It feels like we say this every year, but this season is wild in the NFL.
This of course makes for quite the spicy playoff picture. As Cowboys fans we’re living in an upside down from 2016 where the Philadelphia Eagles run the NFC East, and we’re looking for scraps at the Wildcard table.
The four division leaders in the NFC at the moment are the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Rams. The Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers all want one of the aforementioned Wildcard slots.
How do the Cowboys get there then? They’ve already squandered opportunities against Los Angeles, Green Bay, and Atlanta. They’re on the outside looking in and, unfortunately, in a position where they need some help.
The 19 Common Games
There are 19 games remaining between the teams we’ve listed. The Cowboys need those 19 chips to fall in the right places. That’s 19 wins and 19 losses. Here they are, color-coded in match-ups:
Theoretically, the Cowboys should root for the current division winners just stampede their way to the finish. Yes, this includes rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles to get a win in Seattle during Week 13. That sounds awful, but it’s necessary at this point.
At this point the Cowboys aren’t necessarily competing with the Eagles anymore. It’s the Panthers, Seahawks, Falcons, Lions, and Packers that can disrupt their playoff hopes.
The Aaron Rodgers Factor
You’ll notice that the final three games for the Green Bay Packers are all colored. What I’m about to describe is insanely hard to pull off, but it’s what would serve the Cowboys best so we’ll discuss it.
Amazingly, the Packers are still right in the thick of playoff contention. Should they falter down the stretch, there’s no sense in bringing back quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the risk of re-injury wouldn’t be worth it.
If Green Bay stayed in the thick of it though, Rodgers could return. An Aaron Rodgers-led squad is more than capable of beating those final three teams (the two more important ones are Carolina and whoever doesn’t win the NFC North), and that could greatly help the Cowboys out if they’re still ahead of Dallas. Of course, it could in turn see Green Bay leapfrog them.
Basically the Cowboys need Aaron Rodgers to return and beat those three teams in the event that they’re ahead of Dallas but still keep themselves a game ahead of the Packers in the event that Green Bay climbs that far. The Packers have the tiebreaker over the Cowboys.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Factor
In terms of the teams the Cowboys are competing against for a Wildcard spot, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will influence one of them every week from 12-16. We’re about to depend on the Bucs, y’all.
From Weeks 12 through 16, the Buccaneers will play the Falcons, Packers, Lions, Falcons again, and Panthers. They’ll also close their season against the Saints, for what it’s worth.
We need the Buccaneers to wreak some serious havoc, except maybe not against the Packers so that they can keep enough hope alive to bring Rodgers back (this is admittedly very difficult). Come on, Jameis Winston!
Speaking of Jameis Winston, he is currently out dealing with a shoulder injury, but they did just pick up a win last week (granted it was against the Jets).
Seriously though, if Tampa Bay with-or-without Jameis can win three, heck even two, of that five-game stretch, that’s enormous for the Cowboys (any win is welcome). There are 19 wins and 19 losses that are going to come from the common games, any measure that we can increase the losses is surely welcome. Go Bucs.
The Chicago Bears Factor
The only real way the Bears can help the Cowboys out is in term of one specific team, the Detroit Lions. As you’ll note (waits for you to scroll up) the Lions still have to play the Bears twice.
What if the Bears can pull both of those off? Or just one? The Lions are currently at an equal win-loss record with the Cowboys, and Dallas doesn’t control any ability to influence that.
What the Cowboys can control is their own fate, and if they win that’s great, but they need more than that. Cowboys wins and losses by any of these teams in the hunt are equal from here on out, and the Bears are a team that can provide some serious aid.
Get it done, Mitchell Trubisky.
The Baltimore Ravens Factor
What happened to the Baltimore Ravens? They’ve fallen apart, and we need them to get it back together, but stay fallen apart first.
As mentioned, it would be great if Green Bay kept their hopes alive so that Rodgers could return and beat the teams we need him to (he’s our mercenary at this point). To keep hope alive means that they need to win in the interim, and that starts in Week 11 with a Lambeau Field date with Baltimore.
But wait, Ravens. We need you to get it together quickly after that.
In Week 14 the Ravens host the Detroit Lions. It’s time to root for Baltimore at this point.
A Ravens-over-Lions win not only gives the Lions a loss, but it also gives the Packers hope. Which means Aaron Rodgers inches ever closer to a return in terms of what makes sense. So go ahead Ravens, lose to the Packers and beat the Lions, please.
The Jimmy Garoppolo Factor
San Francisco is on a bye this week, a 1-9 record proudly on display, and a week off means an extra week to prepare/make changes. How about a change at quarterback?
The 49ers traded for New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo right before this season’s trade deadline. ‘Ol Jimmy G is up for a new contract after the season, so it makes sense that they’d want to see what he’s got, right? Wouldn’t a great time to unveil him be coming off the team’s first win with an extra week to prepare and get him ready?
San Francisco hosts Seattle in their first game out of the bye. You know what to do, Kyle Shanahan. Throw Garoppolo into the deep end, against a Richard Sherman-less Legion of Boom, and let the rest take care of itself. Also, San Francisco visits the Rams in the regular season finale, but it’d be great if the 49ers lost that game so that the Rams could win the NFC West since they hold a tiebreaker over Dallas.
Imagine if the Cowboys can get some help from the 49ers? Against the Seahawks? That would be huge as Seattle is the only team that Dallas does maintain some control against down the stretch, as they host them on Christmas Eve.
The David Johnson Factor
I’m on record saying that I don’t believe Bruce Arians is a great head coach. I will say, he’s a pretty gutsy one.
All-world running back David Johnson has essentially been out the entire season for the Cardinals with a wrist injury; however, he tweeted on Monday a video giving Cardinals (and now us) fans a sign of hope:
The Arizona Cardinals visit the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season finale. How’s about David Johnson, who grew up idolizing Emmitt Smith, plays in that game and beats the Seahawks for us? Thanks a lot, Bruce Arians. You da man.
Ultimately the Cowboys must do their part
Counting the Buccaneers, Bears, Ravens, and potential Jimmy Garoppolo and David Johnson games, there are 34 games between now and New Year’s Eve that will influence whether the Cowboys are playoff-bound or not.
Again, each match-up in a given week is color-coded the same. The Ravens games are purple, Bears games are orange, Bucs are light orange, and the 49ers and Cardinals games are red.
This whole orchestration will all be for not if the Cowboys can’t put themselves in contention by winning on their own. They can afford one more loss, but it can’t be to Seattle, and really it would obviously be great if they didn’t try to afford it.
If the Cowboys are going to lose, it would be preferable that they do so against the Chargers or Raiders. That game in Oakland is the last that they’ll play, as of now, without Ezekiel Elliott, and they’re going to have to find a way to get it done.