Sunday Divisional Round Matchups: Cowboys, Chiefs Both Favorites

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The dynamics for a team with a red-hot quarterback often change when they go on the road, which is why Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are a solid favorite against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

The Cowboys are listed as 4.5-point favorites against the Packers with a 51.5-point total, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Dallas is 7-0 straight-up and 5-2 against the spread in its last seven home games, but the fact that the Packers are 6-1 ATS in their last seven playoff games as a road underdog will no doubt give bettors pause.

The Packers, who are 11-6 SU and 9-7-1 ATS, need QB Aaron Rodgers to stay in peak form to have a shot at taking down Dallas, which does happen to be 0-4 SU and 1-3 ATS in its last four divisional round games.

That doesn’t leave the Packers with much margin for error, especially since WR Jordy Nelson (ribs) may not play and the Cowboys will be able to pay more attention to WR Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Running the ball against OLB Sean Lee and Co. could also be tough for Green Bay.

The Cowboys, 13-3 SU and 10-5-1 ATS, have one of the NFL’s most balanced offenses outside of New England with the combo of Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. Provided LT Tryon Smith is healthy and handles OLB Clay Matthews, Dallas is capable of setting the pace. The Packers’ pass defense is spotty and as a team that is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games after bye weeks, Dallas surely will have used the extra prep time to develop schemes to use WR Dez Bryant (seven TD in his last nine games).

The total has gone over in five of the Packers’ last six games on the road, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

In Sunday’s other game, the Kansas City Chiefs are listed as the 1.5-point favorite against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 44-point total.

The Steelers, 12-5 SU and 10-6-1 ATS, with QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, are experts in staying explosive even in the type of cold weather forecast for Kansas City on Sunday.

However, thanks to FS Eric Berry, the Chiefs excel at limiting long completions, and their defense, thanks to the return and/or emergence of DE Chris Jones, OLB Justin Houston and ILB Ramik Wilson, is much improved since that embarrassing defeat.

The Chiefs, 12-4 SU and 9-7 ATS, are the more likely team to come out ahead in the all-important turnover battle. Kansas City’s M.O. offensively is misdirection and the Steelers defense, which has had a steady diet of mediocre matchups over the last two months, are prone to missing tackles.

Having to account for speedster Tyreek Hill may create some big openings for RB Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Quarterback Alex Smith and his offensive line have also improved at providing ball security as the season has progressed.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid is 3-0 SU in divisional round games after a bye. The total has gone under in the Chiefs’ last six games after consecutive wins.

Last year all four home teams won in the divisional round. In the last three years the visiting team is 7-3-2 ATS in the divisional round.

NBC Sports’ Josh Norris attempts the combine

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The lengths I go to entertain you.

Since I attempt to evaluate these prospects’ athleticism, my friends at NBC Sports thought it was only fair if I went through the same circuit of drills and tests as the future NFL players.

So what did I learn? I learned that I am no longer an in shape 18-year-old. I learned how important flexibility is for every single drill. I can’t even touch my toes, which does not help with the broad jump or turning the corner on a three cone. And I’m jealous of the rest these prospects get between their attempts.

For more of Josh’s drills, check out the full lineup here

T.O. controversy underscores need for Hall of Fame transparency

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I started down the T.O. Hall of Fame time out rabbit hole a week ago due primarily to concerns regarding a lack of transparency in the selection process. After a week of arguments, counterarguments, and a few condescending comments from voters who resent being questioned or criticized by people who don’t know the inner working of the process, I’m back to where I started.

Those who criticize the process indeed don’t know the inner workings of the process because the process is kept completely secret. And the T.O. case proves that the time has arrived for transparency.

As Peter King of TheMMQB.com pointed out earlier this week, those who voted against Owens largely have slipped into hiding.

The fact that Owens didn’t make it from the final 15 to the final 10 suggests that the nays are more plentiful than necessary to transform him from one of the final five into a Hall of Famer. Don’t underestimate, however, the possibility that the voters collectively realized that enough of them would never get behind Owens on the final ballot (where it takes only 10 to put the kibosh on Canton) to make pushing Owens to the final 10 or the final five an exercise in futility.

It ultimately may be only 10 people who are anti-T.O. Maybe there aren’t that many; maybe the handful was loud enough and zealous enough that they managed to convince enough of their peers to think that pushing Owens through to the final five would set the stage for an ugly filibuster at best or a complete waste of time (and a spot that could have gone to someone else) at worst.

The only obvious “no” votes currently known (by me) are Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News (he wrote a column about it), Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (ditto), Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts (he made his case against Owens in a radio interview), and Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report (his Twitter account makes his position clear). All of the “no” votes should be known, and those who have kept quiet while the process has been challenged generally and a small handful of their colleagues have been attacked specifically should speak up.

Even if all the “no” votes were known, we still won’t know everything that needs to be known. Those voters who have chosen to disclose their position on Owens refuse to disclose the identity of other Hall of Famers, players, and/or coaches who have privately said that Owens doesn’t belong. Setting aside the question of whether these non-voters should have so much sway over the process, the refusal to name them makes the process even harder to accept.

It’s one thing to gather facts anonymously. Gathering opinions anonymously allows for those anonymous opinions to be tainted by personal animus. Also, it makes objective assessment of the basis for the opinions impossible, allowing for all sorts of subjective factors to be twisted and warped — and for the voters to abdicate their responsibility to assess the candidate to the whispers of those who, given the benefit of secrecy, are far more likely to yield to the temptation of human factors.

The broader concern is this: When evaluating a player based on what he did on a 100-by-53-yard patch of grass or FieldTurf or green cement, it’s easy to assess the opinions of the voters and to develop opinions on the accuracy of the outcome of the votes. When things that happened from the sideline to the parking lot become relevant to the process, it becomes impossible to know what is being considered, why it’s being considered, which others have made it through despite similar concerns, and whether those standards will be applied to future candidates.

There can be no consistency without transparency, and with no transparency it’s impossible for those who view Owens as a knee-jerk Hall of Famer to understand his omission for a second straight year. The voters who oppose Owens can either sneer at those of us who think they got it wrong or they can heed the criticisms, lobby for meaningful change, and bring a different approach to the process in 2018.

If it’s the former, there will be more sneering at those of us who think they got it wrong, both as to Owens and as to others who seem to pass the Hall of Fame eyeball test but can’t get in.