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I Did the Math - 2011 Edition - Part 2


It's Eagles week!

Eagles didn't die Sunday. Eagles still worry me.

Cowboys' hardest game of the season is this Saturday - against the only team this year that we have not played competitively. Eagles are the most schizophrenic team on the Cowboys' schedule.

If they get punched in the mouth early, and things don't go well, they tend to implode - finger-pointing, dropped passes, blown coverages, poor tackling, etc. They can look really inept.

On the other hand, if a team like the Cowboys (October) or Jets (yesterday) let them roll (Cowboys) or hand gift after gift (Jets), then the Eagles get cocky, made incredible plays, and look unbeatable.

The Eagles do not Fear the Star. They will show up this Saturday full of swagger. In the earlier game, they had not been playing well, but they put on Superman capes during their bye and dominated the Cowboys. They played the game as a snowball rolling downhill. We are more than capable of returning the favor. The Eagles can be beaten, and have been beaten this year - a lot.

But, look at their past four games - Bad Eagles lost convincingly to the Patriots and Seahawks. Good Eagles won convincingly against Dolphins and Jets.

Rather than hope that the Bad Eagles show up, Cowboys need to play in a way that makes them the Bad Eagles. Cowboys are more than capable, and did that in 2009.

This Saturday is a Fox doubleheader day. Much of the country will see the Giants-Jets early and the Cowboys-Eagles late. If the Giants win early, then the Eagles die. If the Giants lose, then the Eagles will be alive and have extra motivation to play well.

I do not worry about the Giants. They played their Super Bowl a week ago, and then totally rolled over on Sunday. I would not be surprised to see them mail it in against the Jets in their own stadium and go away. The Cowboys are the better team, should have beaten them earlier, and should be able to beat them on New Year's Day.

The Redskins played the Giants tough twice and beat them twice. The Redskins played the Cowboys tough twice and lost twice.

I'm glad that I am not the only one who digs deeply to research options. Both Jessy S and rabblerousr published fine articles on Monday that adequately lay out playoff options and scenarios for the Cowboys to win or lose the division.

In a final comment to tanstaafl, I told him that I would read those two articles and "see what perspective I can bring to the discussion".

I do have something to add, and I waited until after the Steelers-49ers game ended to add my contribution.

More after the jump...

In my previous I Did the Math - 2011 Edition, I laid out a most optimistic scenario that, while unlikely, was mathematically possible - the Cowboys were still alive for the #2 seed and first-round playoff bye. I laid out the possibility of both the Saints and 49ers losing out to each finish 10-6; I also had the Falcons losing their closer to the Bucs to finish at 10-6; and, of course, I had the Cowboys winning out to finish at 10-6. The math - that scenario would have given the NFC South title to the Saints over the Falcons. The tiebreaker between the Cowboys, 49ers, and Saints would have been conference record. Cowboys and 49ers would both be 8-4, but the Saints would only be 6-6. Saints would drop out of the tiebreaker and have the #4 seed, and Cowboys would have claimed the #2 over the 49ers by virtue of their head-to-win.

Alas, that didn't happen. I had commented that when someone joined the Packers with eleven or more wins, then the Cowboys would no longer be in the running for #2. The Saints' win over the Vikings sealed that scenario.

Last night, the 49ers took care of any talk about claiming a #3 seed. After Sunday, the Cowboys were still alive for that by winning out and having the 49ers lose out. That would have put the Cowboys in as a #3 seed at 10-6 and dropped the 49ers to the #4 seed. However, by beating the Steelers on Monday Night Football, that option is now gone as well.

In last year's I Did the Math series, and in last week's post, many comments both praised and ridiculed my optimism. I even got a new sig from I Am Ironman!!!

The division champion options are adequately laid out. All would lead anyone from the NFC East being the #4 seed. Only the Redskins are dead. My shared hope was for the Eagles to die on Sunday, but that didn't happen. As I pointed out then, and the others acknowledge now, they are still very alive to do the same thing I had suggested last year when the Cowboys were 4-8. Then, I did the math and laid out options for the Cowboys winning out, getting (a lot of) help, and making the playoffs at 8-8. The Eagles are in the same boat - they could also finish 8-8, and in the right scenario (three-way tie) win the division.

I am going to lay out more options for making the playoffs. The lower options are less optimistic and desirable, but they are still mathematically viable.

