We are just six games into the 2021 NFL season and the Dallas Cowboys already have a three-game lead in the NFC East, making them the overwhelming favorites to take down the division title. In fact, they currently sit with an 87% chance to win their division according to this NFL playoff picture forecast courtesy of The New York Times:
A division win comes with a guaranteed home game to open the playoffs as well as a playoff seeding no worse than fourth. With the Cowboys firmly in the driver’s seat in the NFC East, the mindset of fans gradually shifts towards the bigger picture, which involves a deep playoff run.
While it’s still relatively early in the season, we have already gotten some sense about how good certain teams are and which ones appear to pose the biggest threat to the Cowboys. With sights set high, it’s only natural to think about the path of least resistance come playoff time and start orchestrating how we’d like things to play out going forward.
Obviously, the top goal should be the top seed as such an honor comes with the luxury of being the only team in the conference who will have a first-round bye in the playoffs. That’s huge. Currently, the undefeated Arizona Cardinals sit at the no. 1 spot with a 6-0 record, but four other teams are hot on their tail: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1), Los Angeles Rams (5-1), Green Bay Packers (5-1), and our Dallas Cowboys (5-1).
Here are the current NFC seedings courtesy of CBS Sports:
These top five teams in the NFC not only have the best records in the conference, but they have established themselves as the top dogs. They all have at least two more wins than the next best team in the conference.
The no. 1 seed team in the NFC gets a week off while the remaining division winners are all playing on wild card weekend; however, not all contests that week are equal. The no. 2 and 3 seed teams will host one of the easier NFC teams while the no. 4 seed will face an extremely difficult matchup that will likely include the NFC West runner-up, either the Rams or Cardinals. Both those teams have a top 10 scoring offense and defense and they’re the only two teams that have better yards per attempt efficiency on offense than the Cowboys. It should go without saying, facing one of these teams is not how they’d want to kick off their 2021 playoff run. Yet, on the other hand, hosting a team like the New Orleans Saints or Minnesota Vikings seems considerably easier.
Not only would a dreaded no. 4 seed pit them against a formidable first-round opponent, but winning that game would then reward them with having to play the no. 1 seed in the NFC in the divisional round. That’s not ideal either. In short, for the no. 4 seed to make it to the Super Bowl, they’d likely have to beat all three of the top NFC teams in the playoffs and that’s just a daunting task.
And sure, to be the best, they have to eventually beat the best, but winning a Super Bowl takes more than just talent. They also need good health and it never hurts to have some good luck on their side. Any opportunity to create a more favorable path increases their chances of making it to the big game.
The main point of this piece is to point out that it shouldn’t be “first seed or bust” when it comes to finagling playoff seeding. If the Cowboys at some point in the season fall out of contention for the top spot, they still have plenty to play for. Securing one of the top three spots could prove to be absolutely vital in sustaining a deep playoff run.