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Ezekiel Elliott Returns as the Cowboys Teeter on the Edge

As the star running back returns from suspension, FiveThirtyEight gives the Cowboys a 5% chance of making the playoffs

At 12:18 p.m. local time Monday, the Cowboys' playoffs chances received new life in the form of (a buffEzekiel Elliott. The star running back returned from a six-week suspension—he spent his time off working out in Mexico—to meet with coaches and owner Jerry Jones. Tuesday, he'll rejoin the full team. Elliott reportedly bet Eric Dickerson that he'd gain 200 yards in his first game back. A more meaningful task awaits, too: keeping Dallas's season alive. 

The Cowboys lost their first three games without Zeke, scoring a total of 22 points during that span. But the offense has since found itself, putting up 88 points over three consecutive victories to get to 8-6. And the remaining schedule looks more manageable than it did entering the weekend. On Sunday Dallas hosts Seattle; the injury-plagued Seahawks are criticizing each other after the worst loss in CenturyLink Field history. Then the Cowboys go to Philadelphia; that could be a meaningless game for the Eagles, who can lock up the NFC's No. 1 seed on Christmas.

But the Cowboys need more than just two wins. And their playoff chances took a hit Monday night when Patrick Murray's last-second kick sailed wide right, allowing the Falcons to escape Tampa Bay with a 24-21 victory. Dallas now needs Atlanta to lose both of its final games (or for Carolina to do so), and for Detroit to lose once (or for New Orleans to lose twice).

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1. Falcons 24, Buccaneers 21. Devonta Freeman capped a 126-yard performance with a 32-yard score midway through the fourth quarter to put Atlanta up 10. Jameis Winston moved Tampa 35 yards in the final minute but it wasn't close enough for Patrick Murray, who missed on a 54-yard field-goal try as time expired.

2. Effective immediately, Jerry Richardson is relinquishing day-to-day control of the Panthers. Team COO Tina Becker will be calling the shots until the franchise is sold. Scott Fowler has 13 pieces of advice for whoever buys the Panthers . . . and if you haven't read our original reporting that set all of this in motion, it's worth your time.

3. Let's talk some more about the catch rule, shall we? The Athletic readers can get a full explanation of the rule from former director of officiating Dean Blandino, Bill Barnwell has three suggested tweaks for the rule, and Ray Fittipaldo explains the true cost of the Steelers' loss. Oh, and Adam Kilgore argues (convincingly) that the league doesn't have a catch rule problem as much as it has a replay crisis. 

4. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis has been suspended two games for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Davante Adams. Adams called out the veteran defender on Twitter. "I’ll never understand it. Game is already dangerous enough and we got Pro Bowl players out here head hunting and saying they 'didn’t mean to harm me,'" he posted. Earlier this season, Adams was on the receiving end of a vicious hit to the head by Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan, who received a two-game suspension that was reduced to one game on appeal. "Not the type to rant but when u go through this s--- twice in a year it takes a lil toll on u so excuse me," he later tweeted. Davis responded to one of the tweets: "I understand your frustration and I do apologize for the hit! In no way was I trying to hurt you. My first instinct was turn and make a block. In all sincerity I do apologize. I truly respect you as a player and I made a mistake!"


5. "Before [Jimmy] Garoppolo, the 49ers hadn’t totaled 388-plus yards in three consecutive games since December 2003. That team’s triplets: Jeff GarciaTerrell Owens and Kevan Barlow," and more fun with numbers as Eric Branch quantifies The Garoppolo Effect.

6. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that most of the Bengals organization was caught off-guard by the news that Marvin Lewis would not be coaching the team after this season. If this is the end, The Undefeated has an appreciation for the "black man with staying power in Cincinnati."

7. For your morning commute: Only A Game tells the story of the forward pass and "the moments that immortalized the play."

8. Remember Andrew Luck? He's returning to Indianapolis and throwing again this week.

9. The season is almost over, and the Broncos still don't know who to play at QB.

10. Speaking of mediocre QBs, FiveThirtyEight says "The Great NFL Passing Boom Is Over."

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One intrepid man attempted to trade a candy bar for Washington tickets. It proved to be too easy.

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