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Cowboys Playoff Hopes Are On The Line Versus Giants

A look at the historical playoff odds for teams based on their record after six games.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl odds for the Cowboys have gotten longer with every passing week this season. The Cowboys started out with 14-1 odds heading into Week 1 and have since dropped to their current 60-1 odds, as the table below shows.

Cowboys Super Bowl odds by week, 2015
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6
Odds 14-1 18-1 20-1 30-1 50-1 60-1

Those Super Bowl odds have all sorts of assumptions built in, like the time it'll take for Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to come back, the strength of schedule, and even the amount of money being wagered on the outcome. Similarly, when you look at the playoff odds provided on numerous websites, they all contain various assumptions about the strength of the team, the schedule, and many other things.

The Cowboys currently sit at 2-3 and can advance to 3-3 on Sunday against the Giants, or drop to 2-4.

What I want to look at today is what that means from a strictly historical perspective. And for that historical perspective, I looked at all teams since realignment in 2002 to find out how many teams made the playoffs based on their respective records after six weeks. This is what I found

Playoff odds based on six games, 2002-2014
Record after six games 6-0 5-1 4-2 3-3 2-4 1-5 0-6
Playoff Teams
16 35 60 39 6 0 0
Total Teams 18 44 99 105 84 47 19
Percentage 89% 80% 61% 37% 7% 0% 0%

For the Cowboys, these numbers mean that the Giants game has huge playoff implications. If the Cowboys win, they advance to 3-3, which historically has meant about a 1-in-3 chance of making the playoff. Not great, but still a lot better than the alternative: If they drop to 2-4, their historical odds of making the playoffs drop to 1-in-14.

To understand just what it would take to climb out of such a 2-4 hole, here's a look at the six teams over the last 13 years that have made it to the playoffs after starting 2-4.

Playoff teams with a 2-4 starting record
Year Team First 6 games Last 10 games Final record Playoffs
2002 Cleveland 2-4 7-3 9-7 lost Wildcard
2002 NY Jets 2-4 7-3 9-7 lost Div. Round
2002 Tennessee 2-4 9-1 11-5 Lost Conf Champ.
2004 GreenBay 2-4 8-2 10-6 lost Wildcard
2008 Miami 2-4 9-1 11-5 lost Wildcard
2011 Denver 2-4 6-4 8-8 lost Div. Round

If you're a team that starts 2-4, you're usually not a very good team. The odds of turning the season around in such a way that you could go on a 9-1 or 8-2 run for the remaining games are pretty slim. Granted, a 9-7 record (with the proper tiebreakers) might be enough to win the NFC East this year, but either way it's a tough turnaround from a 2-4 start.

In fact, the 30-point gap in historical playoff odds between 3-3 and 2-4 is the biggest such gap in playoff odds anywhere in the first six games. Nowhere in the first six games is there a bigger swing in historical playoff odds than between 3-3 and 2-4 records.

There are currently eight teams in the NFL with a 2-4 record. For all intents and purposes, their seasons are done. The Seahawks, 49ers, Saints, Bears, Redskins, Chargers, Texans, and Browns can all start planning for the draft.

If the Cowboys don't want to join them, they'll have to win on Sunday. And then hope that the arriving reinforcements (Randy Gregory, Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, Brice Butler) are enough to turn this thing around. At 3-3, and depending on how the rest of the NFC shakes out, a 7-3 record in the remaining games should be enough to make the playoffs.

But first, they have to win in New York.

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