COWBOYS REPORT

Cowboys clinch NFC East; Giants up next in meaningless finale

Jason Garrett and the Cowboys are in the playoffs. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys (9-6) defeated the Tampa Buccaneers (5-10) by the score of 27-20 and clinched the NFC East Division title which clinches the fourth seed in the playoffs. This will be their second time to the playoffs in the last three years and is also the second time winning the division in that same time frame.

Even though Dallas got the win, there is still much to be improved if the Cowboys want to put together a long playoff run. Once again they continued with bad play calling in key spots and failed to get the ball to their play makers. The good thing was the defense played great and was a big reason why they were able to pull off the win.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was 20 of 25 for 161 yards, one touchdown, and NO turnovers. He was also able to utilize his legs and ran in for a 7-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter. He only targeted receiver Amari Cooper five times and he caught four balls for 20 yards. He needs to attempt to get him the ball down the field more often instead of the short routes he has been running the last few games.

NFL leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott had 18 carries for 85 yards and five catches for 24 yards. It was the third game in a row that he failed to get into the end zone which surely hurt a lot of fantasy teams out there. That will have to change for them to win in the playoffs.

The Cowboys defense played excellent and was the reason they won. They sacked Jameis Winston three times and caused two turnovers, both of which were fumbles. One was recovered and returned by linebacker Jaylon Smith for a 69 yard touchdown and the other was recovered on the Tampa 4 yard line that led to another touchdown. Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith accounted for 25 tackles (Esch 11 solo and Smith 5 solo). The Buccaneers running game was held to 63 yards but they did have some success through the air. They outgained the Cowboys by over 150 yards but the turnovers were the difference.

Dallas is locked into the 4 seed of the NFC playoffs which makes the regular season finale against the Giants meaningless. I would expect them to rest most of their starters to prepare for the playoffs.

Players to Watch

  1. Ezekiel Elliott (Running Back): Will probably not play much this upcoming week but is currently the NFL's leading rusher and is 183 yards ahead of Todd Gurley so it could be interesting to watch the race.
  2. Leighton Vander Esch (Linebacker): Is in the running for defensive rookie of the year and is currently the NFL's 3rd leading tackler with 131. He has more than surpassed his predecessor Sean Lee and is clearly the Cowboy's best defensive player.
  3. Michael Gallup (Wide Receiver): This rookie led the team last week with 53 yards receiving and a touchdown. He looks to have caught up to the speed of the NFL and has been coming on as of late. With Dallas likely to rest their stars, Gallup could be in for a large role on Sunday.

The Dallas Cowboys (9-6) will be taking on the New York Giants (5-10) on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Kickoff is set for noon Central Time. With neither team having much to play for, I am not sure how good of a game it will be.

If you have any fantasy players, the only must start players are:

Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott (RB), Amari Cooper (WR)

Giants: Saquon Barkely (RB)

For you gamblers out there, the Cowboys are +6 and the over/under is 41.5. I don't see any way you can play the Cowboys this week without knowing how long their star players will play if at all and the Giants have been playing hard the last few weeks. I would stay away from this one.

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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