Option #1 - Cowboys finish W-W

  • division champion at 10-6
  • #4 seed; host #5 wild card

This is the best option, and would build the most momentum for the playoffs. Bury the Eagles once and for all, and then take care of the Giants. Avenge the only division losses, and hit the playoffs on a roll.

Option #2 - Cowboys finish W-L; Giants finish L-W

  • win over Eagles eliminates them
  • Giants' loss to the Jets eliminates them
  • final game with the Giants would be meaningless
  • Cowboys would be locked into the #4 seed, and host the #5 seed

Option #3 - Cowboys finish W-L; Giants finish W-W

  • win over Eagles eliminates them
  • Cowboys' loss to the Giants gives the division crown to the Giants
  • Giants would be #4 seed, and host #5 seed
  • Cowboys would still be mathematically alive for a wild card (scenarios below)

Option #4 - Cowboys finish L-W

  • win over Giants would eliminate Eagles and Giants regardless of their other games
  • Cowboys would be #4 seed and host a #5
  • week #16 game with the Eagles is meaningless
  • Cowboys would be locked into the #4 seed, and host the #5 seed

Option #5 - Cowboys finish L-L; Giants finish W-W

  • Giants' win over Jets eliminates the Eagles before they play the Cowboys
  • Giants' win over the Cowboys wins the division and eliminates the Cowboys
  • Giants would be the #4 seed, and host the #5 seed

Option #6 - Cowboys finish L-L; Giants finish L-W; Eagles finish W-L

  • Eagles' closing loss knocks them out of the playoffs
  • Giants claim division at 8-8 (head-to-head over Cowboys) and eliminate the Cowboys
  • Giants would be the #4 seed, and host the #5 seed

Option #7 - Cowboys finish L-L; Giants finish L-W; Eagles finish W-W

  • all three teams finish tied at 8-8
  • Eagles win division based on division record; Cowboys and Giants eliminated
  • Eagles would be the #4 seed, and host the #5 seed

There are three possible outcomes for the Cowboys, who are 8-6 with two division games remaining:

  • 10-6 - division champion
  • 9-7 - division champion, or wild card, or eliminated from playoffs
  • 8-8 - eliminated from playoffs

Just as last year, when I laid out scenarios for a Cowboys team to qualify for the playoffs at 8-8, there does still exist one scenario - and only one - for the Eagles to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, it is an extremely viable scenario - Eagles beat Cowboys and Jets beat Giants this weekend; then, next weekend, Eagles beat Redskins and Giants beat Cowboys.

No one wants to discuss wild card options, because the preferred path to the playoffs (and, the most optimistic for fans like me) is the division championship. It would also be the most pleasurable - knocking out the Eagles on Christmas Eve, and then sending the Giants away for good on New Year's Day.

That would make for a very Happy Holidays.

No one is mentioning this, but there are scenarios where the Cowboys can make the playoffs as a wild card - either the #5 or the #6. Let me lay those out for you, as we revisit option #3 (beat Eagles, lose to Giants, finish 9-7, lose the division to 9-7 Giants):

As soon as two non-champions win ten games, then the Cowboys cannot be a wild card. Saints have already won eleven games. If Atlanta and Detroit both win again, then that would knock out any wild card possibilities. The Cowboys' only hope would be to win the division. But, if both the Falcons and Lions lose out?

The Cowboys and Falcons didn't play each other this year, but we remember the Cowboys-Lions game this year. Currently, both Atlanta and Detroit are 9-5. It is likely that Detroit can lose out (to Chargers and Packers) and finish 9-7. The Cowboys would obviously lose a tiebreaker to the Lions because of the earlier head-to-head. However, if the Falcons also lose out (less likely; they close with Saints and Bucs) and finish out at 9-7, then they would be in a three-way tie for two wild card positions.

Option #8 - Cowboys finish W-L; Lions finish L-L; Falcons finish L-L

  • all three teams finish tied at 9-7
  • Cowboys win #5 seed based on conference record
  • Falcons win #6 seed based on their win over the Lions
  • Cowboys play at Giants two weeks in a row; Lions stay home

What happens if other teams join the fray at 9-7? Let me do the math. The only teams that can finish 9-7 and tie the Cowboys (W-L) and compete for wild cards are: Lions (L-L), Falcons (L-L), Bears (W-W), Seahawks (W-W), and Cardinals (W-W)

This scenario holds as other teams rise to 9-7 by winning out. However, the Seahawks and Cardinals play each other, so both can't be 9-7. The conference record becomes the primary tiebreaker in this case. The Cowboys (7-5) would fare better than either the Falcons and Lions (both 6-6 if they lose out). However, the Bears and Seahawks would have better conference records (8-4), and the Cardinals would match the Cowboys (7-5), plus they would have a head-to-head advantage. And, the Bears would have a better division record than the Lions, which would affect any tie-breaker involving Bears and Lions.

