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Cowboys Playoff Tracker: How win over Lions changed Cowboys’ postseason odds

Still a long way to go for the Cowboys, but things are looking up.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Here at Blogging The Boys, we’ve been tracking the Cowboys’ playoff chances since Week 1, even though there were some questions about why we would be talking about the playoffs after losing the season opener. The Cowboys are now 2-2, and we continue with our weekly look at the Cowboys’ playoff odds, even as folks continue to think posting Jim Mora’s “Playoffs?” rant is still somehow original 12 years after it happened.

We’ll start off today’s look at the playoff odds with this convenient reference chart which shows the historic playoff odds since realignment in 2002 for every relevant W/L record.

At 2-2, the historic playoff odds for the Cowboys stand at just 36%. Which looks a little strange considering that 0-0 teams and 1-1 teams have better odds than 2-2 teams. But this has a lot to do with the number of games remaining.

If we consider that 11 wins gets you a sure playoff berth (in most years), then 0-0 teams need an 11-5 record - or a .688 winning percentage - to make the playoffs. But a team already at 2-2 needs to finish the season with a 9-3 record (.750 winning percentage) to get to 11-5, and that higher required winning percentage is why the odds of making the playoffs are lower for a 2-2 team than a 1-1 or 0-0 team.

But the historic odds are just one way of looking at playoff odds. Here are four more:

In an Elo-based calculation that takes into account scoring differential, last season’s record (to an extent), the unexpected nature of their wins and more, the site gives the Cowboys a 38% chance of making the playoffs, pretty much in line with the historic odds.

Football Outsiders

Another source for playoff odds comes from our good friends at Football Outsiders. Here’s how FO see the playoff odds for winning the division, getting a bye week, or gaining a wild card berth:

Team Record Mean Proj. Wins DIV BYE WC TOTAL Change
WAS 2-1 8.9 42% 15% 15% 56% +2%
PHI 2-2 8.1 30% 7% 12% 41% -12%
DAL 2-2 7.9 25% 5% 10% 34% +3%
NYG 1-3 5.8 4% 1% 3% 7% -3%

With a 34% chance at the playoffs for the Cowboys, FO is pretty much in line with the historic odds.


Oddshark shows that the Cowboys have improved their odds of winning the NFC East to +275 after opening the season with +333. Current Odds to win NFC East:

  • Philadelphia Eagles -118 (opening: -180)
  • Dallas Cowboys +275 (+333)
  • Washington Redskins +350 (+700)
  • New York Giants +1200 (+700)

Pythagorean Win Projections

We looked in detail at the Pythagorean Formula in last week’s playoff tracker and saw that it would have taken a big win against the Lions to move the projection noticeably.

Under Garrett’s tenure, the team has been oscillating around eight wins for the last eight years, and barring a huge showing against the Lions next week, the data here is robust enough to suggest that the ceiling for the 2018 team is yet another 8-8 season.

The Cowboys did win against the Lions, but only by two points, so the Pythagorean win projection for the Cowboys after four weeks is at a lowly 7.0 wins, and that’s certainly not enough for a playoff berth.

But all of this is just a snapshot.

So here’s the question the next few weeks need to answer: Are the 2018 Cowboys a playoff contender whose offense was simply off to a slow start to the season and is now finding its groove? Or are the four games so far indicative of what the 2018 Cowboys are - a middling team with an eight-win ceiling?

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