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The What-If Game

The Cowboys earned us the right to play with seeding scenarios.

The 31-28 win over the Chiefs, coupled with Tampa's victory over Carolina and Pittsburgh's dominant win over the Bears has pushed the NFC elite into a giant blob. Seattle remains alone at 11-2, but then we see:

Giants, 9-4;
Bears, 9-4;
Bucs, 9-4;
Panthers, 9-4;

Cowboys, 8-5;
Vikings, 8-5.

If the Falcons defeats the Saints tomorrow, they will join the 8-5 club. Although a loss today would have damaged their playoff aspirations, the Cowboys can now think realistically about grabbing the second seed. This team, with all its warts and foibles, can still dream of a bye. That's because the teams on this short list still have many games to play against each other. The press prematurely dubbed last week "separation Sunday." Consider that Dallas could take a major step forward next week. Here's how:

A. The Cowboys face the Redskins. It's a road game and Dallas will have to stop Santana Moss, who terrorized them in week two. They will also face a much tougher defense than the Chiefs offer. But the Cowboys defenders have to think they're getting an early vacation after surviving 60 minutes against Dick Vermeil's offense. Whatever the matchups, you know the Cowboys have been itching for this rematch since September.

B. The Giants face the Chiefs. You think today's game was a track meet, wait until these two get together. The Giants won today, but Eli Manning may be hitting a mini-slump. He threw three picks against the Eagles, giving him five against just one touchdown pass the last two weeks.

C. The Bucs travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots. The champs are wobbly, but they're at home, in the cold, where the Bucs hate to play.

D. The Vikings host the Steelers. Pittsburgh ended the Bears eight game win streak today and made Chicago's defense look ordinary. The Vikings have a win steak of their own, but no quality wins on their list. Pittsburgh could knock them off Dallas' rear bumper, provided the Cowboys tend to their business.

E. Atlanta plays the Bears. This game will either knock Atlanta outside the playoff bubble or lengthen the Bears' slide.

F. The Panthers visit the Saints. This looks like an easy win for the Panthers but remember, the Saints beat Carolina in week one. And know that the Panthers offense has averaged just 12.5 points a game the last month. It wouldn't be that big of an upset.

Dallas currently holds the 6th NFC seed. A win over Washington and losses by teams ahead of them would leave Dallas in 6th place, unless the Panthers lose to New Orleans. The Cowboys would still lose a tie-breaker to the Giants even if the Chiefs defeated New York. Nevertheless, there is a decent chance the group at 9-4 could all fall back to Dallas.

The endings to the Cowboys' games are bad enough. You'll need a second can of antacid for the end of the season.

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