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Falcons win hurts Cowboys, but here’s how Dallas is still alive and what they need

How much do you want to let yourself believe?

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

Let me just say that I live in San Antonio, TX, and last night it snowed. This is physical, tangible, now-melted proof that literally anything is possible.

The blanket of ice across my metropolis wasn’t the only layer of cold in our lives on Thursday night. When the Atlanta Falcons defeated the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football, the Cowboys playoff hopes dimmed just a little bit more.

Atlanta now owns a proud 8-5 record with three games left: at Tampa Bay (4-8), at New Orleans (9-4), and Carolina (8-4). Should the Cowboys win in New York on Sunday, they’ll be a game behind at 7-6.

What do we need now... assuming the best for Dallas

For the purposes of this conversation, we’re going to assume the Cowboys are going undefeated from here on out. I realize you may or may not think that this is likely, but we’re living in a world where it freaking snowed in San Antonio. Just go with it for now.

This means that Dallas ends the season 10-6, and that the Seattle Seahawks take on one more loss, as do the Philadelphia Eagles. The rest of the NFC is still very difficult, especially after Atlanta’s win:

Let’s talk about what we need this week first

The Cowboys are going to have a very close eye on three games besides their own this Sunday. They’ll be rooting hard for the Vikings, Rams, and Jaguars.

At this point, we’re rooting for Minnesota to run the table. We specifically need them to win this Sunday and two weeks from now when they travel to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers (who we’ll get to in a second).

The Rams winning is big from a grand perspective. We don’t want them contending with us, and half of the conference, for a wildcard spot because they already have nine wins plus the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas. Beat Philly, LA.

Jacksonville plays Seattle. We need the Seahawks to lose one more game on top of the one we plan on beating them in. This would give Seattle six losses, one of which would be to Dallas, which would put us somewhat in business. It’s worth noting the Seahawks also host the Rams next week and that’s another opportunity for them to lose.

“Why are we rooting for Cleveland, though?”

A big discussion across Cowboys fans this week is how we are rooting for the Browns to take down the final version of the Rodgers-less Packers. We are, but it’s not life or death.

Green Bay is currently tied with Dallas at 6-6. We are going to need Rodgers and Co. to beat the Carolina Panthers next week and potentially the Detroit Lions in the regular season finale. As is the case, we need them to drop a game so that if/when we win out we aren’t tied with them (because we’ll lose that eventual tiebreaker).

Cleveland taking out Green Bay this week accomplishes one objective... it gives us peace of mind that we control our own destiny against Aaron Rodgers. If there’s one person who you don’t want to bet against in the NFL, it’s him. We need room for error, although their other remaining game is against the Vikings and they could drop that.

Let’s pretend this all goes our way then, what’s next in Week 15?

Assuming all of these chips landed the way the Cowboys wanted them to, to be fair they’re 0-1 so far on the week, things would look like this across the NFC.

  • Minnesota Vikings, 11-2
  • Philadelphia Eagles, 10-3
  • Los Angeles Rams, 10-3
  • New Orleans Saints, 9-4
  • Carolina Panthers, 8-5
  • Seattle Seahawks, 8-5
  • Atlanta Falcons, 8-5
  • Dallas Cowboys, 7-6
  • Detroit Lions, 6-7
  • Green Bay Packers, 6-7

This doesn’t feel as bad, does it? Especially considering how bad you likely feel today after the Falcons won?

Week 15 brings with it some more promise in terms of that Carolina and Green Bay game. This is why Cleveland is important in Week 14, because it would be a great thing to see the Packers keep the Panthers at eight wins while the Cowboys ideally catch that number on Sunday Night Football in Oakland.

Atlanta visits the Buccaneers in Week 15, a game they’ll likely win. The Seahawks host the Rams as mentioned, and those matchups are always a coin flip of a deal, but even if Seattle won, they travel to Dallas the following week and will meet Ezekiel Elliott there.

Week 16 could be the week Dallas conceivably punches their playoff ticket

Say that the only thing that went the Cowboys way in Week 15 was the Packers defeating the Panthers. That’s the one that’s most important during that week.

Week 16 brings with it a set of dominoes that, if tipped the right direction, could line Dallas up quite well after a win against the Seahawks.

Atlanta visits New Orleans, Carolina hosts Tampa Bay, and Minnesota visits Green Bay.

The most important here would potentially be a Saints victory, but even then a Falcons one wouldn’t be crippling, especially if the Panthers were to lose in Weeks 14 and 15.

Some middle ground here would be that only one of the Panthers or Falcons would win this week. They face off in Week 17 so it’d be preferable if the team that lost the week before won in the regular season finale.

Dallas would be 9-6 at this point, and considering the Seahawks would be behind them (if they lost to the Jags, Rams, then Cowboys), they’d be in business. So much of this comes down to what happens with the Seahawks over the next two weeks. Depending on the Jaguars and Rams is a rough life.

All in all, the Atlanta win isn’t too crushing

As you can see, there are still an enormous amount of permutations this experience can take over the final quarter of the regular season.

While it would have been nice to bring the Falcons all the more close to the Cowboys at the moment, that opportunity still exists and ultimately may not even be necessary.

The underlying reality here is that the Cowboys need to do their part in all of this, which includes putting together a four-game win streak, something they haven’t done all season.

We’ll know a lot more about what the Cowboys can or cannot do in terms of the postseason after the afternoon window of games on Sunday. Let’s hope for better luck than we got on Thursday night.

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