Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott drops back to pass during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) stiff arms New York Giants cornerback Deandre Baker (27) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) is tackled by Detroit Lions defensive back Will Harris (25) and cornerback Darius Slay during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
DETROIT (AP) The Dallas Cowboys ’ offense is having a great year - statistically at least.
Dallas is leading the league in total yards for a fourth straight week and has a chance to close the season as the NFL’s top-ranked offense for the first time in 42 years.
“It’s all kind of clicking for them,” Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay said.
Despite the success of Dak Prescott and Co. - they are averaging 437-plus yards a game and are the league’s best offense on third down - the Cowboys are not rolling into the Motor City with much momentum.
Dallas (5-4) is coming off a loss to Minnesota at home and has dropped four of six games.
The Cowboys are tied with Philadelphia atop the NFC East, but they probably can’t afford to lose to the slumping Detroit Lions (3-5-1) because their schedule down the stretch is challenging with games against New England and the Eagles on the road.
“This is a confident group that knows we’re going to peak at the right time,” Prescott said. “We’ve got all the faith and trust that we’re going to get there and handle the things that we need to handle.”
The Lions, meanwhile, have lost five of six after a solid start and don’t want the season to slip away.
“Nobody’s wants to say the last few weeks haven’t gone the way we wanted and just lay an egg,” Detroit offensive tackle Taylor Decker said.
Here are some things to watch Sunday at Ford Field:
FEAST OR FAMINE
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott had five 100-yard rushing games in his first eight games for the first time in his career.
However, Elliott has been held to four of the nine lowest rushing totals in his career when he hasn’t run for 100 yards.
The two-time rushing champion struggled in the 28-24 loss last week to Minnesota. His longest carry was 6 yards, and he was limited to 47 yards on 20 carries.
A chance to win escaped when Dallas went to Elliott three straight times inside the Minnesota 15 late in the game. He had two rushes that for a combined minus-3 yards before he was the target on an incomplete pass on fourth down.
“Take it with that chip on your shoulder and use it as fuel when you go back to work the next week,” he said.
Detroit will be without quarterback Matthew Stafford for a second straight week because of hip and back injuries, giving Jeff Driskel another opportunity to show the NFL what he can do under center.
The fourth-year pro was 27 of 46 for 269 yards passing and 37 yards rushing - all career highs - with a touchdown and an interception in his sixth career start in last week’s loss at Chicago.
“He’s a really talented guy,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s big. He’s athletic. He can throw it. He played a lot of football in college and just seemed like a really smart guy who understood the game and just needed an opportunity. So, it doesn’t surprise us one bit that he’s playing.”
Driskel got his first opportunity to play last season with the Cincinnati Bengals, starting five games in place of the injured Andy Dalton, with mixed results.
“Everybody wants to be out on the field and playing and competing,” Driskel said. “Kind of how we all got here is our competitive nature.”
PLAYING A MAN DOWN
The Cowboys already know one way they can improve the defense against screen passes after Dalvin Cook tied his career high with 86 yards receiving, most of it on screens. Dallas can start by making sure 11 men are on the field. There were just 10 on a 30-yard play by Cook that set up the second Minnesota touchdown for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. The play was made worse for the Cowboys when defensive end Robert Quinn was called for roughing the passer.
TAKING AWAY TURNOVERS
Detroit got off to a 2-0-1 start and had chances to win the next two games in part because its defense forced 11 turnovers in five games. The Lions’ defense has not recovered a fumble or made an interception in two straight games and has forced only one turnover over a four-game stretch.
“We’re trying to find new tricks and trades to turn the ball over,” Slay said.
OFFENSIVE LINE SHUFFLE
Dallas left guard Connor Williams will miss several weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery. Right tackle La’el Collins (knee and back) and right guard Zack Martin (back, ankle and elbow) are also banged up, but are expected to play at Detroit. Xavier Su’a-Filo played well when Williams was out with a knee injury last year and is taking his spot again.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne has emerged lately as a red zone threat. The third-year pro has collected five spikes in his last six games, operating as the teams primary third receiver. With Marquise Goodwin (foot, knee) on injured reserve, Bournes 50 percent snap share should remain steady in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons, even with sophomore disappointment Dante Pettis (knee) back in the mix. While his touchdown prowess is tough to ignore, Bourne hasnt eclipsed four catches or 45 yards during his scoring run, rendering him a volatile WR5.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee), who was limited in practice on Thursday, is still expected to play in Week 15 against the Bills on Sunday night, barring any future setbacks. Smith-Schuster practiced in full on Wednesday, so the limited practice was initially seen as a troubling setback. He's been out since Nov. 14, though, and is more of a weak WR4 choice for fantasy owners with Devlin Hodges throwing him passes in an extremely tough matchup. Avoiding all Pittsburgh pass-catchers is probably the best strategy in the fantasy playoffs. James Washington's upside takes the biggest hit with Smith-Schuster expected back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scott Miller (hamstring) got in a full practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. He looks to be on track to return for Week 15 in a mouthwatering matchup against the Lions. There is increased opportunity to produce as well with Mike Evans shut down for the rest of the year. Miller has only 10 catches on the year for 151 yards and no touchdowns, so he'd still be a lottery ticket for desperate fantasy owners in redraft leagues. Behind Chris Godwin, it will be Miller, Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson fighting for targets from quarterback Jameis Winston.
