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NFL Playoff Tracker: Cowboys back in drivers seat in NFC East

The chances of making the postseason don’t look bad for the 4-3 Cowboys.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Here at Blogging The Boys, we’ve been faithfully tracking the Cowboys’ playoff chances since Week 1, undeterred by their recent three-game slide, and encouraged by their win over the Eagles on Sunday.

In last week’s playoff tracker, we looked at why the Cowboys faced a must-win game against the Eagles:

If the Cowboys beat the Eagles 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 15%.

Well, the Cowboys won, and their playoff odds rocketed skyward, just as the Eagles’ odds plummeted like Ed Harris into the abyss.

But these odds are based on historic averages over the last 17 seasons, and you might feel the odds are too generic and don’t apply to the situation of the Cowboys specifically and the NFC East more generally. And that’s true.

So as we continue our weekly look at the Cowboys’ playoff odds, today we’re going to look at five different sources for playoff odds.

Historical data: 51%

Since realignment in 2002, when the current divisional format was established, 65 of 128 teams that started the season with a 4-3 record made the playoffs. That’s a 51% historical chance of making the playoffs. But that number doesn’t factor in the weak state of the NFC East, which other projections do.

N.Y. Times NFL Playoff Machine: 60%

The calculations here are based on Sagarin ratings which are calculated based on W/L record, points differential, and schedule strength.

But the nifty thing about the Playoff Machine is that it allows you to simulate every game for the rest of the season, which is a gigantic waste of time. So, of course I went and did exactly that.

I’m going to spare you the many iterations I went through (all of which ended up with the Cowboys making the playoffs, of course), but I will share what the Playoff Machine projects as the playoff odds for the Cowboys should they win their next game in two weeks against the Giants: 66%

This site uses Elo ratings to calculate playoff odds.

Elo ratings are fairly straight forward in that they estimate each team’s skill level using only the final scores of previous games and the locations of each game. That skill level is translated into a points system where an average team has 1,500 points, and teams usually fluctuate somewhere between 1,300 and 1,700 points. The Cowboys for example are currently ranked 10th overall with 1,570 Elo points.

Those Elo ratings say the Cowboys have about a 2-in-3 chance of making the playoffs.

Football Outsiders: 73.8%

FO considers the strength of the coming opponents (as measured by DVOA) as well as home-field advantage in calculating their playoff odds. The Cowboys are way ahead of the Eagles (31%) in the FO numbers, and FO show just how much of an impact Sunday’s game had on the NFC East playoff odds:

Team Record Mean Proj. Wins DIV BYE WC TOTAL Change
DAL 4-3 9.4 71% 6% 3% 74% +27%
PHI 3-4 8.2 27% 1% 5% 31% -26%
NYG 2-5 5.5 2% 0% 0% 2% -3%
WAS 1-6 3.7 0% 0% 0% 0% -0%

ESPN’s FPI Index: 76.6%

ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) uses expected points added per play to calculate offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency. For the playoff projections, the FPI data is married with team strength, opponent strength, home-field advantage, QB injuries/suspensions/absences, and adjusted for such oddities as travel distance, altitude and other seasonal effects.

FPI has the Cowboys ranked ninth overall, with a 76.6% chance of making the payoffs, which is quite a bit better than the Eagles (30.8%). Also, LOL @ Giants (0.4%) and LMAO @ Redskins (<0.1%).

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