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NFL Draft Order And NFC Playoff Berth On The Line For Cowboys Versus Redskins Tonight

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Most NFL fan bases are currently busy either with their team's playoff odds or their team's ranking in the draft order. Cowboys fans have the luxury of thinking about both - at the same time.

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Five games remain for the Cowboys and Redskins, and four for the Giants and Eagles, to decide who advances to the 2015 NFL playoffs as the NFC East divisional champion. Which of the four teams will make it is anybody's guess right now, though the odds are currently stacked in favor of the the NFC East teams not based in Dallas.

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 five games will play out (or for the Giants and eagles, the final four games). And because these assumptions differ from one method to the next, the playoff odds for every team will differ, depending on which source you're looking at. To illustrate the point, here are the playoff odds for the NFC teams as calculated by three different methods:

Playoff odds
Team Redskins Eagles Giants Cowboys
FiveThirtyEight.com 34% 37% 24% 6%
Sportsclubstats 53% 26% 21% 2%
New York Times 44% 14% 39% 3%

That doesn't look good for the Cowboys, even with a game in hand. The New York Times Playoff Simulator is a nifty tool that allows you to calculate playoff probabilities by simulating different game outcomes.

Prior to tonight's game, the have the Cowboys with a 3% playoff chance, and win tonight wouldn't improve that by much, as the Cowboys playoff odds only increase to 8%. However, a loss would drop those odds to less than 1%.

But a win tonight and a win next week in Green Bay would surely remedy that, no? Well, not by itself. Consecutive wins against the Redskins and Packers would move the playoff odds needle a little, but only to 10%. And even if the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins would all lose next week, the odds in this model would only move to 14%, even though all four NFC East teams would have the same 5-8 record in that (highly unlikely) scenario.

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. Ultimately though, the Cowboys need to tonight to even have a chance to contend for the division in the coming weeks. End of discussion.

Or we could discuss draft picks. The current draft order has the Cowboys picking fourth overall:

1. Cleveland Browns: 2-10 (.531 strength of schedule)
2. Tennessee Titans: 3-9 (.495 SOS)
3. San Diego Chargers: 3-9 (.526 SOS)
4. Dallas Cowboys: 3-8 (.532 SOS)
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-8 (.484 SOS)
6. Baltimore Ravens: 4-8 (.502 SOS)
7. New Orleans Saints: 4-8 (.521 SOS)
8. San Francisco 49ers: 4-8 (.526 SOS - 3-7 in conference)
9. Detroit Lions: 4-8 (.526 SOS - 3-5 in conference)
10. St. Louis Rams: 4-8 (.529 SOS)

Despite the allure of a top draft pick, very few Cowboys fans are going to root for a Cowboys loss tonight, and will keep hoping against all odds for a shot against the playoffs. But if the Cowboys should lose, at least there's a high pick to look forward to. And five months of mock drafts.

Which would you rather have?