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Football Outsiders On NFC East Playoff Odds: Cowboys With Big Gains

The Cowboys are still in the thick of it in the NFC East
The Cowboys are still in the thick of it in the NFC East

Football Outsiders (FO) have just released their latest playoff odds for each NFL team. They do this every week, and they arrive at the projections by running the season 10,000 times. They calculate each team's W/L record using some of their proprietary ratings and factor in home field advantage for every game to calculate the odds for each week.

Despite not playing a game last weekend (or perhaps precisely because they didn't play) the Cowboys are big movers this week, as their playoff odds jumped a remarkable 12.8 percentage points to 35.8%.

Why is this remarkable? Because it is the second biggest improvement in the entire NFC last week, behind only the New Orleans Saints, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the Cowboys had their bye week.

After the break, we look at the FO numbers for the NFC East and marvel at how the other NFC East teams have done in the FO projection.

Here's how FO see the playoff odds for winning the division, getting a by week or gaining a wild card berth:

Team Record Mean Proj. Wins DIV BYE WC TOTAL Change
NYG 3-2 8.8 39.9% 8.3% 14.4% 54.3% -19.9%
WAS 3-1 8.5 29.4% 6.6% 14.8% 44.2% +0.9%
DAL 2-2 8.0 24.5% 3.9% 11.3% 35.8% +12.8%
PHI 1-4 6.6 6.1% 0.3% 4.0% 10.1% +0.5%

To understand just how they graded the Cowboys' chances, I went looking for how they graded other teams with a 2-2 record. Not much luck there, as owing to the bye week, most teams have already played five games. The Browns are the only other team with a 2-2 record, and their total playoff chances are a meager 5.6%. Take that for what it's worth.

The Giants take a big tumble. I'm honestly surprised. Surprised they didn't drop further. After all, if the Cowboys had lost to the atrocious Seahawks, I'm pretty sure everybody and their uncle would be ranking the Cowboys last in every conceivable category known to professional football. As it is, the FO stats still like Giants more than they like the Redskins, who don't move at all, as would be expected for a team on a bye

For the Cowboys, the most likely explanation for the jump is that several teams who were just ahead of the Cowboys in some key offensive and defensive statistical categories had bad weekends and dropped below the Cowboys. After week five, FO have the Cowboys ranked 19th on offense, seventh on defense and 29th on special teams. The other explanation could be that the Cowboys simply suck less than many other teams do.

I guess there still is a mathematical chance the Eagles make the playoffs. After all, they just called a players-only meeting, which is usually a pretty good sign that things are not all hunky dory.  Except that Jamar Chaney, the Eagles' linebacker, apparently thinks they are:

"We know what we're capable of doing, and we're not going to panic. We've had a few bad games, four bad games, but at the end of the day, we don't think those four teams are better than us. They won the games ... we just have to go out there and do a better job of playing the whole game, on offense and defense ... when it's all said and done, we don't think no team can beat us, but we've been doing a good job of beating ourselves lately, and we've got to stop doing that."

The only thing missing from that statement would be something like "You can't design a defense to stop me." Then I would believe him.

Whichever way you look at it, the NFC East remains wide open. No single team has shown any type of dominance and the race for the playoffs could go down to the wire. In a week or two these odds will look completely different.

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