A week ago this time nobody even wanted to think about the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys weren’t mathematically eliminated, but they needed a lot of things to go right to have a shot, with one of those things being the ability to win their last five games of the season. After three-straight losses of 20+ points, the thought of Dallas winning a game was getting hard to fathom, let alone five in a row.
Well, some stuff has happened since then.
It started with nice 38-14 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday. The Cowboys running game took off and their defense was making all kinds of plays. Even the special teams came up huge with three big splash plays. A win like that made some of us wonder - is it possible that they can right this ship and win their final four games of the season?
If the Cowboys play like they did on Thursday, they certainly have a shot to run the table. They have some favorable things working for them over the next month. They get the New York Giants next week who have struggled all season and have a 2-10 record. They are a Giant mess right now and they even recently benched Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith. If the Cowboys can’t beat the Giants in the current state they’re in, then there is no business continuing any talk of playoff potential. The following week, they’ll get the Oakland Raiders on a big Sunday night match-up. The Raiders aren’t playing that well right now and didn’t look that good in their win over the Giants. These next two games are very winnable for Dallas.
If they pull that off, they’ll play their last home game of 2017 at AT&T Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks. This is where the Cowboys playoffs really begin. They will have to play great football on that day against a team who will likely be fighting for their playoff lives as well. Oh, did I mention - they’ll get that Ezekiel Elliott fella back for that one? The last time he played the Seahawks, he was making his NFL game-action debut. Do you remember that? Kam Chancellor certainly does.
And then there is the finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. While this looks like a brutal match-up on paper, it might not end up being that difficult if the Eagles have nothing to play for. Similarly to the Cowboys season last year where they finished as the top seed in the NFC, the team pulled their starters. The Eagles are tied for the best record in the NFC. If they win out down the stretch after the bump in the road versus Seattle, they may have that top seed locked up by Week 17.
Winning out is why most people are writing off the Cowboys playoff chances, but that part of it isn’t impossible. The Cowboys at least have control over that. What also makes things look cloudy was the amount of help they needed. There were several teams with good leads over Dallas in the Wild Card race and it seemed like it would be asking too much for all these teams to slip up. Well, believe it or not, Sunday’s action completely shook things up and opened up the door for the Cowboys to have hope again.
The Cowboys got some help with a handful of outcomes that worked out in their favor. This includes:
- Minnesota Vikings beat the Atlanta Falcons
- New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers
- Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions
The standings in the NFC currently looks like this (courtesy of NFL.com):
It’s not hard to believe that the Packers (remaining games: Cleveland, Carolina, Minnesota, and Detroit) and Detroit (remaining games: Tampa Bay, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Green Bay) will lose one of their remaining four games. The Packers have lost five of their last seven games as they’ve struggled without Aaron Rodgers. Although Rodgers is close to being able to get back on the field, he’s not eligible to return until Week 15 against Carolina. The Lions are now on a two-game skid themselves and need to get back on track in a hurry if they are to have any shot at postseason play. Both these teams face each other in the season finale so at least one of these teams is losing seven games.
What is more of a concern is trying to finish ahead of two of the three non-division leaders that are ahead of the Cowboys - Seattle, Carolina, and Atlanta. The Cowboys missed out on a good opportunity for Seattle to get a loss when the good-for-nothing Philadelphia Eagles decided to pick tonight to end their nine-game winning streak. But next for the Seahawks are the up-and-coming Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4) on the road before facing an NFC West showdown against the Los Angeles Rams. The Cowboys just need the Seahawks to lose one of these two games. That’s because Dallas has a meeting with Seattle later in the season where they’ll get an opportunity to help their own cause. If the Cowboys beat them and end up tied at the end of the regular season, they would get in over them by virtue of winning the head-to-head tie-breaker.
That leaves one more team to jump - Carolina or Atlanta. Not many people were factoring in the Panthers because they entered this week with an 8-3 record and looked unreachable. The loss to the New Orleans Saints helped, but even more helpful is the arrangement of games they have left.
The Cowboys need just one of these teams to lose two of their last four games. They need to finish ahead of Atlanta because the Falcons hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over them. They only need to finish tied with Carolina because if they both finished 10-6, the Cowboys would win the tie-breaker because they would have a better conference record (all the Panthers losses have been in the NFC, whereas Dallas has lost two AFC games).
Can the Falcons lose two of four games? Their remaining games are against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, New Orleans again, and Carolina. That’s TWO games against the Saints who are tearing people up right now and have won nine of their last ten games.
Can the Panthers lose two of four games? Their remaining games are against Minnesota, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta. If Rodgers returns, then their schedule looks tough, too.
When you look at both teams remaining games, the big thing that sticks out is the Week 17 finale where these two teams face each other. Somebody has to lose that game. That means that if both of them lose just one of their next three games, then the Cowboys are back in business. If this sounds confusing, just remember that it boils down to what Atlanta and Carolina do over the next three games. All they need to do is lose one game. That’s not a tall order at all. Especially when you consider the Falcons play the Saints twice. Good luck sweeping the Saints. And the Panthers face a hot Minnesota team next week.
Dallas could be back in business controlling their own destiny as early as next week.
Playoffs or no playoffs, what’s important for the Cowboys is to get back to playing good football and develop into a stronger team. That is something they have complete control over and it will be interesting to see how this team finishes the season. But if they end up finishing strong, then a 2017 playoff berth could very well be back on the table for them. And there is nothing like riding hot plus the addition of two All-Pro’s to all of a sudden make things very interesting.