With their win last Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys took a key step towards the still-breathing notion of winning the NFC East. They still need plenty of help to get there, let alone being the NFC’s top seed in the playoffs, but the dream is very much alive.
Incredibly, the potential for all four NFC East teams to make the postseason keeps getting stronger. The Giants can punch their playoff ticket with a win this week and Washington is still clinging to the last wild card spot.
Should Cowboys fans root for these division rivals to make the tournament? They may not frighten us as potential playoff opponents, but that also means they may not be much help in knocking off teams like the Eagles, Vikings, or 49ers to help clear Dallas’ path.
That question will be the dominant theme as go through the Week 17 schedule and see who Cowboys fans should be rooting for in key NFC matchups. Here’s how things currently stand:
- Philadelphia Eagles (13-2 overall, 8-2 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (12-3 overall, 7-3 vs NFC)
- San Francisco 49ers (11-4 overall, 9-2 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8 overall, 7-3 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (11-4 overall, 8-3 vs NFC)
- New York Giants (8-6-1 overall, 4-6-1 vs NFC)
- Washington Commanders (7-7-1 overall, 4-6-1 vs NFC)
In Range (Wild Card)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-8 overall, 5-6 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (7-8 overall, 5-5 vs NFC)
- Green Bay Packers (7-8 overall, 5-5 vs NFC)
In Range (NFC South winner)
- The Seahawks hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions from their Week 4 victory.
- The Lions currently hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Packers, but they play again in Week 18.
- The Panthers currently hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Saints, but they play again in Week 18.
The Cowboys can fall no further than the fifth seed now. Unless all of the dominoes fall that would allow them to steal the NFC East, it’s a virtual lock that they will play the winner of the NFC South in the first round of the playoffs.
We can still root for the miracle scenario within our own division, but our primary focus should be who’s going to come out of the other one. Barring the highly unlikely, the Cowboys will be headed to either Charlotte, New Orleans, or Tampa Bay for their first playoff game.
Cowboys @ Titans
In a way, you almost wish Dallas didn’t have anything else to play for in the regular season. It’d be nice for them to have no pressure for these last two weeks and be able to rest some key guys, especially with the short turnaround for this Thursday night game. But until the door truly closes on winning the NFC East, they have to keep focusing on the present.
Saints @ Eagles
A New Orleans victory is good on several levels. Of course, a loss for Philly is great in Dallas’ quest to claim the NFC East. Also, the consensus is that either the Saints or Panthers would be a preferable playoff opponent to Tom Brady and the Bucs. And lastly, Philly owns New Orleans’ 2023 first-round pick so the better their record, the worse that pick will be for the Eagles.
Panthers @ Buccaneers
If we’re all agreed that avoiding Brady in the playoffs is the best scenario, a Carolina win would be doubly beneficial. The Panthers would not only pull even with Tampa in overall record but also secure a head-to-head tiebreaker, having beaten them back in Week 7.
Vikings @ Packers
There’s a bit of “pick your poison” in this one. We need a Minnesota loss for Dallas to have any shot at the number-one seed in the NFC. However, I think I want to see Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs even less than Tom Brady. Hopefully Green Bay can help us this week but still fall short of the postseason.
49ers @ Raiders
San Francisco also needs to lose one game if Dallas wants the number-one seed. They currently have a 9-2 record against NFC opponents while the Cowboys are 8-3, which would be a potential tiebreaker. While Vegas doesn’t seem like a team who can do the job, you never know in this league.
Colts @ Giants
This is a tough one and depends on your perspective. A win here for New York would clinch a wild card spot, which is good if you’re not afraid of the Giants as a potential playoff opponent. But that would also make their Week 18 finale against the Eagles meaningless, and we need New York to win that game if Dallas is going to catch Philly. For consistency’s sake, we’re keeping the dream alive and rooting for Indy.
Browns @ Commanders
Jets @ Seahawks
Bears @ Lions
These last three games all come down to who you want to see in the playoffs in that last wild card spot. Would you rather see a team like Washington who you’re not that worried about in an eventual meeting, or would you rather have a team like Seattle or Detroit who has a better shot at playing the spoiler in their first-round game?
This also goes back to the question about whether or not you want the Packers in the playoffs. Right now, Green Bay is still behind all three of these teams for that last wild card spot.
Frankly, I’m not scared of Minnesota if Dallas had to go back there in the second round. I’d be much more worried about having to play Green Bay again, regardless of the location. So in the name of keeping Aaron Rodgers out of our lives, I’ll root for any of Detroit, Seattle, or Washington to make the postseason over the Packers.