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NFL Playoff Tracker: Cowboys remain on track for playoffs and division title

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The chances of making the postseason look good for the 5-3 Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Cowboys handily beat the Giants on Monday, so their playoff odds showed a nice improvement - or so you would think.

As we continue our weekly look at the Cowboys’ playoff odds, today we’re once again going to look at five different sources for playoff odds, and see how those have changed since we last looked at them after Week 7.

Keep in mind that after Week 7, the Cowboys were at 4-3, while the Eagles had just dropped to 3-4. The Cowboys have since had a bye week, so they are now at 5-3, while the Eagles have played two games and are now at 5-4, which is bound to have an impact on the playoff odds.


Historical data: 58% (Wk 7: 51%)

Since realignment in 2002, when the current divisional format was established, 57 of 99 teams that started the season with a 5-3 record made the playoffs. That’s a 58% historical chance of making the playoffs. But that’s just a multi-year average and doesn’t factor in anything specific to the Cowboys’ situation, which other projections do.

N.Y. Times NFL Playoff Machine: 65% (Wk 7: 60%)

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

The Playoff Machine allows you to simulate the rest of the season, which is a lot of fun all by itself, but it also allows you to check out which of the remaining eight games currently impact the Cowboys’ playoff odds the most. Here’s how a win against each team on the remaining schedule would impact today’s 65% playoff odds:

Odds are you didn’t need some fancy algorithm to tell you that the game against the Eagles in week 16 will be the key to the postseason, but there it is. Of course, these numbers are all calculated based on the data available today, and a lot can change over the coming weeks.

Fivethirtyeight.com: 59% (Wk 7: 66%)

The odds here drop because of the effect described above: The Eagles have played one more game than the Cowboys and have thus closed the gap a little versus where both teams were two weeks ago.

Football Outsiders: 77.0% (Wk 7: 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 remain way ahead of the Eagles in the FO numbers, but the Eagles have narrowed the gap a little thanks to the extra game they have played.

Team Record Mean Proj. Wins DIV BYE WC TOTAL Change vs. Wk 7
DAL 5-3 10.0 72% 6% 6% 74% +3%
PHI 5-4 9.1 28% 1% 11% 39% +8%
NYG 2-7 5.1 0% 0% 0% 0% -2%
WAS 1-8 3.2 0% 0% 0% 0% -0%

ESPN’s FPI Index: 71.5% (Wk 7: 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.

The extra game played by the Eagles impacts the Cowboys’ numbers.


Overall, the Cowboys remain on schedule for a playoff berth, even if technical reasons mean the odds have not improved quite as much as we might have anticipated.

But simply making the playoffs may not be such a stretching target. It may be premature for a team that has had some up and down performances, but perhaps the Cowboys should be setting their sights for the No. 1 or No. 2 seed (and the homefield advantage that comes with the seeding). Right now, they look to be pretty far away from either seed, as that would mean beating out two of the current three division leaders down the stretch: the 49ers (8-0), the Saints (7-1), and the Packers (7-2). And that’s not even figuring in the Seahawks (7-2) or Vikings (6-3).

The odds of a bye seem slim right now. FO have the Cowboys with a 5.3% chance at the No. 2 seed, and a 0.8% chance at the No. 1 seed. 538 puts the chances of getting a first-round bye at 3%, the NYT at 2%.

Last year, the Cowboys went on a 7-1 run down the stretch. If they were to repeat that, they would be competing for one of the top two NFC seeds. Plugging that 7-1 run into the NYT Playoff Machine (while doing the Eagles the courtesy of giving them a win against the Cowboys, and the Patriots the discourtesy of giving them a loss) gives the Cowboys a 36% chance of a first-round bye.

36% is pretty much the value of the playoff odds for the Eagles, and since that ain’t happening, a first-round bye for the Cowboys probably ain’t happening either.

But you never know.