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Cowboys Playoff Tracker: Block your calendars for January

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The chances of making the postseason look pretty good for the 3-0 Cowboys.

Football - NFC Wild-Card - Eagles vs. Cowboys Photo by Jim Cowsert/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Week 3 in the NFL is an interesting week, because it is the first week after which the first teams are basically eliminated from playoff contention. Since realignment in 2002, only one of the 81 teams that started the season 0-3 made the playoffs, which effectively means the 0-3 teams (Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Steelers, Bengals, Broncos) can all start focusing on mock drafts.

Week 3 is also interesting for the seven teams (including the Cowboys) that started the season 3-0, because those teams are already on a playoff track, as their historic playoff odds are already quite high at 70%.

The table below shows what the playoff odds have looked like over the last 17 seasons by W/L record after the third game of the season.

Playoff odds based on Week 3 W/L records, 2002-2018
Record after Week 3 3-0 2-1 1-2 0-3
Total Teams 82 189 192 81
Playoff Teams 57 98 48 1
Percentage 70% 52% 25% 1%

A 70% chance after three weeks sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but the important question is this: Are the 3-0 Cowboys good enough to maintain their early performance over the rest of the season?

The Cowboys’ three wins have come against opponents who have combined for one win in nine games. That’s a 0.111 strength of victory (SOV), one of the lower values in the league, which has already prompted some in Cowboys Nation to proclaim the soft schedule as the true reason for the fast start, and not any improved scheme, coaching, personnel, or (gasp!) the most accurate quarterback in the league.

No such negativism is present in New England, where the mighty, mighty Patriots, also 3-0, have a SOV of 0.000, meaning their three opponents so far (Steelers, Dolphins, Jets) haven’t won a single game this season.

The Bears and Seahawks, both with two wins, also have a SOV of zero. Zilch. Nada. The 49ers, 3-0 like the Cowboys and Patriots, have a 0.111 SOV, identical to Dallas.

Here’s a look at the Week 3 SOV by W/L tier:

Teams Wins Losses Ties Strength of Victory
3-Win Teams
Patriots 3 0 0 0.000
49ers 3 0 0 0.111
Bills 3 0 0 0.111
Cowboys 3 0 0 0.111
Chiefs 3 0 0 0.444
Rams 3 0 0 0.444
Packers 3 0 0 0.444
2-Win Teams
Bears 2 1 0 0.000
Seahawks 2 1 0 0.000
Ravens 2 1 0 0.083
Colts 2 1 0 0.333
Lions 2 0 1 0.333
Texans 2 1 0 0.333
Vikings 2 1 0 0.333
Saints 2 1 0 0.667
1-Win Teams
Browns 1 2 0 0.000
Eagles 1 2 0 0.000
Raiders 1 2 0 0.000
Panthers 1 2 0 0.167
Buccaneers 1 2 0 0.333
Falcons 1 2 0 0.333
Giants 1 2 0 0.333
Jaguars 1 2 0 0.333
Titans 1 2 0 0.333
Chargers 1 2 0 0.667
0-Win Teams
Bengals 0 3 0 - -
Broncos 0 3 0 - -
Cardinals 0 2 1 - -
Dolphins 0 3 0 - -
Jets 0 3 0 - -
Redskins 0 3 0 - -
Steelers 0 3 0 - -

This early in the season, these looks at SOV or even strength of schedule are all over the place, largely because a team’s SOV over the first few weeks is in large part a result of its own W&/L record. If the Cowboys had lost their first three games, their SOV would be .444 and nobody would be complaining about a soft schedule.

Ultimately, you can only play the teams on your schedule, whoever those teams may be, and whatever their W/L record might look like at any given time. You just need to be careful not to assume that because you won your first three games, you’ll automatically win the remaining 13 games.