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NFC Playoff Picture: How Much Help Do The Cowboys Need To Claw Back To The Top Of The Division?

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Even if Dallas beats Washington, they still can't get to the top of the division all on their own.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are now in a position to be one game behind all three of their NFC East rivals with a win over Washington in their Monday Night Football appearance. They got help from the New York Jets when they managed to come from behind and beat their crosstown rivals the New York Giants on Sunday, but were let down horribly by the New England Patriots who dug themselves a 21-point hole and then fell short in a desperate attempt to come back against the Philadelphia Eagles.

It all may be rendered pointless unless the Cowboys can find a way to win in Washington with Matt Cassel at quarterback, but it looks like the team is in good shape, with only Tony Romo definitely out and Jeff Heath now listed as questionable with a shoulder problem. The only other players on the Dallas injury report are Dez Bryant and Morris Claiborne, who are probable. Bryant has stated he feels the best he has since returning from injury, and he has had a week of good practices with Cassel, so maybe there is a chance.

Should the Cowboys get a win, they will be 4-8 and the rest of the NFC East will all be 5-7, with four games left in the regular season. It is stunning that they could be in that kind of position after the way 2015 has gone so far, but it is a reflection of the blazing pile of trash that the division has been. Still, the Cowboys need help. Here is a look at the remaining opponents for all four teams in the division (after the Cowboys game with Washington).

Remaining NFC East Opponents
Dallas New York Philadelphia Washington
@ Green Bay @ Miami Buffalo @ Chicago
New York Jets Carolina Arizona Buffalo
@ Buffalo @ Minnesota Washington @ Philadelphia
Washington Philadelphia @ New York Giants @ Dallas

Just for sake of argument, let's assume that the Cowboys can pull of the highly improbable task of winning out and finish the season 8-8.

They can overtake Washington since they play them again in the last game of the season. That would give Washington at least 9 losses.

For the Giants and Eagles, they still need help. They have to see each of them get at least one defeat. And for the Eagles, if they go the rest of the season with just one more loss and wind up tied with Dallas at 8-8, that loss needs to come against either Washington or the Giants to give Dallas the tiebreaker in the division record. The Giants already have three losses in the division, so if the Cowboys win out, they already have that tiebreaker in place with them. Both the Eagles and Washington still have two division games left to play, while the Giants, like Dallas, just have the season finale against a division rival. That does mean that there will be some fratricide.

Both the Giants and Eagles have one very challenging game left outside the division. The Giants host the still undefeated Panthers the same week the Cardinals come to play the Eagles. Of course, the surprisingly inept performance by the Patriots against the Eagles is proof that nothing can be taken for granted.

It looks very likely that there will be some help for the Cowboys if they can handle their end of things. But something else is clear when you start playing with all the permutations. It is entirely possible that all of Dallas' NFC East rivals could get two losses, which means that with the right tiebreaker, foremost winning both games against Washington, the Cowboys could still win the division with one more loss. And a similar, although far less likely, scenario can be derived for a 6-10 "champion" of the NFC East.

Of course, all this becomes meaningless if one of the division rivals gets hot and wins out, because the Cowboys will be unable to catch them. But we are all hoping against that (except for those who only care about draft position now).

It is amazing that it will be at least two more weeks before the Cowboys are mathematically eliminated, and it is entirely possible that once again they could go into the final game of the season with the division on the line. Every game is huge, but incredibly, the Cowboys still are not facing a win-or-be-eliminated game in MNF. A loss will make things almost impossible. But just almost.

Get out the Pepto, folks. The heartburn is far from over.

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