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NFL Playoff Tracker: Why the Cowboys must win in Washington

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A look at the historical playoff odds for teams based on their record after six games.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Here on Blogging The Boys, we’ve been tracking the Cowboys’ playoff chances since Week 1 and have weathered many a derisive comment about why we would look at playoff odds for this team. The Cowboys are now 3-3, and we continue with our weekly look at the Cowboys’ playoff odds.

But before we do that, we’ll first take a look at some of the latest win projections for the 2018 Cowboys. Keep in mind that these win projections consider all six games (and sometimes more) the Cowboys have played so far, and don’t just base their projection on the 40-7 thrashing of the Jaguars.

  • Pythagorean Formula: 9.0 wins (+2.4)
  • Elo Ratings: 8.4 wins (+0.9)
  • Football Outsiders: 8.2 wins (+0.8)

And these projections are perfectly in line with historical averages. Care to wager a guess how many seasons wins teams that started 3-3 have averaged over the last 16 years?

8.1 wins. No surprise there.

Which just goes to show that if the Cowboys want to improve their win projections, they’ll need to win more games, preferably in similar fashion to their win over the Jaguars.

Since realignment in 2002, only 44 of 130 teams that started with a 3-3 record made the playoffs, which means the Cowboys currently have a 34% chance of making the playoffs.

Which brings us to the reason why the Cowboys must win in Washington next Sunday: If the Cowboys win in Washington and improve to 4-3, their playoff odds jump to 51%. If they lose and drop to 3-4, their playoff odds drop to just 14%.

Playoff odds based on seven games, 2002-2017
Record after six games 7-0 6-1 5-2 4-3 3-4 2-5 1-6 0-7
Playoff Teams 17 24 70 61 16 4 0 0
Total Teams 17 30 95 120 112 82 40 16
Percentage 100% 80% 74% 51% 14% 5% 0% 0%

The difference between 51% and 14% is 37 points, and that 37-point difference is the largest possible swing in playoff odds at any point in the season, as the graph below illustrates.

The Cowboys are 3-3, and there’s no point in arguing coulda, shoulda, woulda. They are 3-3, and they are facing the most important game of the season in terms of their playoff odds. Win and their playoff odds get a big boost, lose and their odds drop to 14%.

And that’s not even accounting for the divisional ramifications of a win against the Redskins.

Also, the 3-3 Eagles are in the exact same spot as the Cowboys. A win on Sunday against the Panthers, and they’ll remain on track for the postseason. Lose and they can start re-discussing the reality of Super Bowl hangovers.

We’ll know more next week.