The first of this week's GMC Playbook questions (yes, there will be a bonus edition later) is posed this way by Marshall Faulk:
A very good question, Mr. Faulk. The Dallas Cowboys play, in order, at the New York Giants, against the Philadelphia Eagles, at the Chicago Bears, at the Eagles, against the Indianapolis Colts, and at Washington. After carefully looking over the opponents, factoring in that there are two games remaining against the Eagles, weighing the Cowboys' current 7-3 record, and adding in that four of the remaining six games are on the road, I was able to come up with a conclusive answer.
It's the next game. As a matter of fact, IT IS ALWAYS THE NEXT GAME! This is, after all, Jason Garrett's team. There is no looking ahead. There is no discounting one team or overemphasizing another. It is always about the next play, the next practice, the next game. Never look back, because that is done. Never look beyond the next opponent, because they are the team you have to play. The Cowboys can only get one win at a time. Each opportunity to get a win must be treated as the valuable resource it is. While there are myriad tiebreakers that can come into play for playoff seedings and figuring out who winds up on the outside looking in, the most important thing is to win games. And you can only win them as you play them. What is really important to Dallas is to win as many as they can. They are fighting for a playoff spot, and the competition is stiffening.
With seven weeks to go in the season, the NFC playoff picture is beginning to take shape. While all the teams still have a mathematical chance of making a late run, there are probably only eight teams still in contention to get the six spots that will come out of the conference.
NFC South: The New Orleans Saints are 4-5 and hold a one-and-a-half game lead over the Carolina Panthers to win the division. It seems highly unlikely anyone can overtake the Saints here, and even if they do, it is even more improbable that one of these sub-.500 clubs could find a way to a wild card spot.
NFC North: This is looking more and more like a fight to the finish between the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. There is a two game gap between the Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, leaving only the Lions and the Pack as real contenders right now. For Green Bay, this week's game against the Eagles has major playoff implications. A loss would make their road to a wildcard spot harder, since the Eagles could well be one of the teams they would be up against. They need to get that tiebreaker in their pocket if at all possible. Meanwhile, the Lions are squaring off against the Arizona Cardinals, who sport the NFL's best record. Lots of playoff implications this week for all these teams.
NFC West: The Cardinals are tearing it up right now, but will have a serious test against the Lions and have lost Carson Palmer for the season. They will find out very rapidly if Drew Stanton can provide enough offense. This may open the door for the Seattle Seahawks to climb back to the top of the division, and depending on how much this affects Arizona, the San Francisco 49ers could move into the wild card race.
NFC East: It is pretty much a two team race between the Cowboys and the Eagles. The two games they will play against each other will probably determine the division, and both could also be a wild card. Both also run the risk of being left out altogether.
It all depends on winning or losing. The games are played one at a time. While the Cowboys will certainly be watching some of the games this weekend with great interest, they still have to be focused on winning the next game against the Giants. Until then, no other game matters.
Thus spake Garrett.