I had this dream last night where the Cowboys got Ezekiel Elliott back and went on a tear for the rest of the regular season. The young secondary was finally healthy and making plays, Sean Lee was making 20 tackles a game, and DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving were terrorizing quarterbacks. The team was healthy and riding hot at the right time and primed for a nice playoff run. But then suddenly I woke up in a sweat as I realized that all this may happen, only to have the Cowboys still not make the playoffs. What a terrible thing that would be.
Everyone knows the Cowboys’ backs are against the wall when it comes to their chances of making the playoffs. Some disappointing second-half let downs early in the season coupled with a three-game skid last month have really put the team behind the eight ball. Not only must the team win out, but they need a few other things to happen to get help because they are on the wrong end of most of the tie-breaker scenarios.
As it stands now, the Cowboys have a 44% chance to make the playoffs if they win the remainder of their games (source). That alone is no easy task as their three upcoming opponents are all fighting for playoff contention/seeding. Should the Cowboys drop any of their remaining games, for all intent and purposes - their playoff hopes would be squashed. That much we already know. What’s a little more challenging is trying to determine what kind of help they need to get in.
This weekend features three match-ups whose results significantly impact the Cowboys chances to make the post season - Green Bay at Carolina, Atlanta at Tampa Bay, and Chicago at Detroit. There are other games that could play a role as well, but these are the three that are most important so we will focus our attention on them. It’s easy to understand that losses to Atlanta and Detroit help the Cowboys, but what about the Green Bay/Carolina game? Who should we be rooting for in that game? And of all these games, which result would benefit the Cowboys the most?
Here are the Cowboys chances of making the playoffs (assuming they win-out) based on every possible outcome of these three games (percentages are based on the FiveThirtyEight NFL Predictions simulator):
Or if you prefer, you can run 9,400 simulations from The Upshot playoff calculator and you’d get the following results:
Regardless of which one you use, there are a few things to take from these numbers. The first thing to note is that we should be rooting for Green Bay to beat Carolina. If you think about it, that makes sense. The Panthers need to drop two games versus the Packers only needing one loss. The Packers finish the season against Minnesota and Detroit so they will still have a couple more opportunities to lose a game.
And while Carolina losing is what we should be rooting for, it is not the most important of these three games. The biggest help the Cowboys could receive would be Tampa Bay beating Atlanta. Should we only get one thing, that’s the biggest one. Of course, the most optimal situation would be if Atlanta, Detroit, and Carolina would all lose this weekend. That’s not likely to happen, but any combination of two greens will be huge for Dallas down the stretch.
Which outcome are you most interested in? Do you have any specific reasoning for supporting an outcome that goes against these percentages?