I Did the Math - 2011 Edition

It's time for another I Did the Math series. I have read the fine FanPosts from Scarlet O (written before last Sunday night's game) and Eagles suck, the detailed scenarios run by Dan Graziano of ESPN, and the front page story from Dave Halprin, but no one has mentioned this mathematical possibility - even after last Sunday's devastating loss, the Cowboys are still mathematically alive for the #2 seed and a first-round bye.

I haven't read that anywhere else.

Can it happen? Absolutely!

Will it happen? Probably not.

Can we hope! Of course!

Read more after the jump...

Last year, as the abysmal Cowboys season was winding down, and November turned to December, Don Meredith passed away. Knowing that many younger Cowboys fans weren't around to have experienced the early Cowboys of the 1960s, I wrote my first FanPost - Turn out the lights... (a tribute to Don Meredith).

As a fan, I never lose hope. As long as the Cowboys were mathematically alive for a playoff spot, then that was the goal Many fan-posters had already begun to focus on the draft and next season ("sit Kitna, play McGee"; "let's lose out for a better draft position").

Buoyed by two quotes that permeated the Meredith FanPost - his singing of "Turn out the lights, the party's over" as he considered a Monday Night Football game safely in the bag for one team over the other; and, Dan Cook's (late, legendary San Antonio sports columnist and television sports anchor) famous quote - "It ain't over until the fat lady sings;" I ventured out and wrote another FanPost that evening - I Did the Math.

I laid out difficult, but not impossible, scenarios that could propel the Cowboys from a 1-7 beginning to an 8-8 finish and a playoff berth. Everyone had expected the Cowboys to lose to the powerful Indianapolis Colts (last year, that was true; this year, it's sadly funny), but most of the stories blew the win off as meaningless to the Cowboys and just a hiccup to the Colts.

I took it as a team that hadn't lost hope yet, and would battle until all hope was quenched. That first FanPost explained scenarios that had to happen the following week.

That Sunday afternoon, what had to happen did happen, and the Cowboys entered the Sunday night game with the Eagles still alive. I wrote I Did the Math - Part 2 as a preview and a summary update of what had happened and what still needed to happen.

Alas, that night, all hope was lost. The Cowboys lost at home to the Eagles and were eliminated from playoff consideration. I wrote I Did the Math - Strike Three as a post-mortem on the Cowboys now-ended playoff aspirations.

* * *

How can this year's Cowboys claim the #2 seed? I did the math (with some help from Yahoo! Sports Playoff Scenario Generator and confirmation from ESPN's Playoff Machine). The answer is logical, simple, and unlikely: finish in a four-way tie with the Saints, Falcons, and 49ers at 10-6.

  • Cowboys - must win out: @ Tampa Bay, vs. Philadelphia, @ New York Giants
  • Saints - must lose out: @ Minnesota, vs. Atlanta, vs. Carolina
  • Falcons - already beat Jacksonville; must win @ New Orleans and lose vs. Tampa Bay
  • 49ers - must lose out: vs. Pittsburgh, at Seattle, at St. Louis

Here is how the tie-breakers would play out to give the Cowboys the #2 seed:

  • Cowboys - East champion (10-6); Giants could finish no better than 9-7
  • 49ers - West champion (clinched a long time ago)
  • Saints - South Champion (common-games tie-break over Falcons after even head-to-head and division record)
  • Saints would have the worst conference record of the three (8-4, 8-4, 6-6), and would earn the #4 seed
  • Cowboys would claim the #2 seed from their head-to-head win over the 49ers

Is this likely to happen? We can only hope. Here's what to look for this weekend:

  • Saturday - Cowboys must win @ Tampa Bay
  • Sunday - Saints must lose @ Minnesota (early)
  • Monday - 49ers must lose vs. Pittsburgh (night)

If all three of these games come out this way, then we can look ahead to next week. As soon as San Francisco, New Orleans, or Atlanta win their eleventh game, then the Cowboys are out of the running for a #2 seed and first-round bye.

Next step down in the scenarios - Cowboys at 10-6 (win out) will be division champion and host a playoff game (probably #4 host #5 wild card)

There are other possible combinations and outcomes if the Cowboys don't win out. 9-7 would require help if the loss were to the Eagles or Giants. 8-8 would open the door to the Eagles.

The Eagles are in the same position as last year's Cowboys - left for dead, but mathematically still alive. They could run the table, finish 8-8, and win tie-breakers over both Giants and Cowboys. The Cowboys couldn't accomplish that last year; I hope the same for this year's Dream Team.

With the Eagles' next (ninth) loss (say, this Sunday to the Jets), they will (finally) die. Their final games (against Cowboys and Redskins) would be meaningless - to them. If Cowboys and Giants both win this week, then the Eagles also die (Cowboys-Giants winner would be guaranteed a ninth win).

The Eagles are the only team on the Cowboys schedule that worries me. The earlier Sunday Night game is the only game this season where the Cowboys were not competitive. Every other Cowboys loss was a game that would-a/should-a been a Cowboys win.

Granted, there is no bye week this time for the Eagles. But, I would feel better if they were dead, and not still playing for something other than Andy Reid's job and spots on next year's roster.

I will update this after this weekend's games. Go, Cowboys!

This week also:

  • Go Redskins (beat the Giants) - ease the path to a division championship
  • Go Jets (beat the Eagles) - kill and bury the Eagles once and for all
  • Go Vikings (beat the Saints) - stay alive for a first-round bye
  • Go Steelers (beat the 49ers) - stay alive for a first-round bye

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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