The Cowboys Report

Cowboys face Bucs with playoff berth in reach

Jason Garret and the Cowboys are close to clinching. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys (8-6) lost to the Indianapolis Colts (8-6) on Sunday by the score of 23-0. It was their first loss in their last six games and it looked like they were never mentally in the game. It was probably due to the fact that even though they lost, they still have a 97.7% chance to win the NFC East according to ESPN's Football Power Index.

The Cowboys didn't have any motivation and their offense was weak. They struggled to move the ball and failed to make plays in key moments. A dropped pass, bad play calling, and turnovers were the pivotal factors that led to the loss.

Ezekiel Elliott was the lone offensive bright spot. He carried the ball 18 times for 87 yards and caught 7 passes for 41 yards. He was credited with a lost fumble on the Colt's 3 yard line but it was on a fourth and goal play where he was stopped short of the end zone and the Colts were taking over possession no matter what.

Quarterback Dak Prescott did not play well and only got the ball to superstar receiver Amari Cooper 4 times for 32 yards. He looked uncomfortable and was never allowed to settle in. He was 24 of 29 for 206 yards, NO touchdowns, and 1 interception. The Colts sacked him three times and didn't allow him to use his legs to scramble.

The Cowboys defense played hard and did their best to stay in the game but ultimately ran out of gas. They held Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck to under 200 yards passing and didn't allow him to throw any touchdowns. The problem was they were torn up on the ground. Running back Marlon Mack carried the ball 27 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

Dallas is now only up one game on both the Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) and the Washington Redskins (7-7), but Dallas owns the tiebreaker over them and is essentially up two games with two left to play.

  1. Players to Watch
  1. Ezekiel Elliott (running back): Still the NFL's leading rusher and has a good chance of locking up the title this week as he will be going against Tampa Bay's 27th ranked rush defense. After the loss, I think the Cowboy offense will be looking to make a statement.
  2. Amari Cooper (Wide Receiver): Had a sub-par game last week but has a great matchup this week against the 27th ranked Buccaneer pass defense. The Cowboys should get him the ball early and often to come away with another win.
  3. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, and Jeff Heath (defensive secondary): These guys are going to have to play another great game because they will be facing the NFL's #1 passing offense which is led by star receiver Mike Evans. Evans has the ability to score any time he touches the ball and the Bucs like to throw it to him a lot anytime they are near the end zone.

The Dallas Cowboys (8-6) will be at home taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is set for 12:00 pm CST at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX (AKA: Jerry's World). Dallas should be driven to win and lock up the NFC East and the #4 playoff seed. The only way they don't win the division is if they lose both games and either Philadelphia or Washington wins both of their games.

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

Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott (RB), Amari Cooper (WR), Dak Prescott (QB)

Buccaneers: Mike Evans (WR)

For you gamblers out there, the Cowboys are -7.5 and the over/under is 47.5. I believe the Cowboys will be looking to finalize their playoff hopes this week and basically earn a bye week in Week 17 so Dallas would be the play but I would try and get the number at 7 or less.

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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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