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Cowboys vs. Eagles is now THE NFC East game of the year with major playoff implications

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This one will be massive for the NFC East championship.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

It had to be this way, didn’t it? The Cowboys and the Eagles playing in the biggest NFC East game of the year, one that could make or break playoff fortunes. This Sunday Dallas hosts Philadelphia and either the Cowboys will essentially knock the Eagles out of the division race, or the Eagles will retain control of their own destiny. Both teams control their own destiny at this point, but that will be true of only one of them, the winner, after Sunday’s game.

Dallas is 7-5 and one game ahead of 6-6 Philadelphia. If the Cowboys can beat the Eagles this week, that gives them a two-game lead, 8-5 versus 6-7. Not only that, but the Cowboys will have swept the season series from Philly, making it really a three-game lead. You can almost close the book on the NFC East if the Cowboys win, as long as the Cowboys don’t go into a tailspin. If they beat Philadelphia, then one more win by Dallas, or one more Philly loss, would eliminate the Eagles from NFC East contention.

A Philadelphia win changes the equation. Both teams would be 7-6, but the Eagles would be the team that controls their own destiny. Still, that’s not quite the death sentence for Dallas that it could be. Why? Because the Eagles still have to go on the road and play the Rams, then come home and host the Texans. That’s two division leaders that are playing some of the best ball in the NFL. Winning out for Philadelphia is a tall task, only made slightly easier by finishing with Washington.

The New York Time Playoff Simulator allows us to calculate the playoff odds for both teams depending of the outcome of Sunday’s game:

Current playoff odds: Cowboys 79%, Eagles 27%

If Cowboys win: Cowboys 96%, Eagles 19%

If Eagles win: Cowboys 47%, Eagles 52%

Tied game: Cowboys 86%, Eagles 18%

The Cowboys still have a tough game on the road after Philadelphia when they travel to Indianapolis to face a Colts team that was red-hot. I say ‘was’ because they just got shut out by the Jaguars. Their game against the Texans this week might give us an indication of where they are at right now. The Cowboys follow that Colts game up with two winnable contests against the Buccaneers and the Giants.

The other part of this battle is the wild card. Because some NFC teams have fallen on hard times recently, getting to the playoffs this way is not out of reach for the Cowboys. Only Seattle, at 7-5, has maintained momentum and they hold the head-to-head tiebreak over Dallas. Carolina has cratered and are now behind Dallas at 6-6, but hold a head-to-head tiebreak if it comes to that. The Vikings are a half-game back due to their tie at 6-5-1. At this point, if they weren’t leading the NFC East, Dallas would be the sixth-seed as a wild card just ahead of Minnesota and Carolina. Also of note, the Vikings and the Seahawks battle this week so one of those teams will get another loss.

Mixed into all of this is the fact that the Cowboys could potentially get a third-seed in the NFC. The Chicago Bears shocking loss to the New York Giants knocked them down to 8-4, one game ahead of the Cowboys. The Bears are worth keeping an eye on too amidst this playoff push.

Here are the schedules for the teams in the playoff hunt with the Cowboys:

Wk 14 Wk 15 Wk 16 Wk 17
Cowboys (7-5) vs. Eagles @ Colts vs. Buccaneers @ Giants
Eagles (6-6) @ Cowboys @ Rams vs. Texans @ Redskins
Redskins (6-6) vs. Giants @ Jaguars @ Titans vs. Eagles
Bears (8-4) vs. Rams vs. Packers @ 49ers @ Vikings
Seahawks (7-5) vs. Vikings @ 49ers vs. Chiefs vs. Cardinals
Vikings (6-5-1) @ Seahawks vs. Dolphins @ Lions vs. Bears
Panthers (6-6) @ Browns vs. Saints vs. Falcons @ Saints

We haven't mentioned Washington yet and at 6-6 they are still mathematically in the hunt, but now that they are down to Mark Sanchez among a slew of other injuries, it’s hard to believe they have what it takes to stay in the race.

The Cowboys sit in a better position than the Eagles. First, the Eagles have to travel to Dallas for this game on short rest while Dallas has been on a mini-bye. Second, the Cowboys are one game up in the standings and have the ability to basically deliver a knock out punch to the Eagles’ NFC East hopes. Third, even if Dallas loses there are still paths to the playoffs given Philly’s very tough schedule ahead and the possible wild card route opening up.

This is a huge game, no doubt. But it’s a bit more of a ‘must-win’ for Philly than Dallas.

Here are the current playoff standings in the NFC.