 3-3 record after a win on the road versus the Carolina Panthers.  The defense did most of the heavy lifting, holding Carolina to only 14 points and creating two turnovers, including two late-game defensive stands to ensure the victory.  This week brings possibly the most hated of all rivals to Cowboys Stadium as Dallas takes on the New York Giants.  Needless to say, this is a huge game for both teams given that Dallas already won their first meeting.  A second victory may breathe new life into the Cowboys while a loss may be an insurmountable blow when you couple it with the season-ending loss of star LB Sean Lee.  Here are the keys to the game as I see them or as it is called… the Four Quarters

FIRST QUARTER
- Getting out the gate…

Dallas absolutely, positively has to avoid a slow or sluggish start in this game.  Too many times this year, they have had difficulties scoring early or have had to play from behind.  Getting up on the Giants, who are a notoriously good road team, will be crucial for the Cowboys to have a chance in this game.

SECOND QUARTER
- Make Eli aWare…

The Cowboys will undoubtedly miss Sean Lee.  His production, leadership and athletic ability cannot be replaced by anyone on the roster, let alone most anyone else in the league.  Fortunately for Dallas, they still have a player that can dominate a game on the defensive side of the ball in DeMarcus Ware.  If Ware can have a huge impact statistically or simply by commanding a double the whole game, the Cowboys have a very good chance at disrupting the Giants passing attack.

THIRD QUARTER
- Cruz control…

Victor Cruz is currently fifth in receiving yards and tied for first in touchdowns amongst all wide receivers.  In the first meeting between these two teams, the Cowboys held him to six catches and only fifty-eight yards despite being targeted eleven times.  Cruz is certainly the home run threat of the Giants offense.  For Dallas to have success they must not only keep him subdued, but also duplicate their effort in the first matchup which saw Cruz have completions of 26, 11, 7, 5, 5 and 4.

FOUR QUARTERS
- The executioner…

The Cowboys usually live and die with the performance of Tony Romo.  Not so versus the Giants.  In eleven games that he has played against New York, Dallas is 5-6 however, rarely can he be at fault.  Romo has completed 66% of his passes averaging over 250 yards per game and has a 2.5:1 touchdown to interception ratio in these meetings.  It would be a huge surprise to see Tony have a bad game.  I expect him and the offense to show up and execute well which clearly will give Dallas a fighting chance.

Now to the picks.  For the first time since week one, I was able to pick the majority of the week’s games correctly.  While I am still sporting a below average total on the year, a couple more weeks like the last one will go very well towards correcting that.

LAST WEEK: 8-5 (.615)
SEASON TOTAL: 47-57 (.452)
THIS WEEK: 1-0 (1,000)

Atlanta at PHILADELPHIA -3
Carolina at CHICAGO -7
Indianapolis at TENNESSEE -3.5
+14.5 JACKSONVILLE at Green Bay
+2 MIAMI at N.Y. Jets
-7 NEW ENGLAND at St. Louis
-3 SAN DIEGO at Cleveland
+2.5 SEATTLE at Detroit
Washington at PITTSBURGH -4
+1.5 OAKLAND at Kansas City
-2.5 N.Y. GIANTS at Dallas
+6.5 NEW ORLEANS at Denver
San Francisco at ARIZONA +7