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Dallas Cowboys & NFC Playoff Odds And Week 14 Rooting Guide

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The Cowboys improved their playoff odds with a win over the Bears on Thursday. Elsewhere in the NFC, other teams are busy calculating playoff probabilities pending the Week 14 game outcomes.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Three games remain for the Cowboys, and four for the rest of the other NFC teams, to decide who advances to the 2014 NFL playoffs. Which teams will make it is anybody's guess, as only two teams so far have been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention - the Giants and Redskins can both focus on securing that top three draft spot.

Pending the various possible game outcomes this week, the NFC playoff contenders could see a significant change in their odds of making the playoffs - in both directions.

There are countless possibly ways of calculating playoff odds, but the one thing they all have in common is they all make assumptions about how the final four games will play out (or for the Cowboys, the final three games). And because these assumptions differ from one method to the next, the playoff odds for every team will differ, depending on which method you're looking at. To illustrate the point, here are the playoff odds for the NFC teams as calculated by three different methods, not all of which have been updated to reflect the Cowboys' win on Thursday in Chicago.

Playoff odds
Team Packers Eagles Cardinals Seahawks Lions Cowboys
Football Outsiders 95% 94% 86% 72% 72% 50%
Updated with results of Thursday game
Sportsclubstats 96% 93% 91% 74% 73% 61%
NFL-Forecast.com 96% 85% 84% 74% 75% 57%

Despite what the odds say, if the season were to end today, the Cowboys would be the fifth seed in the NFC, and the Seahawks would join the Cowboys as the second wildcard team for the NFC. Of course, the other NFC contenders all still have to play their Week 14 games, so that seeding is likely going to change again in two days.

NFL-Forecast.com has a nifty little tool that allows you to calculate playoff probabilities by simulating different game outcomes. Their base probabilities for all teams are based on the team efficiency ratings at AdvancedFootballAnalytics, so they are pretty robust. The tool allows us to calculate the change in playoff probabilities for each NFC contender based on the expected outcome of their Week 14 games. Here's what that could look like:

Playoff odds based on Week 14 outcomes
Team Packers Eagles Cardinals Seahawks Lions Cowboys
Wk 14 odds 96% 85% 84% 74% 75% 42%
Team wins
99% 95% 95% 89% 85% 57%
Team loses 89% 77% 79% 67% 54% - -

Each of the odds in the table above is calculated in isolation, meaning the odds do not account for favorable or unfavorable results in other games. The following graph illustrates how the outcomes of the other games could influence a team's playoff odds, using the Cowboys' playoff odds as an example:

PO Odds

The graph obviously only shows the outcomes favorable to the Cowboys' playoff odds. Assuming a worst case where none of the games above go in the Cowboys' favor (much more likely than a best case scenario, if you look at the odds for the individual games), the Cowboys' playoff chances would drop to 47.2%.

Technically, the graph can be used as a rooting guide for the Week 14 games. But while I intellectually understand that the Seahawks losing to the Eagles would be beneficial for the Cowboys' chances at a wildcard spot, there is no freaking way I can root for an Eagles win under any circumstances.

Disappointed in the overall playoff odds for the Cowboys? Keep in mind that all the models contain projections for how the rest of the season will play out. Right now, the NFL-Forecast model has Philadelphia as a 60% favorite against the Cowboys in Week 15. But that percentage hides the fact that barring a tie, one team will win the game next week, either the Cowboys or the Eagles. And here's how the outcome of that game in nine days will influence the playoff odds for both teams, and why the game is the biggest swing game of the season for both teams:

Playoff odds based on Week 15 head-to-head result
Teams Odds today Wk 15 Cowboys win Wk 15 Eagles win
Cowboys
57% 83% 38%
Eagles
85% 66% 98%

The Cowboys need to win in Philadelphia. End of discussion.