Only six more regular season games remain. Man, where does the time go? As the season progresses, each game becomes more and more important. Currently, the Dallas Cowboys hold a one-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. They also have the lead in the tiebreaker advantage by virtue of beating them last month.
Looking around the NFC, there are five teams with a better record than Dallas. The San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints all currently lead their division and look to have a playoff berth all but locked up. The two top wild card teams also have been doing a lot of winning and they have a sizable lead over the Cowboys. The Seattle Seahawks are ahead by two games and the Minnesota Vikings are ahead by one game, but the Vikings hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas by virtue of beating them last week. All of this paints a picture of “NFC East or bust”; getting into the playoffs as a wild card team doesn’t look very likely.
The good news is that the East is very winnable. Neither the New York Giants or Washington Redskins pose any type of threat, so the division remains a two-team race. It doesn’t matter how ugly it is to get there, if the Cowboys can just secure the division, they’ll earn post-season play and even host a playoff game at AT&T Stadium.
So, with just six games left on the docket, how are things looking in terms of the tiebreaker situation just in case these two teams end the regular season with the same record? The NFL tiebreaker hierarchy go as follows:
- Head to head
- Divisional games
- Games against common opponents
If the Cowboys beat the Eagles next month, everything else is moot if these two teams end up tied. That means the Cowboys could be trailing the Eagles in the standings by a game by the time these two square off again, and still control their own destiny since beating them again would tie things up and give the Cowboys the head-to-head tiebreaker. That’s a nice advantage. To put that in perspective, the Cowboys could drop two games in the standings to Philadelphia over the next month and still be okay. Now, obviously we don’t want that to happen, but it could happen, and the Cowboys would still be alive if they could just take care of business in the money game at Lincoln Financial in Week 16.
If the Eagles win that second contest and these two teams end up tied, then the next criteria is divisional record. With the assumption that these teams split the head to head, here is how things look with the other teams in the division (wins in green, losses in red, blank indicates game still remains):
Both the Cowboys and Eagles have won all their contests so far against the Giants and Eagles; however, the Eagles still have a total of three more games left against those two teams. While these are very winnable games for Philly, it’s still three more opportunities to drop one. Outside of sweeping the head-to-head, this is the Cowboys best chance to win the tiebreaker because the next level is not looking so good. Let’s look at the games with common opponents.
This is where the Cowboys are in bad shape. The Eagles are almost done with these games with only the Miami Dolphins left. They’ll likely end up with a 5-3 record here. The Cowboys already have three losses to these teams, so if they drop one of their next three games (New England, Buffalo, or Chicago), that puts them at four losses in that group. Essentially, the Eagles have a stranglehold over this tiebreaker scenario, so the Cowboys don’t ever want it to get to this point. They need to make sure they cover one of the first two scenarios. The easiest way to do that is just by beating the Eagles themselves, but if that doesn’t happen - we are going to have to pull for either the Giants or Redskins to upset them.
There’s still plenty of football left to be played, but the season continues to fly by, so these are the types of things we’ll be monitoring from this point on.