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It’s been a long time since the Cowboys needed help to get into the playoffs; how did it turn out?

Week 17 will have a different feel for Cowboys fans, one we haven’t seen in 14 years.

Dallas Cowboys vs Oakland Raiders - October 2, 2005 Photo by Kirby Lee/NFLPhotoLibrary

The Dallas Cowboys are technically still alive for a playoff berth. After Sunday’s disappointing loss to Philadelphia Eagles, there aren’t too many fans who are excited about making it to the postseason if this is the type of performance we are going to see. It’s understandable to feel deflated at this moment in time. After all, the Cowboys no longer control their own destiny as they will need some help on Sunday. Not only do the Cowboys need to take care of business against the Washington Redskins, but they’ll also need the New York Giants to pull off the upset over the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is kind of a strange position for the Cowboys to be in. Sure, every Week 17 of the NFL consists of certain playoff scenarios where some teams need help to get in. For Dallas, they haven’t been in this situation in a while. The last time a Week 17 game consisted of playoff implications for the Cowboys was in 2013, but all they needed to do was win their own game and they were in. In fact, they were in this same scenario for the 2011 and 2012 seasons as well, and each time they lost the finale and finished the season 8-8.

For a better part of a decade, the Cowboys have been in control of their own destiny in Week 17 whenever playoff implications were on the line. But that is not the case this week, so now fans will have to do some scoreboard watching as the Eagles/Giants game will be going on at the same time as the Cowboys matchup with the Redskins. When was the last time we’ve had to keep tabs on another game in Week 17?

A trip down memory lane

Off the cuff, I remember back to 1990 in Jimmy Johnson’s second year with the team. After finishing 1-15 the previous season, he turned the team around and entered the final two weeks with a 7-7 record. All he needed was one more win in the final two games and the Cowboys would clinch themselves a playoff spot. Unfortunately, Troy Aikman hurt his shoulder late in the season. Backup quarterback Babe Laufenberg struggled and the Cowboys lost to the Eagles in Week 16 by a score of 17-3.

So, let’s recap:

  • Team is 7-7 after the first 14 games
  • Need a win against the Eagles in Week 16
  • Starting quarterback injures shoulder
  • Eagles score 17 points and beats Dallas when offense fails to score a touchdown

That sounds awfully familiar.

The Cowboys lost the following week as well and finished 7-9 on the season. Jimmy was so disgusted by his team’s performance that in his his post-game press conference he had given up on any hope of getting into the playoffs and said the Chicago Bears (already clinched a playoff spot) should go ahead and get ready to play the New Orleans Saints (would take the final playoff spot with a win over the Los Angeles Rams).

The Cowboys still had a glimmer of hope to get in, but they were at the mercy of a Rams team who only had five wins on the season. A late-game field goal by Mort Anderson won the game for Saints and just like that the Cowboys were officially eliminated from the playoffs.

The last time they needed help was...

While that memory stands out, this wasn’t the last time the Cowboys needed help to get in. Back in 2005, the Cowboys had a shot to secure one of the final playoff spots in Week 17, but also needed help. They needed to win their game against the St. Louis Rams, but also needed another team to lose as well. In this particular case, the Cowboys had multiple paths to get in. A loss by the Redskins, Carolina Panthers, or the combination of losses by both Tampa Bay and New York Giants - would all open the door for the Cowboys. That may sound confusing, but the Cowboys entered the final week with few different ways they could sneak into the playoffs. Unfortunately, every single one of those teams won their Week 17 game, eliminating the Cowboys from playoff contention.

It was the last game for Sean Payton as the Cowboys assistant head coach/passing game coordinator as he left for New Orleans to be their head coach. Who knows how that turned out for him? Head coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer stuck around one more year, but left the Cowboys after the 2006 season.

That brings us to Sunday...

Yes, the Cowboys need help. Dallas is a 10-point favorite over the Redskins, and the Eagles are 4.5-point favorites over the Giants. If you use the money line (Cowboys -550, Eagles -220) and a little statistical combination calculations (84.6% x 31.2%), you’d find that the Cowboys have a 26.3% chance to make the playoffs. How do you feel about that? It’s basically like winning the coin toss two times in a row, and we know how good we are at the coin toss.

Beating the Redskins certainly seems doable, although we take nothing for granted these days when it comes to this Cowboys team. The challenging part will be what takes place in MetLife Stadium. Can the Giants beat Philly? Well, let’s lay things on the table...

It took the Eagles overtime to beat them last time, and that was in Philadelphia... with Eli Manning. The Giants have Daniel Jones back in the saddle and he’s coming off a game where he threw for five touchdowns. Not only that, but a healthy Saquan Barkley is coming off a game where he had 279 total scrimmage yards. The Giants have put up 77 points over their last two games.

When you consider the Eagles are still banged up and have their own issues with consistency, this game might be a little more interesting than some think. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best, but make no mistake about it, the Cowboys playoff chances are still alive.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been put in this precarious situation of paying attention to two crucial games that need to turn out in our favor for the Cowboys to make the playoffs, but hey - that’s what makes Sundays so exciting. Am I right?

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