The New York Jets placed tight end Ryan Griffin on Injured Reserve on Thursday and activated offensive lineman Brent Qvale in a corresponding move. Griffin became a streaming TE2 option at fantasy's thinnest position in 2019, mainly because Chris Herndon IV was injured all year. The 29-year-old finishes with 34 catches on 41 targets for 320 yards and five touchdowns. He's unlikely to be attractive, even as a backup tight end, in 2020 fantasy drafts. In the final three games, expect Daniel Brown to be Gang Green's primary tight end, although he's not worth your time in fantasy at all.
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough (ribs) was downgraded to out of practice on Thursday after getting in a limited session on Wednesday. It puts Scarbrough in danger of missing Week 15 against the Buccaneers, especially if he misses another practice on Friday. Even if Scarbrough plays, he'll be more of a low-upside RB3/flex in a tough matchup with a surprisingly good Buccaneers run defense this year. Rookie Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic would split the workload in the backfield if Scarbrough is inactive this Sunday. Detroit's offense under third-string quarterback David Blough is limping to the finish line.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle) remained out of practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Humphries looks destined to miss his second straight game unless he can get in at least a limited practice on Friday. In this run-first offense, Humphries hasn't been fantasy relevant all year. Rookie A.J. Brown is your best bet as an upside WR2 in Week 15 against the Texans suspect secondary, while Corey Davis should remain the No. 2 option. Even if Humphries plays, you should leave him to the waiver wire in redraft leagues.
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (knee) returned to a limited practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. The Falcons were likely just managing his repetitions on Wednesday. Expect Freeman to be taken off the injury report on Friday and to play in Week 15 against the 49ers. He had one of his best games of the season last Sunday against the Panthers and scored his first rushing touchdown of the year. That's all well and good, but you should fully expect a letdown in Week 15 against one of the best all-around defenses in the league on the road. Freeman is a low-end RB2 for the second round of the fantasy playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (foot) left practice early on Thursday and was listed as a limited participant. Smith-Schuster was expected to return in Week 15 against the Bills and was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, so this represents a setback for the disappointing receiver. There's now no guarantee that he'll play this Sunday, and even if he does, he's more of a WR4 in a tough matchup against Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White. Smith-Schuster hasn't played since Nov. 14 against the Browns and will have limited upside the rest of the way with Devlin Hodges at quarterback. James Washington and Diontae Johnson will benefit if he misses another contest.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald (concussion) returned to a limited practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. He has a chance to play in Week 15 against the Bills on Sunday night, but he must first clear the league's concussion protocol. Even if McDonald is cleared on Friday to play on Sunday evening, fantasy owners should consider him a low-upside TE2. The veteran tight end hasn't gone over 40 yards in a game this season. If he's held out, Nick Vannett should do most of the pass-catching work at tight end for Pittsburgh.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Allen Hurns (ankle, knee) returned to a full practice on Thursday after being a spectator at Wednesday's session. It puts him on track to play in Week 15 in a sweet matchup against the Giants. It could become even sweeter if one or both of Devante Parker (concussion) and Albert Wilson (concussion) are unable to get cleared from the league's concussion protocol. Hurns has only 29 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns on the season, but he could become Miami's No. 1 wideout if both Parker and Wilson are inactive this weekend. That'd put Hurns on the streaming map in DFS and deeper leagues.
