Theare sitting atop the NFC East playoff rankings with a three-win lead over the other division leaders, and a two-win lead in the NFC East. A lot can still happen over the remaining five games, but for the Cowboys to lose their spot as the No. 1 seed, a lot would have to happen. Here's how the playoff seeding currently plays out.
|1||Dallas||10-1||NFC East Champion
|2||Seattle||7-3-1||NFC West Champion
|3||Detroit||7-4||NFC North Champion
|4||Atlanta||7-4||NFC South Champion
|5||New York||8-3||Wildcard #1
||Tampa Bay||6-5||Conf. win percentage
||5-6||Conf. win percentage|
One big factor remaining in how the next five games will play out for the playoff contenders is the quality of the teams they will face. The 8-3for example, still have the , Cowboys, , , and on their schedule, and those five opponents have combined for a 34-20-1 record so far this season. So the Giants remaining strength of schedule (if we count each tie as half a win) is .627 - the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL by this measure.
Here's a look the schedules of the top 11 teams in the NFC listed by their opponent’s winning percentage:
|0.336||18-36-1||vs. CAR, @GB, vs. LA, vs. ARI, at SF|
|0.400||22-33||vs. KC, @LA, vs. SF, @ CAR, vs. NO|
|Washington||0.427||23-31-1||@ARI, @PHI, vs. CAR, @CHI, vs. NYG|
|0.436||24-31-0||vs. DAL, @JAX, vs. IND, @GB, vs. CHI|
|0.518||28-26-1||vs. HOU, vs. SEA, @CHI, vs. MIN, @DET|
|0.527||29-26||@SD, vs. NO, @DAL, @NO, vs. CAR|
|Lions||0.545||30-25||@NO, vs. CHI, @NYG, @DAL, vs. GB|
|0.555||30-24-1||vs. DET, @TB, @ARI, vs. TB, @ATL|
|Cowboys||0.582||32-23||@MIN, @NYG, vs. TB, vs. DET, @PHI|
|Eagles||0.618||33-20-2||@CIN, vs. WAS, @BAL, vs. NYG, vs. DAL|
|Giants||0.627||34-20-1||@PIT, vs. DAL, vs. DET, @PHI, @WAS|
The Giants may have the toughest remaining schedule of all the playoff contenders, but the Eagles and Cowboys are right behind them. The Eagles and Giants have three divisional games on their schedule, the Cowboys have two, and with the strength of the NFC East this year, that automatically translates into a tough SOS.
The Redskins have a moderate SOS by comparison, but only because they already faced the 10-1 Cowboys twice and lost both times. Minnesota is up next on the Cowboys schedule and there's a good chance that in playoff terms, the Vikings will soon go to a place where there is no more pain after the Cowboys game.
Overall, the schedule promises an exciting final stretch: Over the next five games, all but four of the 11 playoff contenders are facing opponents with an overall winning record.
But for the Seahawks and Falcons, the opposite is true. The Seahawks - currently ranked as the No. 2 seed - have the easiest remaining schedule in the entire NFL while the Falcons have the third-softest remaining schedule, so a lot would have to go wrong either team not to lock up its division.
That means that a lot of the remaining playoff action will center around who is able to win the NFC North, where the Lions, Vikings, and Packers all still have playoff ambitions. Outside of that, most of the playoff jostling will likely be for the wildcard spots. The Giants have a two-game lead for a wildcard spot, but that could quickly evaporate with the schedule they face. The Redskins on the other hand already hold the sixth seed, and with a relatively soft remaining schedule, they too could smoothly roll into the playoffs while other contenders face uphill battles all the way.
Of course, this is the NFL, where things change dramatically from one game to the next, and what we think is a likely scenario today may read like utter foolishness in two weeks.