Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season is in the books.
The Dallas Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott back, and just like they did before he left them for six games, they have a three-game winning streak while sitting two games above .500.
Typically 8-6 is a record good enough to have you in playoff contention, which is exactly where the Cowboys find themselves with two games left. There were other games across the NFL the Cowboys had a rooting interest in, and based on those results we now know exactly what Dallas needs to be playing January football.
The biggest things to happen in Week 15 that didn’t have to do with a piece of paper or Jeff Heath’s greatness were the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons winning. Dallas now has their eyes on Detroit and the entire non-Buccaneers NFC South.
Here’s what the Cowboys need
Cowboys Week 16 Wishlist:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 19, 2017
- Bengals over Lions ⬜️
- Saints over Falcons ⬜️
- Bucs over Panthers ⬜️
- Cowboys over Seahawks ⬜️
- 1 Lions loss
- 2 losses from ATL, CAR, or NO
The reality of the situation is that Dallas can only get to 10 wins. Any team that gets to 11 automatically has priority over them. New Orleans and Carolina are already sitting at 10, Atlanta has nine, and there are two games left.
It really is impossible to count on the Buccaneers
For the fourth straight week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing a game which, had they won, would have benefited the Cowboys. For the fourth straight week, the Bucs lost.
Literally any Buccaneers win from Week 12 through the end of the season could have helped the Cowboys.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 19, 2017
Four games in (at ATL, at GB, DET, ATL) and Tampa Bay is 0-4. They still have opportunities left in Carolina and against New Orleans, but 0-4 isn’t too inspiring.
Tampa Bay has failed to help the Cowboys, but they still have two opportunities to do so. They visit Carolina and host New Orleans in the final two weeks. Any win they can pull off helps, but they’re not likely to bring us any. Bah hum bug.
Sunday’s Falcons/Saints game comes down to who you believe in less
You’ll note that Cowboys fans should be rooting for the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome against Atlanta on Sunday. There’s a reason for that.
Dallas needs an NFC South team between these two and Carolina to lose out. After this game the Saints travel to Tampa Bay, as we noted, while the Falcons host the Panthers. It is far more likely that the Falcons lose in Week 17 than it is that the Saints do.
This is why we’re rooting for the Saints to be the winners here. It steers us down the path of biggest likelihood, however unlikely.
A Lions loss might be the hardest thing to achieve
When it comes to the NFC South, Carolina and New Orleans will both likely get a win over Tampa Bay. Atlanta is the most conceivable option to lose two, but even if they do that isn’t enough on its own for the Cowboys to get in the playoffs.
Dallas also needs Detroit out of the picture, and for that to happen the Lions need to lose a game (they beat the Cowboys in a 10-win tiebreaker). The trouble with this situation is that the Lions have a favorable matchup in Cincinnati this week and one against the Packers next week that just got easier.
Falcons win officially eliminates Green Bay from playoff contention. Which means the Packers likely shut down Rodgers. Which means the Lions, who the Cowboys need a loss from, likely draw an easier Packers team in Week 17. Meaning Dallas needs Cincinnati badly this week.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 19, 2017
With their win on Monday Night Football, the Falcons officially eliminated the Green Bay Packers from playoff contention. You’ll note that Green Bay has an all-world quarterback in Aaron Rodgers who literally just made his return from a broken collarbone in a loss at Carolina last week, which is the big problem here.
With nothing to play for over the next two weeks, why would the Packers risk any further damage to a not-100% Aaron Rodgers? They won’t.
Joe Callahan's re-signing opens possibility of Packers shutting down Aaron Rodgers https://t.co/N8fNaYgWGc— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 18, 2017
All of this means that the Lions now get to face a Bengals team who’s head coach is on the way out and a Packers team led by Brett Hundley. If you want to talk yourself into Hundley leading the Packers to victory over Detroit, just know that the Lions waxed that team 30-17 at Lambeau Field back in early November. This game is at home for them.
Ultimately Sunday is an elimination game for Dallas and Seattle
As mentioned, the Cowboys have to win out for all of this to have relevance. Such has been the case for the last three weeks, and in that stretch of time they’re undefeated.
Zeke will return, and that will undoubtedly help. While things feel like they might be somewhat clicking for Dallas, it’s just as big of a game for their opponent, the Seattle Seahawks.
The Saints/Falcons, Buccaneers/Panthers, and Lions/Bengals games all take place at noon this Sunday, while the Cowboys and Seahawks kick off in the three o’clock slot. Dallas will know what help they did or didn’t get as they get ready to do their part.
There are two weeks left in the 2017 season, and the Cowboys are hanging on by a thread. They haven’t gotten too much help as of late, but maybe Week 16 is when that changes.
For what it’s worth, if everything were to go the Cowboys way on Sunday (Falcons, Panthers, and Lions all lose) then with a win against Seattle they’d set themselves up for a win-and-in situation in Week 17 in Philadelphia.
Just to close for thoroughness, if Philly wins this weekend or the Vikings lose, then the Eagles sew up the #1 seed in the NFC. In that scenario, they would have nothing to play for in Week 17 versus the Cowboys. The Eagles host the Raiders, and the Vikings are at the Packers.