Way back before this season started the National Football League instituted a 17th game for all of its teams beginning with the 2021 season. As a result we will see a Week 18 for the first time in the history of the NFL.
As weird as that is to still say/see/talk about, it is possible that the actual game that the Dallas Cowboys play could be even more strange. Dallas is set to visit the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular-season finale, and if things go a certain way between now and then, we could watch one of the most weirdly important games between the two teams in recent memory.
Heading into the penultimate week of the regular season the Dallas Cowboys are NFC East Champions and contending for one of the top spots, potentially even the top spot, in the conference. The Philadelphia Eagles can clinch a playoff berth as a Wildcard team this week, but again if chips fall in a certain direction then the matchup next week could be for all the marbles. Just different kinds of marbles.
The Philadelphia Eagles can clinch a playoff berth this week, but we don’t want to see that happen... yet
In order to understand how uncommon of a game next week’s Cowboys/Eagles matchup could be, we have to lay out what is on the line for Philadelphia this week. You might be unaware that they can clinch a playoff berth if three main things happen this week:
- Philadelphia beats Washington
- San Francisco beats Houston OR Carolina beats New Orleans
- Green Bay beats Minnesota
Number three on this list also happens to hold extreme significance to the Dallas Cowboys as a Green Bay Packers win lowers the probability of Dallas securing the number one seed for themselves. The Packers play the Detroit Lions next week so needless to say the greatest chance for them to lose (which has to happen for the Cowboys to be the top seed) is this week.
So let’s say then that the Eagles get everything that they need except for the Vikings loss. That would set Philadelphia up for a situation next week where they could clinch a playoff berth, according to The New York Times’ simulator, with either a win or a Vikings loss.
The Eagles host the Cowboys next week as you know, but in case you were unaware the Minnesota Vikings host the Chicago Bears. It is unlikely that the Bears would beat the Vikings as they lost to them very recently and are an awful football team, but if that happened then Philadelphia would be in.
A Vikings win this week would set up the Cowboys to potentially clinch the number one seed next week
The Cowboys are in contention for one of the top seeds in the NFC by virtue of being part of a three-way tie at the moment (Tampa Bay and L.A. (Rams) both also currently have an 11-4 record). Dallas owns the tiebreaker in this situation, which is conference record, and would also hold it against the Green Bay Packers should the Cowboys win out.
A world where Dallas is the one seed only becomes available to us if the Vikings manage to beat the Green Bay Packers this week. This part of the equation is essential. If Minnesota wins at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, assuming the Cowboys took care of the Arizona Cardinals hours before, then they would be in a position to secure the number one seed with a win in Week 18.
Here is the recipe for the Cowboys clinching the number one seed according to The New York Times.
- Dallas beats Arizona in Week 17
- Minnesota beats Green Bay in Week 17
- Dallas beats Philadelphia in Week 18
- Green Bay beats Detroit in Week 18
If these things happen then the Cowboys clinch the top seed in the conference regardless of the results for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams over the next two weeks. But again, the Cowboys need a loss by the Packers and, as noted, the far more likely opportunity for that is this week against the Vikings as Minnesota has already beaten Green Bay this season.
Week 18 might be the most ultimately weird game of importance between the Cowboys and Eagles
If you look at the NFL schedule for Week 18 at the moment, you will see that each and every game is set to kick off at 1pm ET. The league always waits until the penultimate week of the regular season is over to schedule which games will take place in the afternoon window and which one will take place on Sunday night so as to get the games with the highest level of playoff implications in the later windows.
There are two hypotheticals to consider here (but in order to do so you have to assume all of the things that we already did to get to this point). Let’s discuss them.
Hypothetical #1: Chicago/Minnesota takes place before Dallas/Philadelphia
Say the NFL scheduled the Bears/Vikings game for the early window and the Cowboys/Eagles game for the afternoon next week. If this were the case then it could be possible for the Bears to win before the Eagles play, which would mean that Philadelphia would know before kickoff that they are in fact in the playoffs as discussed.
What would the Eagles do in this situation? They would suddenly be given an opportunity for rest before the tournament begins and would be foolish not to capitalize on it, right? If you don’t get the first-round bye and have an opportunity to manufacture your own you have to do it, no?
The thing about this is that while Philadelphia would not be playing for much in this timeline, they could be playing to stop the Cowboys from something special which leads us to our second what-if.
Hypothetical #2: Chicago/Minnesota takes place after Dallas/Philadelphia
If the Eagles do not know the results of next week’s Bears/Vikings game before kicking off against Dallas then they would obviously have to play the game in its fullest sense to try and guarantee a playoff berth themselves. For what it’s worth, they could lose to the Cowboys and still enter the playoffs as long as the Vikings go on to lose. At present time any Vikings loss is helpful for Philly, we just don’t want it to be this week.
As mentioned, if we are willing to believe that Minnesota wins this week then the Cowboys would be playing for the number one seed while Philadelphia could be playing for a playoff ticket in general. It would be fascinating to watch this type of matchup in general let alone between division rivals as they would be playing for different things of significant importance.
This all sort of comes down to the Minnesota Vikings
If the Vikings win on Sunday night then all of this legitimately comes into play. It would be very interesting if they did lose to the Bears before next week’s Cowboys/Eagles game because the Eagles would in fact be given the opportunity to rest but at the cost of effectively handing the number one seed and first-round bye to their top division rival.
If the shoe were on the other foot there would be a lot of Cowboys fans who would want to capitalize on the opportunity to rest, but the idea of setting Philadelphia up so wonderfully would be sickening.
Let’s hope that the Eagles are put in such a compromising place next week.