DALLAS — The rough draft on the eulogy for the Dallas Cowboys’ 2018 campaign was waiting to be published. America’s Team were viewed as dead men walking after starting 3-5 through eight games. Don’t look now but that same team is merely a game back of the Chicago Bears for the 3rd seed in the NFC playoff standings.
Outside of the Houston Texans, no team has more wins in a row than Dallas with four. All this means that your Dallas Cowboys are the hottest team in their conference which is definitely something we all predicted a month ago, right?
This week the Bears will meet up with top-seeded Los Angeles Rams and Dallas hosts the Philadelphia Eagles. Ideally, the Cowboys can move into the 3rd spot with an NFC East solidifying win over their rivals and a Bears’ loss. The seeding could be the difference between playing every game on the road in the playoffs and possibly hosting a game beyond the wild-card round.
It's crazy to think that we're talking about seeding for the Cowboys instead of thinking ruefully about where in the the draft they would be sending Oakland their first round pick. But here we are. And the Cowboys have even more to fight for than just where they play in January.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
The Cowboys could possibly have another rookie of the year award coming to Dallas at the end of the season. Leighton Vander Esch is one of the hottest names in the league right now. It could very well come down to the “Wolf Hunter” Vander Esch, S Derwin James in Los Angeles, DE Bradley Chubb in Denver or fellow linebacker Darius Leonard with Indianapolis.
LVE has racked up 102 tackles and two interceptions this season, and while not to downplay any other defensive rookie, without the Boise State 'backer's play in the middle of the field in Sean Lee's stead, this defense certainly wouldn't be performing at this same level.
The duo of LVE and Jaylon Smith has been just as key as their stellar defensive line and secondary play. This duo should be wreaking havoc for years to come. The Cowboys drafted Vander Esch with their first pick last April for a reason and, due to the continued health issues with Lee, the team is seeing the fruits of their labor perhaps before they even expected to.
Rushing Title Chase
Ezekiel Elliott is no stranger to the chase for a rushing title, having run away with it during his rookie year. This year, it will be more of a dog fight with Todd Gurley. Gurley (1,175 yards) currently sits just 25 yards ahead of Elliott (1,150 yards) through 13 weeks. Both teams have four games to play as they near the playoffs so they will certainly get their opportunities.
The key difference between the two being that while they both will get carries, the Cowboys are more likely to play more meaningful games. Gurley’s Rams have already locked up their spot in the playoffs and depending on how the next couple of games go, they may have nothing to play for as they are currently sitting pretty at the top of the NFC. Regardless, these two backs are likely going to put on a show for the fans as they duke it out for the title.
Whether it is the playoff seeding, Leighton Vander Esch’s hardware pursuit or Elliott’s rushing title chase, the Cowboys have given fans plenty to watch for over the next four weeks. After how they started the year, you really can't ask for much more than that.
But before we get to hardware and seeding, first the Cowboys must deal with the hated Eagles at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
Do you think Zeke will take his second rushing title? Should Leighton Vander Esch be named the league's best rookie? Share your thoughts with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.