I'm going to go ahead and do it. Talk about the playoffs. I know, with this team it's kind of crazy to be thinking about that, we should just be hoping they can beat the Redskins this week. But it was the Redskins game that brought this up indirectly. A conversation with a fellow Cowboys fan led to them making the statement: If the Cowboys don't win this week it's over. I thought about that and wondered if it was true, but even further I wondered about if we won, how does the path to the playoffs look? Once you make the tournament, anything can happen, but you have to get there first. So, let's look at the Cowboys playoff chances.
Trying to project the Cowboys season-ending record is a guessing game but let's take our best shot. The Cowboys have five games left against the East, they probably won't sweep those games but if you projected just based on the better team right now you would probably go all Cowboys. So let's say they go 4-2 in the East (which is 3-2 the rest of the way with one win already banked over the Giants).
Now, non-divisional opponents line up like this: @ Lions, Vikings at home, @ Saints, Raiders at home, @ Bears, Packers at home. Out of that I think Dallas can squeeze at least three wins, optimistically four. So overall that would put them at 8-8 or 9-7. If they go 9-7 and 4-2 in the division I think that would give them the NFC East crown.
Let's also look at the landscape of the NFC, just in case a wild card is in play.
The Saints and the Seahawks are the class of the NFC. After that, you have teams like the 49ers and the Packers, teams that should be very good but have struggled a bit this season. The 49ers look like they're on the road to recovery but they aren't as formidable as they were last year. Then you have teams like Chicago and Detroit, who could continue to do well or could just as easily nose-dive. And then there's the Cardinals, who I think will fade. After that you're dealing with 2-3 teams or worse. So there's still a chance the Cowboys could win a wild-card spot and lose the East, but only if the Eagles (or Redskins) went on an unbelievable tear. Because winning 9 games in the East this year almost assuredly gives you the division.
Now, let's look at a basic stat that has proven over and over to be a good indicator of team strength, beyond the current won-loss record. It even figures in the Pythagorean formula OCC presents from time to time for projecting wins. And that's point differential. This is a pretty reliable indicator of a team's strength once you get a good sample. Five games isn't a lot but it's what we have so far. How does the NFC stack up in point differential?
New Orleans +61
Green Bay +21
Dallas +16, Carolina +16
San Francisco +15
The Cowboys actually look like a pretty good bet in the NFC based on that. (Carolina is the on true outlier here). For the record, all the rest of the NFC East teams are in negative territory:
New York -100.
Another way to look at it is who each team has played so far. Doing that in the East gives you the following opponent records.
Dallas Opponents: 14-11
Washington Opponents: 9-10
Philadelphia Opponents: 13-11
New York Opponents: 15-9.
The Cowboys haven't played a soft schedule compared to the rest of the NFC East.
Given all that data, I like the Cowboys chances of getting to the playoffs. But of course, a loss to the Redskins this weekend basically kills all of that.
Ok, your turn. Hit up the comments with your thoughts on the Cowboys playoff chances.