NFC East Playoff Scenarios: Cowboys In The Driver's Seat?

Its not a stretch to imagine the Cowboys in the playoffs...

With week 15 of the NFL season almost in the books, the playoff field hasn't narrowed much; no NFC teams were eliminated as a result of this weekend's action. That said, three of the NFC's four divisions are pretty well wrapped up, as Green Bay and San Francisco have clinched division titles and New Orleans is assured of at least a wild card. Moreover, with wins, Detroit and Atlanta moved closer to clinching the tournament berths. With two weeks to go, therefore, four of the six NFC playoff spots seem fairly easy to predict.

Where questions most abound are in the good old NFC East, where three teams can still win the division title. Here are the current standings, remaining schedules and various playoff possibilities:

Current standings:

Dallas: 8-6
New York: 7-7
Philadelphia: 6-8

Remaining schedules:

Dallas: Philadelphia, @ NY Giants
New York: @ NY Jets (essentially a home game), Dallas
Philadelphia: @ Dallas, Washington

A look at NFC East playoff scenarios after the jump...

Playoff scenarios:

If Dallas beats Philadelphia in week 16:

Giants win: Philadelphia eliminated; Cowboys and Giants play for the division title in week 17 (in which Dallas win or tie clinches title)

Giants lose: Dallas wins division title

If Philadelphia beats Dallas in week 16:

Giants win: Philadelphia eliminated; Dallas and New York play for division title in week 17 (in which New York win or tie clinches title)

Giants lose: several week 17 scenarios open up:

1. Philadelphia beats Washington:

Dallas beats New York: Cowboys win division title

New York beats Dallas: Eagles win division title

2. Washington beats Philadelphia

Dallas beats New York: Cowboys win division title

New York beats Dallas: Giants win division title

If you'd like to run these and other possible playoff permutations, use ESPN's handy-dandy playoff machine, which can be found here.

Some thoughts while you plug in various combos:

  • As this list of possible scenarios suggests, the best case is one in which the Cowboys dispatch the Eagles (which would be immensely satisfying in any case) and the Giants fall to the Jets, a combo which would render week 17 moot.
  • There is no scenario in which Dallas won't be playing for the division title in week 17. No matter what happens next week, if the Cowboys win at New York on Jan 1, they win the division crown.
  • As these permutations indicate, the Eagles chances are very slim--and very specific. There is only one possible combination that will get them into the tournament: they win out, and the Giants lose to the Jets and then beat the Cowboys. That said, its not an unimaginably far-fetched scenario...
  • If the Giants beat the Jets next week, Philly is eliminated, as that would guarantee at least one 9-win NFC East squad, and the Eagles cannot win more than 8 games.
  • Both the Cowboys and Giants "control their destiny"--i.e., can win out and get in. So, although both teams have met with significant disappointments this season, they have to feel good heading into the season's final weeks that all they have to do is to keep their own house clean.

For now, the Cowboys have to think about Philly--and that embarrassing beatdown suffered at the Eagles' hands in late October.Indeed, all the players are already in Eagles-week mode. Can they exact a modicum of revenge? I hope so; I've got all my fingers (and some of my toes) crossed...

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