The Baltimore Ravens could rest quarterback Lamar Jackson if they lock up the AFC's No. 1 seed by Week 17. If that's the case, Robert Griffin III would be expected to get the start in Week 17 against the Steelers, even if the season finale is important for the Steelers' chances of sealing a wild-card berth. This is why most fantasy leagues only go until Week 16. If your league goes all the way and you own Jackson, you might be without the league's most dynamic player in your fantasy title game. RG3 has been impressive in limited spurts, but he'd be a huge downgrade to Baltimore's entire offense if he starts, and the Ravens could also choose to rest starters other than Jackson.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (foot), who was officially placed on Injured Reserve on Thursday, is dealing with a Lisfranc injury that is expected to require surgery. He's facing many months of recovery ahead and could be in danger of not being ready for training camp next summer. Jeffery will turn 30 in February and he'll probably be avoided by most fantasy owners going into 2020 drafts after not playing in a full season since 2017. He had just 43 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games for the Eagles this year. At best, Jeffery will be seen as a WR3 for fantasy owners going into next season.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (hand) took snaps under center at practice on Wednesday, but his right hand was pretty swollen on Monday after he injured it in the Week 14 win over the Patriots. Mahomes has been getting more treatment on his hand since the swelling went down earlier this week, including strengthening it as Week 15 against the Broncos approaches. He admitted that it was a scary situation after Sunday, but there is no fracture in the hand, so Mahomes should be fine to play this Sunday. It's not idea if he's at less than 100 percent against a strong Denver secondary, but Mahomes remains a must-start in fantasy if he's playing.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (foot) was at practice again on Thursday, and his foot injury is very minimal. He should be expected to play in Week 15 against the Patriots. A serious deep threat with his top-notch speed, Ross was on his way to a breakout season before he suffered a broken collarbone in Week 4. The 24-year-old had just two catches for 28 yards in his return from Injured Reserve last week against the Browns, and his matchup with the Patriots this weekend is less than ideal. Ross could get behind the defense for a big play or two, but much more likely that he's a fantasy bust for the second straight week.
Oakland Raiders rookie wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (ribs) is back at practice on Thursday. Renfrow has been out since Week 12 but has a shot at returning in Week 15 against the Jaguars. The 23-year-old first-year player has 36 receptions (53 targets) for 396 yards and two touchdowns on the year. Oakland just doesn't support anyone of much fantasy relevance in the passing game outside of tight end Darren Waller and receiver Tyrell Williams. You can ignore Renfrow in most leagues if he makes his return this weekend against Jacksonville.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) called Thursday's practice a "win," but he will see how the rest of the week goes before he decides whether he'll play in Week 15 against the Chargers. Thielen is more optimistic about returning than he has been before. It's looking like he'll finally return for the first time since Nov. 3 when he re-injured his leg against the Chiefs. Most fantasy owners will immediately throw Thielen back into their lineups in the fantasy playoffs, but he'll be more of a WR3 if he returns, and he could be at risk of seeing limited snaps if the Vikings choose to ease him back into the fold. His return would be bad news for Olabisi Johnson and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) wasn't seen at practice on Thursday for the second straight day. Unless Agholor gets in a limited practice on Friday, he'll be on his way to missing another game. It hurts even more with Alshon Jeffery on Injured Reserve for the final three games of the season. Even if Agholor were to suit up this Sunday against the Redskins, he'd be a low-upside WR4/flex for desperate fantasy owners. Philly could be using three-wide sets consisting of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward Jr. and Robert Davis this weekend. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will be heavily involved.
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (knee) doesn't have a timetable for a return next year after suffering a torn ACL last Sunday night against the Rams. Head coach Pete Carroll said that doctors will wait for inflammation to subside before undergoing surgery on Penny's knee. While he wouldn't say for sure that Penny won't be available for the start of next season, he didn't completely rule it out either. The Seahawks will rely on C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer as the backups to lead ball carrier Chris Carson for the rest of the 2019 season. Carson is a surefire RB1 with heavy volume expected in Week 15 against a suspect Carolina run defense. Penny remains a firm hold in dynasty/keeper leagues despite his devastating injury.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) returned to practice with the team on Thursday. He is currently questionable for Week 15 against the Redskins. If he's able to go this week, he could be a sneaky good start against a Redskins Defense allowing almost 135 rushing yards per game. Miles Sanders and Boston Scott have been shouldering the load while Howard has been out the past four games. If Howard returns, he'd likely be one of the team's primary rushers, with Sanders seeing more action in the passing game and Scott being relegated to single-digit touches. Keep an eye on Howard's status through the next few days.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that running back Raheem Mostert has earned his role as the lead ball carrier of late and that "he's given us no choice." Mostert has had double-digit carries each of the last two weeks against the Ravens and Saints and has also caught four passes, including one for a touchdown. Over the last three contests, Mostert has four total touchdowns (three on the ground) and was impressive with 146 ground yards against Baltimore on Dec. 1. He's taken over the backfield from Tevin Coleman and should be considered an RB2 on the rise for Week 15 in a great matchup against the Falcons.