Now, much of this is unlikely to happen, as I don't see the Bears beating the Packers, Falcons losing to the Bucs, or the Seahawks beating the 49ers. I could see the Lions losing out (Chargers, Packers),

If the Falcons beat the Bucs and/or the Saints, then there would only be one available wild card. Dallas would lose out in any scenario in which they tied the Lions and any combination of Bears, Seahawks, and/or Cardinals. The only combinations that would benefit the Cowboys would have the Falcons also losing out - again, unlikely, but mathematically possible.

Option #9 - Cowboys finish W-L; Lions finish L-L; Falcons finish L-L; Bears finish W-W

  • all four teams finish tied at 9-7
  • Bears claim seed #5 - first, better division record than Lions; then, better conference record than Cowboys and Falcons
  • Cowboys claim seed #6 - better conference record than Falcons or Lions
  • Falcons and Lions stay home

Option #10 - Cowboys finish W-L; Lions finish L-L; Falcons finish L-L; Seahawks or Cardinals finish W-W

  • all four teams finish tied at 9-7
  • Seahawks/Cardinals claim seed #5 based on better conference record than Cowboys, Lions, and Falcons
  • Cowboys claim seed #6 - better conference record than Falcons or Lions
  • Falcons and Lions stay home

Option #11 - Cowboys finish W-L; Lions finish L-L; Bears finish W-W; Falcons win at least one

  • Falcons (or Saints) claim #5 seed; other three teams finish tied at 9-7
  • Bears claim seed #6 - first, better division record than Lions; then, better conference record than Cowboys
  • Cowboys and Lions stay home

Option #12 - Cowboys finish W-L; Lions or Falcons finish L-L; Seahawks or Cardinals finish W-W

  • all three teams finish tied at 9-7
  • Seahawks claim seed #5 - better conference record than Cowboys and Lions or Falcons
  • Cardinals claim seed #5 - same conference record as Cowboys (but head-to-head win), and better than Lions or Falcons
  • Cowboys claim seed #6 - better conference record than Falcons or Lions claim seed #6 (head-to-head)
  • Falcons or Cowboys stay home

I could run more options, based every combination of other teams that could enter the fray at 9-7. But, here's the bottom line for this scenario (Cowboys finish 9-7, lose division to Giants):

  • If Falcons win at least one of their two remaining games (and get to ten wins), then the 9-7 Cowboys have no shot at a wild card; either Detroit wins a two-team tiebreaker (head-to-head), or other teams (Bears, Seahawks, Cardinals) take the multiple-team tiebreaker (better conference record)
  • If Falcons and Lions both lose their remaining games and tie the Cowboys at 9-7, then the Cowboys would claim the #5 seed; Falcons would claim the #6 seed; and, Lions would stay home
  • If those three teams are joined by one other team (Bears, Seahawks, or Cardinals), then that other team would claim the #5 seed, and the Cowboys would claim the #6 seed (again, better conference record); Falcons and Lions would both stay home
  • If there is a five-way tie at 9-7 (Cowboys, Falcons, Lions, plus Bears and Seahawks/Cardinals winner), then either Bears (#5) and Cardinals (#6) or Seahawks (#5) and Bears (#6) make the playoffs (better conference record, except that Seattle beat Chicago); Cowboys, Lions, and Falcons stay home

There you go - a liitle lower on the optimism scale. But, I did the math. It is possible for the Cowboys to make the playoffs as a wild card if they fail to win the division.

However, it is a much easier path to just win the division. In my opinion, too much help would be required to back in as a wild card. And, it would cause a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth to have tiebreakers come down to head-to-head records against Lions and/or Cardinals, games that the Cowboys should have won; and, games that they are probably kicking themselves that they didn't win.

Let's look forward!

Each week, play whoever is standing across the field from you, whenever and wherever. If you match up well, exploit it and win. If you don’t, then get very crafty in your game plan and try to “steal” a win anyway. Repeat process until no more games remain, and confetti rains down from a retractable roof and Roger Goodell is handing out hardware.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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