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Cowboys Playoff Tracker: What Does Cowboys 3-1 Record Say About Their Playoff Chances?

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The chances of making the postseason look good for the 3-1 Cowboys, and they currently project as an 11-win team - if they continue playing the way they have.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

One quarter of the 2016 season is in the books, and after four games, the Cowboys stand at 3-1 despite missing some of their key players. Todd Archer of ESPN pointed out just how big of an impact that has on the team, at least from a salary cap point of view.

With Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Orlando Scandrick not playing, the Cowboys have $45.137 million of their salary-cap space allotment on the bench today against San Francisco.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys stand at 3-1 and are one of only six teams on a three-game winning streak, and their playoff odds have increased with every win.

Since realignment in 2002, 108 teams started the season with three wins and one loss. 64 of those teams (59%) eventually made the playoffs. The table below shows what the playoff odds have looked like over the last 14 seasons by W/L after the fourth game of the season.

Playoff odds based on Week 4 W/L records, since 2002
Record after Week 4 4-0 3-1 2-2 1-3 0-4
Total Teams
44 108 149 103 45
Playoff Teams 37 64 54
13 0
Percentage 84.1% 59.3% 36.2% 12.7% 0.0%

So the Cowboys have a better than even chance of making the playoffs after four weeks, not something many fans expected after Tony Romo's back injury. But how good are the 3-1 Cowboys really?

To understand where the Cowboys currently stand and what their chances look like going forward, we once again turn to the trusted Pythagorean Formula. We've used the formula often before (for more details, go here) to measure overall team strength, on the hypothesis that a team's true strength could be measured more accurately by looking at points scored and points allowed, rather than by looking at wins and losses. This is the NFL version of the formula:

The 3-1 Cowboys have scored 101 points and allowed 77. Plugging that into the formula results in a 10.9-win projection for the Cowboys, which should be good enough for a playoff spot.

After four weeks of play, there is already quite a strong correlation between the projection and the actual results. Of course, with every additional week of data, the formula gets better, but after about Week 4 the improvements are gradual, and not as steep as in the first few weeks. For the Cowboys, outside of last year, the projection has been reasonably accurate between 2011 and 2014, coming to within about two wins of the actual result.

Week 4
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Win Projection 7.8 5.6 9.4 11.0 8.5
Actual wins
8
8 8 12 4

The historic odds suggest the 2016 Cowboys have a 59.3% chance of making the playoffs, and if we use the Pythagorean formula for the remaining 31 teams, we get a good idea of the emerging 2016 playoff picture. With that in mind, here's how the projected wins stack up after Week 4 for all 32 NFL teams:

Pythagorean Projected Wins by NFL team, Week 4, 2016

AFC .. NFC
AFC EAST W L PF PA Proj.Wins NFC EAST W L PF PA Proj.Wins
New England 3 1 81 61 10.9 Philadelphia 3 0 92 27 15.3
Buffalo 2 2 87 68 9.7 Dallas 3 1 101 77 10.9
Miami 1 3 71 89 5.4 NY Giants 2 1 63 61 8.7
NY Jets 1 3 79 105 5.1 Washington 2 2 99 112 7.1
AFC North W L PF PA Proj.Wins NFC North W L PF PA Proj.Wins
Pittsburgh 3 1 108 80 11.0 Minnesota 3 0 64 40 12.8
Baltimore 3 1 84 72 10.1 Green Bay 2 1 75 67 9.4
Cincinnati 2 2 78 82 7.6 Detroit 1 3 95 102 6.5
Cleveland 0 4 74 115 3.1 Chicago 1 3 62 97 4.1
AFC South W L PF PA Proj.Wins NFC South W L PF PA Proj.Wins
Houston 3 1 69 73 8.6 Atlanta 3 1 152 124 10.4
Indianapolis 1 3 108 125 6.0 Carolina 1 3 109 118 6.4
Jacksonville 1 3 84 111 5.1 New Orleans 1 3 114 130 6.1
Tennessee 1 3 62 84 4.9 Tampa Bay 1 3 77 128 3.8
AFC West W L PF PA Proj.Wins NFC West W L PF PA Proj.Wins
Denver 4 0 111 64 13.4 Seattle 3 1 79 54 11.5
Oakland 3 1 108 106 9.1 Arizona 1 3 92 80 8.0
San Diego 1 3 121 108 7.8 Los Angeles 3 1 63 76 7.7
Kansas City 2 2 83 92 7.3 San Francisco 1 3 90 107 5.8
Green Division winner Yellow Wildcard

If all teams continue playing the way they did over the first four weeks of the season, the Cowboys would be the fifth seed in the NFC and end up with a wildcard berth. Their likely opponent in the wildcard round would be the Falcons. Of course, a lot of things can change between now and then, but for now, the Cowboys are on the right trajectory, and reinforcements should be arriving shortly.