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Writer's Blocks: Playoff Odds, Holding Calls & The Cowboys' One-Game Season

FRISCO, Texas – I know these are strange times when I find myself echoing Jason Garrett – but that's where we're at in Week 15.

It's been a long, strange season. Even by NFL football standards, this one feels like a particularly grueling marathon, from the preseason suspension drama to the off-field storylines, not to mention the inconsistent play on the field.

Take all of that stuff into account, though, and I really think we're looking at a one-game season for the Dallas Cowboys.

That's the type of stuff that Garrett loves to say in his press conferences and his locker room speeches – focus on one day at a time, never look past the opportunity in front of you. Yada, yada, yada. 

I typically find it all pretty boring, but it fits fairly well in a week like this.

Here's my reasoning, along with a few other thoughts for Week 15:

1.It's a big "if," but if the Cowboys can find a way to get a win in Oakland on Sunday night, the last two weeks of the season flips completely on its head.

We can sit here and say that this Cowboys team isn't good enough to finish 10-6 and make noise in the playoffs, and that's honestly fair. They were beaten soundly by the last three playoff contenders they faced – Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers.

But the beauty of the issue is that *this *Cowboys team is only going to exist for one more week. 

Win or lose, when the Cowboys get home from California on Monday morning, Ezekiel Elliott will be allowed to hop in his car and drive to work. He's still 10th in the league in rushing yards despite missing the past month, and his yards per game average is 13 yards better than the next best back in the league.

We know by now that the Cowboys are a different team with Elliott on the field. Of course it's possible that it takes him some time to get up to speed after missing six weeks, but it's still much better to have him than not.

2.To put it more simply, I'm not very confident that *this *Cowboys team can go 3-0 to wrap up the season – but *this *Cowboys team doesn't have. This current group of players merely has to win one game on the West Coast against an Oakland group with a losing record. 

If the Cowboys can manage that, however pretty or ugly it looks on the field, they'll be 8-6 when arguably their best player returns to the fold – and then all bets are off.

3.This is the part where you remind me about all the other stuff that has to happen for the Cowboys to make the playoffs – aside from going 3-0. And I get that.

But honestly, if Dallas can handle its business and win three more games, a lot of that stuff is in line to fall the right way.

Take a look around the upcoming schedule, and you see exactly why the NFL backloads the season slate with division games and grudge matches – it creates drama. 

This Sunday, while the Cowboys are waiting for their night game against the Raiders, the Panthers will host the Packers and the Seahawks will host the Rams. The week after, there's a Saturday night game between Green Bay and Minnesota, followed by Sunday games between Detroit and Cincinnati, as well as New Orleans and Atlanta. And then of course every single Week 17 matchup is a division game.

It's going to create some really fun scoreboard watching during the final three weeks.

Essentially, it boils down to this: the Falcons and Packers hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Dallas. The Cowboys need Green Bay to lose one of its last three games – against either Carolina, Minnesota or Detroit. They need Atlanta to lose two of its last three – coming from the trio of Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina. They also want the Lions to also lose one, whether it comes against Chicago, Cincinnati or Green Bay.

Given the Seahawks' loss to Jacksonville on Sunday evening, the Cowboys can overtake them simply by winning that game on Christmas Eve.

4.It's a lot to process, and it ultimately doesn't mean anything if the Cowboys don't win out.

But just to keep it simple: for the next three weeks, you're rooting against the Falcons, Lions and Packers. It might not hurt to root for the Los Angeles Rams and Carolina Panthers, as well.

The Cowboys haven't gotten a *ton *of help in that regard over the last two weeks, but there's still plenty of time for these wildcard odds to swing in their favor. As long as they keep winning.

5.The NFL did a good job of scheduling to create some late-season drama, but my goodness can we get some help from the football gods?

I've already used this column to lament the amount of significant injuries this season, so I'm not going to spend a ton of time on it. But man, as a fan of football, it's hard to articulate what a bummer it is that we won't see Carson Wentz in the playoff this year.

