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NFC Playoff Picture: Cowboys Remain In The Mix

The Cowboys managed to keep themselves in the playoff hunt by beating the Bengals, but they didn't get much help from the rest of the weekend's results.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For more on all the playoff scenarios, visit this SB Nation page.

As strange as it seems in this very uneven 2012 Dallas Cowboys season, the team from Big D is still in the mix for a playoff spot. They needed a critical win against the Bengals on Sunday to stay that way. Unfortunately the rest of the results didn't provide any help. The Giants, Redskins and Seahawks all got wins, these teams represent the direct impediments to the Cowboys playoff hopes.

Here is the NFC picture minus the division leaders (except for the Giants who I've included).

Team Record Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
Cowboys 7-6 vs Steelers vs. Saints @ Redskins
Giants (Leads East) 8-5 @ Falcons @ Ravens vs. Eagles
Redskins 7-6 @ Browns @ Eagles vs. Cowboys
Seahawks (Wild Card) 8-5 @ Bills vs. 49ers vs. Rams
Bears (Wild Card) 8-5 vs. Packers @ Cardinals @ Lions
Vikings 7-6 @ Rams @ Texans vs. Packers

Dallas still has two paths to the playoffs. The most immediate is to win the NFC East. With three games left on the schedule, the Giants hold a one game lead on Dallas and Washington. Suppose by the last week of the season we have a tie between all three teams. The first tiebreaker for the division is head to head. The Cowboys split with the Giants, the Giants split with the Redskins. If the Cowboys beat the Redskins on the final weekend, then all three teams have a split. The next tiebreaker is division record. Washington is 3-1 with games against Dallas and Philadelphia left. Dallas is 3-2 with a game left versus the Redskins. New York is 2-3 with a game left with the Eagles. The best New York can do is 3-3. Dallas realistically needs to beat Washington in Week 17, if they do they'll be 4-2. If the Redskins take care of the Eagles and lose to Dallas, they'll be 4-2. Now Dallas and Washington are tied.

The next tiebreaker is W-L in common games.

Common games Dal Wash
Saints ? W
Bengals W L
Bucs W W
Falcons L L
Giants 1 W L
Giants 2 L W
Steelers ? L
Panthers W L
Eagles 1 W W
Eagles 2 W ?
Ravens L W
Browns W ?
7-3 5-5

So if I haven't made any mistakes in the math and I'm reading the tiebreaker rules correct, then if Dallas wins out and the Giants lose a game, the Cowboys will win the East. (I'm not 100% on my calculations, so if you see a mistake, email me and I'll correct it.)

There are other combinations where Dallas could lose a game (but they realistically need the Washington game) and still win it if both Washington and New York blow some games down the stretch.

As for the wild card picture, it's a much tougher road. Dallas needs to finish one game ahead of either Seattle or Chicago to get in. The Redskins are also still in that hunt.

To put it bluntly, Dallas needs to win out or get a lot of help. They need a Giants loss, or they need the Seahawks and/or the Bears to totally bottom out. It's not hopeless, but it's not easy, either.

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