"The only thing that matters right now is Carolina." Sure.
"Let's win a few games first before we start talking about the playoffs." Yeah, I get that.
The focus for the Dallas Cowboys is clearly centered on Thursday's big game against the undefeated Carolina Panthers. And winning one game over the last eight tries is certainly no cause for booking any post-season plans. But as fans, we are afforded the luxury of sitting back and looking at things from all perspectives and today's perspective is the playoff picture. You can't blame fans for being a little curious. If you want to blame someone, blame the other NFC East teams for lollygagging and leaving the door open. With the Cowboys franchise quarterback back in action, it is very imaginable that the team could go on a little heater. And with their divisional foes having a tough time winning games, the race for the East is still very much up for grabs.
But is that just wishful thinking or do the Cowboys have a realistic shot to win the division?
Let's take a look at each team in the divisional and see what they're up against.
New York Giants, 5-5
With the Cowboys two games behind the first place Giants and only six games remaining, there is a big difference between just catching them and jumping them for sole possession of first. Moving up two games is a challenge, but three is really asking a lot. The good news is the Cowboys don't need to jump them. Just finishing in a tie should do the trick. So if you're looking for a benchmark, the magic number for the Giants is two. Here's why...
Should teams tie in the division, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head. The Cowboys have split with the Giants so that tie-breaker does nothing. The next one is the divisional record. Currently, the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys all have two divisional losses, however the Giants still have a game left against the Eagles. So between New York and Philadelphia, one of them is guaranteed to finish with at least three divisional losses, whereas the Cowboys could win-out against the Redskins.
If the divisional record tie-breaker ends in a push, the next one is the games against common opponents. Each team only plays two games on the schedule that are not common between the other divisional teams, so for tie-breaker purposes, those are the games you don't mind losing since they don't help you in the common opponent tie-breaker. For the Giants, these games are against San Francisco and Minnesota. For the Cowboys, they are Seattle and Green Bay. The Giants have already beaten the 49ers and the Cowboys have lost to the Seahawks. If they finish in a tie, but the Giants have a better record against their non-common opponents, then it would have to mean they'd have a worse record against their common opponents. So currently, the Cowboys have the edge here.
The best part about the Giants remaining schedule is that they are all games they can lose. Two of them are against teams with a strong record, including a week 15 matchup with Carolina. They are going to have a tough time finishing .500 for the remainder of the season.
Philadelphia Eagles, 4-6
The Eagles also have a tough road ahead, but only have a one-game cushion. More concerning for them is the fact that they've lost two straight games against the easier teams on their schedule. They are in a rut and it might not get any better on Thanksgiving when they travel to Detroit. The Lions have a little momentum as they've won two straight games, including a win against Green Bay. If the Eagles don't right the ship quick, the tie-breaker scenarios will be the least of their worries.
Washington Redskins, 4-6
You never know when the Redskins are going to surprise you. They've beaten the Eagles once already and have had impressive wins against St. Louis and New Orleans. They have kept themselves in the thick of things, but they are getting bounced from this discussion for one important reason - if Dallas is to make a legitimate run at a playoff spot, it is imperative that they sweep their games with Washington. That scenario would make it highly improbable that the Redskins would still be able to win the division.
If you just look at the standings and games remaining, it's hard to imagine a lot of things changing that would propel the Cowboys up the standings. After all, a team that is 3-7 is going to find it difficult to string wins together. But this isn't your typical 3-7 team. Look no further than the odds makers to get an idea of what some experts think of this team. With Tony Romo back, the Cowboys are going to have a fighting chance in every single game remaining this season. When things were looking bleak last season, the Cowboys went on run and won the division without needing any help from week 17. A run is certainly possible. The other divisional teams don't have a reason to think things are going to be any different for them. They were losing games before, and they're liking to keep losing them.
While the divisional rivals keeps doing their part to help out, it's on the Cowboys to make the real difference. It's going to take a little more good football to happen before fans start buying into the hype, but a victory this Thursday against Carolina would make things very interesting.