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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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