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Cowboys Playoff Scenarios: Win Out & Win The NFC East

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The Cowboys get to 10 wins, but likely need more to make playoffs.

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The Dallas Cowboys won the important game of the weekend, but didn't get any help from other teams. The percentages said Dallas wanted Detroit, Seattle and Arizona to lose over the weekend, none of them did. Green Bay lost, and they suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the playoff order, holding ranking #6 and a wildcard. That brings them into play as a potential playoff-positioning adversary for the Cowboys if the team from Dallas doesn't win the NFC East.

Even though all the teams Dallas wanted to lose eventually won, the Cowboys did themselves a huge favor by beating Philadelphia. According to the scribes at Five Thirty Eight, Dallas' playoff odds went from 50.4% to 81.1%.

playoff chances

The weekend left the playoff picture looking like this.

RANK NFC W/L DIV CONF
1 x - Arizona 11-3 3-1 8-2
2 Detroit 10-4 4-0 8-2
3 Dallas 10-4 3-2 7-4
4 Carolina 5-8-1 3-2 5-6
5 Seattle 10-4 3-1 8-2
6 Green Bay 10-4 4-1 7-3
7 Philadelphia 9-5 3-1 5-5

The Cardinals have clinched a playoff spot, but everyone else is fighting it out. Carolina is still battling Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South, but none of that means anything to Dallas in terms of making the playoffs. The real battle is between Detroit, Dallas, Seattle, Green Bay and Philadelphia. At this point, the Eagles are on the outside and need some help.

We already know that if Dallas wins out, they win the division. But what happens if Dallas doesn't win out? Because of tie-breaker rules within the division, Dallas has to finish one game ahead of Philadelphia to win the East. So if Dallas goes 1-1 over the next two games, they need the Eagles to lose at least one game. If Dallas goes 0-2, then Dallas needs the Eagles to go 0-2. Any combination of wins and losses that ends up in a tie with Philadelphia means the Cowboys lose the NFC East.

Playoff clinching alert: If Dallas beats the Colts next week, and the Eagles lose to Washington (highly unlikely), then Dallas would clinch the NFC East!

If Dallas doesn't win the NFC East, then they could grab a wildcard but they would need help. Basically, if Dallas loses another game, they would need two losses by the Packers OR Lions OR Seahawks. The Packers have Tampa Bay this week, so it's unlikely they will lose both of their final games. The Lions have Chicago this week, a game they should be favored in, then they finish with Green Bay. So either Green Bay or Detroit will lose one more game, but will they lose two? The Seahawks finish with the Cardinals and the Rams, not the easiest of schedules but Seattle is playing some really good football right now. So Dallas could still get in by getting a wildcard but it would need some real luck.

On the flip side of that, the Cowboys could still grab the top seed in the NFC. Yes, it is possible.

As to Dallas, two wins would result in a 12-4 record, which would give the Cowboys a tie with the Seahawks (if Seattle wins their last two games) and the top seed if the Cowboys and Seahawks finish in a two-way tie.  For that to happen, both Green Bay and Detroit would have to finish 11-5, meaning that the winner of their Week 17 game would have to lose next week (the Lions play the Bears and the Packers face the Buccaneers). Dallas would lose a two-way 12-4 tie with the NFC North champion, since Dallas can have an 8-4 record at best in the conference.  The Packers would finish 9-3 in the conference, if they end up 12-4.  The Lions would have a 10-2 record in the conference, if they win their last two and finish 12-4.  (The Cowboys also would lose a two-way tie with the Cardinals, if Arizona loses one of their last two but still wins the division; Arizona beat Dallas earlier this year.)

All of that's a long-winded way of saying - just win your last two games, Dallas.