I did the math

Whenever one of my sons comes up to me and asks a question that involves any kind of calculation, my standard response is "do the math". I need to ask Walmart for royalties because they copied my line for this past Back-to-School promotion.

Many of us are pulling for the Cowboys to continue to try to grow, strengthen, and achieve everything they can this year. Others have written off the season as lost, and are in 2011-tryout mode.

I haven't read or looked at any websites (NFL or otherwise) that list all the probabilities, possibilities, and playoff scenarios. But, I have done the math. According to my calculations, it is possible - not likely - but possible, for this year's Cowboys to make the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys' thrilling win over Indianapolis did not keep them from being eliminated from winning the division. The best the Cowboys can do is win out and finish 8-8. Both New York and Philadelphia won and are currently tied at 8-4. They still have one game remaining against each other, so there is no way for BOTH to lose their remaining games and finish 8-8. One will have to be at least 9-7, or they could tie and finish no worse than 8-7-1. So, no division championship and no playoff game at Cowboys Stadium (uh, except for the Super Bowl).

Most posters had looked for silver linings (rally to make the playoffs) by blowing off the wild card race and focusing on the division championship. Well, backing into the playoffs as the #6 seed is the best that the Cowboys can still accomplish this year. What would that take?

Let's look.

Step #1 - win out: win both games against the Eagles, at home against Washington, and at Arizona. If we win this Sunday night at home, beat up on teams that are fading fast, and then be on a roll to finish strong, this is possible.

Step #2 - Philadelphia needs to lose out. Besides the Cowboys, they are at NYG and home against Minnesota. Yes, the Giants could lose out, but the Cowboys need them to beat Green Bay.So, give the Giants the NFC East.

The Cowboys would win any divisional tiebreaker at 8-8 (head-to-head with Eagles, better division record than Skins). Even if the Redskins won their other three games, they would finish 8-8.

Step #3 - Green Bay needs to lose out, and finish the season at 8-8 - losing at Detroit, at New England, and on the frozen tundra to the Giants and Bears. Of course, as you remember, they would own a tie-breaker based on head-to-head (Wade Phillips' last game). So, there must be at least one more team at 8-8 and give the Cowboys a three-team tiebreak advantage. There is no one outside the East that the Cowboys will have beaten that could finish 8-8. So, we have to look at the down-line esoteric multi-team tiebreaker rules.

I cheated. I used Yahoo's Playoff Scenario Generator to see if there were any combinations of teams at 8-8 that would permit a #6 seed Cowboys. There are some possibilities. Here is my link to show at least one of those possibilities.

Step #4 - Seattle needs to win the NFC West. If they don't, but finish at 8-8, they would have a better conference record than Dallas or Green Bay (since they were 1-3 against the AFC West, their 7-5 conference record would be better than Dallas' or Green Bay's).

Step #5 - either Tampa Bay, St. Louis, or both, would need to finish at 8-8. I know, San Francisco could also finish 8-8, but I didn't want to add to this headache by including them. Plus, I don't see that happening. The Bucs close at Washington, host Detroit and Seattle, and their last game is at New Orleans. They have to lose at least three of these. Difficult, but possible.

What is the magic tiebreaker? Something called strength of victory. If the Cowboys and Packers are tied at 8-8 by Tampa Bay and/or St. Louis (either or both), then all would have a 6-6 (or worse) conference record. There would be no common opponent or head-to-head in play. According to Yahoo's generator, the Cowboys would win a three or four-team tiebreaker based on strength of victory.

Bottom line: the Cowboys CAN make this year's playoffs, and would back in as a #6 seed. They cannot win the division or be the first wild card (#5 seed). Will it happen? Probably not. Here's a summary of how the dominoes must fall:

Dallas must win out and finish 8-8.

Philadelphia and Green Bay must lose out and finish 8-8.

St. Louis and/or Tampa Bay need to also finish at 8-8.

Seattle must not be 8-8, except as NFC West champions. If Seattle and St. Louis both finish at 8-8, then the winner of the season finale would be the champion. A Rams win would give them a season sweep, while a Seahawks win would give them a split but a better conference record.

How can the Cowboys be mathematically eliminated before taking the field against the Eagles this Sunday night? If Green Bay wins at Detroit, they would have their ninth win. The NFC Central (Chicago, Green Bay) and South (Atlanta, New Orleans) would then each have two teams with nine or more wins, shutting the Cowboys out of any mathematical possibility of a wild card berth.

Don Meredith was famous for singing Willie Nelson's "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over". I live in San Antonio, where the late legendary sports journalist Dan Cook coined the expression "It's not over until the fat lady sings."

It may be over Sunday, but it's not over yet. Go Cowboys!

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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