Week 3 in the NFL is an interesting week, because it is the first week after which the first teams are effectively eliminated from playoff contention. Since realignment in 2002, 96 teams started the year 0-3, and only one of them (‘18 Texans) made the playoffs. Under the new 14-team playoff format, two more teams since 2002 would have made the playoffs (‘13 & ‘19 Steelers). That’s a combined playoff percentage for 0-3 teams of just 3.1%.
Which means the season is effectively over for the 0-3 teams (Giants, Lions, Colts, Jaguars, and Jets), who can now focus on tanking for a high draft pick and begin the process of firing their coaches.
Week 3 is also interesting for teams like the Cowboys that started the season 1-1, because the third game often points such teams in one direction or the other. The Cowboys won against the Eagles and improved to 2-1, which saw their historic chances of getting one of the seven playoff spots this year jump to 58%. Had they lost, they would have dropped to 1-2 and their playoff odds would have tanked to 30%.
But is that historic perspective the right one for the Cowboys this year?
When you want to make the playoffs, it helps to play in a crappy division, and the NFC East certainly is exactly that. The Giants are already out of it at 0-3, while Washington and Philly are barely hanging on at 1-2.
FiveThirtyEight.com is currently showing the Cowboys with a 66% chance of winning their division, the third highest percentage in the league behind only the Bills and Titans (both with 79%).
The Cowboys currently project as a 10-7 team on the site, with the Eagles their closest divisional competitor with seven projected wins. Washington (six wins) and the Giants (four) are even further behind.
Football Outsiders use a different methodology, but come to roughly the same conclusion, even if their numbers appear to be even more favorable for the Cowboys: They have the Cowboys with a 71.2% chance of winning the division, and also project them for 10 wins.
For the Cowboys, the surest route to the playoffs this year is to win the lowly NFC East division, and it may be easier this year than it’s ever been in recent memory.
Don’t need no playoff math to figure that one out.