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Can Cowboys still make the playoffs? Of course they can, but it won’t be easy.

The Cowboys are 1.5 games back in the NFC East. Is there a historical precedent for teams coming back from such a deficit this late in the season to take their division? Of course there is.

Atlanta Falcons v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Heading into Week 11, the Cowboys are in last place in the NFC East at 2-7. Other teams with a 2-7 record like the Chargers are six games out of first place in their division, the Texans are four games out of the division lead in the AFC South.

But in the NFC East, the Cowboys (and Washington) are just 1.5 games behind first-place Philadelphia (3-5-1), and there’s a (however remote) chance the Cowboys close the gap to just half a game with a win in Minnesota on Sunday. It may not happen on Sunday, but if the Cowboys are still eyeing a playoff spot, they’ll have to make up two games on the Eagles by the end of the season.

We’ve all heard how no team since 1978 (when the league moved to a 16-game schedule) has made the playoffs off a 2-6 or 2-7 start. But what about teams that won their division after being two or more games behind the division leader heading into Week 11?

Rejoice!

Since realignment in 2002, five teams have accomplished that unlikely feat. Here’s a look at the five teams that climbed out of a two-game-back hole after week 10 to win their division.

1. 2018 Dallas Cowboys

They did it once before, can they do it again?

NFC East, Week 10, 2018 NFC East, Week 17, 2018
Team W L GB Team W L GB
1. Washington 6 3 - - 1. Dallas 10 6 - -
2. Dallas 4 5 2 2. Philadelphia 9 7 1
3. Philadelphia 4 5 2 3. Washington 7 9 3

In 2018, Washington lost Alex Smith in Week 11 and finished the season on a 1-6 run, and the Cowboys took advantage by closing the season 6-1 en route to their first playoff win since 2014.

2. 2018 Baltimore Ravens

AFC North, Week 10, 2018 AFC North, Week 17, 2018
Team W L T GB Team W L T GB
1. Pittsburgh 6 2 1 - - 1. Baltimore 10 6 0 - -
2. Cincinnati 5 4 0 1.5 2. Pittsburgh 9 6 1 0.5
3. Baltimore 4 5 0 2.5 2. Cleveland 7 8 1 2.5
4. Cleveland 3 6 1 3.5 3. Cincinnati 6 10 0 4

At 4-5, the Ravens pulled the plug on bus driver Joe Flacco, and handed the team over to rookie Lamar Jackson, who promptly led the team to a 6-1 finish and a division title.

3. 2014 Seattle Seahawks

NFC West, Week 10, 2014 NFC West, Week 17, 2014
Team W L GB Team W L GB
1. Arizona 8 1 - - 1. Seattle 12 4 - -
2. Seattle 6 3 2 2. Arizona 11 5 1
... ...

In 2014, the Cardinals stormed out to an 8-1 record until QB Carson Palmer tore his ACL in Week 10. After that, the Cardinals limped to a 3-4 record, and lost the division to the late-surging Seahawks, who finished their season on a 6-1 run.

4. 2012 Washington

NFC East, Week 10, 2012 NFC East, Week 17, 2012
Team W L GB Team W L GB
1. NY Giants 6 4 - - 1. Washington 10 6 - -
2. Dallas 4 5 2.5 2. NY Giants 9 7 1
3. Philadelphia 3 6 3.5 3. Dallas 8 8 2
4. Washington 3 6 3.5 4. Philadelphia 4 12 6

In 2012, Washington moved from last to first in the NFC East in the span of just seven weeks behind a 7-0 record to close the season. They also got a lot of help from the general suckitude in the NFC East that year.

Importantly for Washington, five of their last seven games were against other NFC East teams, and Washington won all five of those games en route to the division win - and an early playoff exit in the wildcard round.

5. 2003 Green Bay Packers

NFC North, Week 10, 2003 NFC North, Week 17, 2003
Team W L GB Team W L GB
1. Minnesota 6 3 - - 1. Green Bay 10 6 - -
2. Green Bay 4 5 2 2. Minnesota 9 7 1
... ...

The 2003 Vikings stormed out of the gate to a 6-0 record but then struggled down the stretch, and the Packers would finish 6-1 down the stretch to take the division title in Week 17.


All the examples above saw teams going on a 6-1 or 7-0 run down the stretch to take the division crown. The Cowboys certainly won’t be able to do that this year, but they don’t need to do that anyway. They just need the NFC East to continue to suck. And then they need to suck a little bit less. And from there, anything can happen.

Or is it that already asking too much?