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NFL playoff picture: The Cowboys maintain “in the hunt” status

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It’s bleak, but the Cowboys are still searching for the playoffs.

Los Angeles Chargers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It’s been pretty gloomy for fans of the Dallas Cowboys lately. We’ve chronicled all the different ways the Cowboys have failed on these pages over the last few days. There is no getting around the fact that over the last three games, Dallas is playing some of the worst football imaginable in the NFL.

Still, irrespective of how bad they are playing, they remain “in the hunt” when it comes to a playoff berth. They still show up in the graphics that appear during games showing the playoff picture, and in articles outlining the current state of the playoff chase. They generally show up as part of the “in the hunt” category.

Is Dallas really in the hunt? Probably not, given the myriad problems this team is facing. But, for the moment, let’s play out the fantasy and pretend the team’s trajectory is actually heading up. What would it take to get there? Well, first we’d have to know where they stand.

The Cowboys hold the 10th spot in the NFC, just like last week. Unlike last week, they are now two games out of the final wild card spot, and they have one fewer games to get there. Time is not your friend when trying to mount a playoff comeback.

So what’s the path to get to the sixth and final spot? They need a few things to happen. One would be a collapse of the NFC North contenders, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. That part of the equation is certainly possible, given that the Packers are still without Aaron Rodgers, and that the Lions are the Lions.

Then it becomes a battle to overcome the Falcons and the Seahawks. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell sets it up as follows:

Playoff odds: 1.6 percent

Dak Prescott & Co. are five games behind the Eagles with five to go, so we can basically rule out the division. They still have to play Philadelphia again, but the good news is that the rematch won't come until Week 17, so the Eagles might very well be sitting their starters after clinching the top seed in the NFC. The Cowboys otherwise have home games against the Seahawks and Washington and trips to play the Giants and Raiders, so this is otherwise an average schedule. Unfortunately, with a handful of their stars missing and/or hobbled, the Cowboys don't look to be much more than an average team.

Who misses out: If the Cowboys do make a run to the postseason, they're going to have to beat the Seahawks along the way. The New York Times' projection model suggests that the Cowboys cannot make the playoffs unless they beat Seattle in December. With Dallas having lost to Atlanta in Week 10, the most plausible path to the playoffs for the Cowboys would see the Falcons finish 9-7 and the Cowboys and Seahawks tie at 10-6, which would push Dallas into the postseason with a victory over Seattle in what will be Elliott's return game on Christmas Eve.

10-6 record? That means the Cowboys have to win out. That’s why the article gives the Cowboys only a 1.6% chance of making the playoffs.

So what’s the point of even talking about it? One reason is just to keep the fantasy alive, just in case the Cowboys pull off one of the great miracles in sport. But the other reason has more real-world implications. Cowboys’ fans everywhere are making suggestions for changes to be made, whether it is sitting some veterans, allowing some young guys more opportunities, dramatically altering the offensive or defensive schemes, etc. Many of us have reached our disgust level and want dramatic change. In contrast, the Cowboys organization still sees that they are “in the hunt” and NFL teams are loathe to make dramatic changes while they still think, no matter how remote, that they could fight their way back into the playoffs.

The Cowboys are making some changes in the secondary as we noted, but it’s unlikely there will be any wholesale changes. If the Cowboys lose this week, then the views may start to change at The Star, but for now, I guarantee you if you asked Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett or other members of the organization about the future, they would say we’re “still in the hunt”.


Here’s the AFC picture.