I know, I know. Don't even bother. You as Cowboys fans hate the Eagles, and you didn't want them to win a Super Bowl, anyway. I completely understand that. But the playoffs are going to happen one way or another, and I'd just as soon watch the best product possible in the biggest games of the year.

It would've been fun to see if Wentz could handle the staggering pressure of delivering for one of the NFL's longest-suffering franchises. It would've been fun to see the reaction around Philadelphia if the Eagles were dealt a bitter disappointment, like what happened to the Cowboys last January. Instead, we're just stuck with the 500th major injury this season – and it just sucks for the quality of football we're watching.

If the playoffs started today, the quarterbacks of the top two teams in the NFC would be Nick Foles and Case Keenum. No disrespect intended toward them, but it's just not must-see TV.

6.Thanks to DeMarcus Lawrence, we're having quite the conversation about penalties these last few days.

There's no way you missed it, but just in case you did, Lawrence had quite a sound bite about the officiating in the Cowboys' last few games – or lack thereof, in his opinion:

That transcription doesn't even include the expletive he threw in at the end, for good measure. But you get the point. There has been a noticeable lack of holdings calls for this Dallas defense this season.

I actually took the time to look it up, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. Here is your breakdown.

So, yes. Lawrence isn't imagining things. The Cowboys have only benefitted from eight holding calls all year – and four of those came in the first three weeks of the season. From Week 4 against Los Angeles, until Week 10 against Atlanta, they didn't receive a single holding call from an opposing offensive lineman.

On strictly offensive and defensive plays, NFL refs have thrown a total of 514 offensive holding flags this year. That's an average of 16 per team – so the Cowboys have received exactly half of the league average.

7.At the same time, I'm not sure I can follow you on this talk about NFL officiating conspiracies. It honestly just seems like bad luck, more than anything else.

Look at the rest of that breakdown. The Cowboys bring up the rear, but the Eagles, Panthers and Seahawks are not far behind – with each of the three drawing just 11 holding flags. And those are some of the most fearsome pass rushes in the league, featuring players like Fletcher Cox, Julius Peppers and Michael Bennett.

The New Orleans Saints are having a defensive renaissance thanks to Pro Bowl talents like Cam Jordan, and the Broncos of course have Von Miller – and they have each drawn just 12 holding flags.

I think it probably has a lot to do with the officiating crew you draw for any given game, as well as the circumstances in the game and the players involved – shocking analysis, I know.

Another thing I wonder is about the recognition of the players involved, so to speak. For instance, it seems like the Dallas offensive line has been flagged an inordinate amount of times. Tyron Smith and Jonathan Cooper have been called for holding five teams each, while La'el Collins has incurred three holdings flags, with two for Travis Frederick.

Am I crazy to think that because the Cowboys' offensive line is highly lauded and filled with Pro Bowlers that they're more likely to draw a flag if their technique isn't perfect? I don't think so.

In the same vein, the Cowboys' pass rush isn't exactly stocked with household names. DeMarcus Lawrence is obviously No. 2 in the NFL in sacks right now, but he has been an under-the-radar player for the entirety of his career before this. The same can be said for all of his linemates.

I wonder if that factors into things, and if we'll see more favorable calls for these Dallas defenders as their stature continues to grow in the league.

8.I'm thankful heading into this Oakland trip that these teams are still relevant – even if both clubs thought they'd have a more successful season.

The Raiders are heading for Las Vegas in the near future, so I'd imagine this is the last time we'll see the Cowboys play a regular season game in Oakland. Like I said, I'm sure the Raiders were hoping they'd have more than six wins at this point. I'm positive the Cowboys were planning on having more than seven.

Still, both of these teams still have hope of making the playoffs, so I'm hopeful the venue should do this matchup justice. I want to see the Black Hole in all its glory, and I can't think of two better fanbases to fill up a prime time atmosphere than the Raiders, and the Cowboys – who I'm positive will be well-represented on the West Coast. Looking forward to seeing y'all there.

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