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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After a rough, disheartening loss the night before to even the series at one game apiece, the Astros tried to shake it off and regroup for a win on Thursday to get the series win against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Here is a quick recap of the finale:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 5, Astros 4.

Record: 6-6, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Junior Guerra (1-0, 0.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (0-1, 40.50 ERA).

Bielak tosses an impressive start as Houston puts him in winning position

After both teams finished the first three innings scoreless, the Astros were able to get a little bit of good luck on their side, unlike the night prior. Jose Altuve started the inning with a much-needed single, stole second, then moved to third on a groundout for the second out. That set up Yuli Gurriel, who hit a ball down the third-base line that would strike the bag and bounce away from Arizona, allowing Altuve to score and put Houston up 1-0.

Though he likely would have preferred more run support, Brandon Bielak made do with that one run in his first career MLB start. He was able to complete five innings of work, holding Arizona scoreless over that span despite allowing a runner in each inning. He left in line for the win, with a final line of 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR.

Altuve extends the lead, then Diamondbacks go ahead

Jose Altuve helped double the lead in the top of the sixth, connecting for a one-out solo home run to make it 2-0. With Bielak's night over at five innings, Cy Sneed took over in the bottom of the sixth and allowed back-to-back one-out doubles to cut Houston's lead in half. He allowed a single to put runners on the corners before Dusty Baker would move on to another reliever to try and preserve the lead. Blake Taylor would enter but allowed the tying RBI-single to take Bielak out of winning position. Taylor would go on to allow a go-ahead run before getting out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor was still on the mound but would only get two outs before another call to the pen. Andre Scrubb would enter and get the final out of the inning. In the top of the eighth, Jose Altuve would improve to 3-for-4 on the night with a two-out double, setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead two-run home run to make it 4-3, Houston.

Ryan Pressly allows the walk-off

Scrubb went back to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and was able to record a 1-2-3 inning to move the game to the ninth. After a scoreless top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly would attempt to get the save in the bottom of the inning. Instead, he would allow the walk-off, loading the bases with no outs on a walk and two singles before a two-RBI single to give Arizona the win and the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Oakland to kick off a three-game weekend series with the A's on Friday at 8:10 PM Central. The A's will send Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.93 ERA) to the mound while Houston will turn to Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00 ERA) to help cut down Oakland's division lead.

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