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Cowboys fans rooting guide for Wild Card Weekend

How this week’s results will set up the next game if the Cowboys advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

If the Dallas Cowboys are successful in Monday’s first-round battle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will already know who the next opponent will be. Dallas could wind up in a few different second-round matchups depending on how the other NFC playoff games go this weekend.

Unlike fixed tournament brackets in some other sports, the NFL playoffs have shifting matchups depending on teams’ original seeding. In the second round, the first-seeded Philadelphia Eagles will face the lowest-seeded team that’s still standing. That could be anyone between Tampa Bay or the three wild card teams: Dallas, New York, or Seattle.

Assuming Dallas wins as the fifth seed, that leaves them right in the middle of the variables. They could be the highest remaining seed and get a second-round home game if all three wild card teams are victorious this weekend. Or, they could end up traveling to Philly if the 49ers and Vikings handle their business.

Obviously, we’re all rooting for the Cowboys to win and advance on Monday night. But which other NFC results should we be hoping for to give Dallas the best possible second-round opportunity?

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Scenario 1
Giants d. Vikings
Seahawks d. 49ers

Cowboys vs Giants in second round

This is the dream scenario; all three wild card teams win and blow up the NFC bracket. This would give the Cowboys a second-round home game against the Giants (5 vs 6) while the seventh-seeded Seahawks would have to go to Philadelphia.

The notion of all three wild card teams winning on the road is pretty fantastic, but it’s more realistic this year than in others. That Giants-Vikings matchup is hardly a tall task for New York; the G-Men already pushed Minnesota to the brink in a Week 16 game that ended on a field goal. With the Vikings’ up-and-down performances throughout the season, it’s entirely reasonable that the Giants win that game. You could barely even call it an upset.

On the other hand, the Seahawks upsetting the 49ers does feel quite improbable. They already got blown out the last time they went to San Francisco in Week 2, and now the 49ers are on a 10-game winning streak as they cruise into the postseason.

Still, it’s a division rivalry and the third time they’ve met this year. Crazy things happen in these games, and the Seahawks knocking the red-hot Niners out of the playoffs would certainly qualify.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Scenario 2
Giants d. Vikings
49ers d. Seahawks

Cowboys @ 49ers in second round

In this reality, the Giants would be the lowest remaining seed and would head to Philadelphia. That would leave the Cowboys and 49ers in a rematch of last year’s playoff game, only this time in San Francisco.

Some might argue that this is the worst possible outcome for Dallas. The 49ers are arguably the hottest team in the NFC right now and were a bad matchup for the Cowboys a year ago. While some pieces have changed, the basic identities, strengths, and weaknesses of both teams are still roughly the same.

The 49ers now have a relative unknown in QB Brock Purdy. Every game that they play between now and a possible meeting with Dallas is more tape for Dan Quinn to study.

Whether it’s in the second round or the NFC Championship Game, the road to the Super Bowl would likely go through San Francisco at some point for the Cowboys. But given the greater familiarity with the Eagles, seeing Philly in the second round might be preferable. The Cowboys are going to have a short week coming off Monday night and, between the Eagles or Niners, it would be nice to face the team we already know so well.

NFL: OCT 16 Cowboys at Eagles Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Scenario 3
Vikings d. Giants
49ers d. Seahawks

Cowboys @ Eagles in second round

Assuming the home teams defend their turf this weekend, except for Tampa Bay of course, then the rubber match between Dallas and Philly would be upon us. Barring any surprises, we’ll finally get to see Dak Prescott and Jalen Hurts active in the same game this season.

If the Eagles are truly the best team in the NFC, then catching them before the conference championship isn’t ideal. Getting back to the penultimate round of the playoffs is a significant goal for the Cowboys at this point, and you’d rather see the Eagles in that game if they’re going to be our toughest opponent.

That said, the short week after Monday night is a huge negative for Dallas. It’s less rest and prep time for the Cowboys in either matchup with the 49ers or Eagles, and they’ll already be the road team in either scenario.

That lost time shouldn’t hurt Dallas as much against Philadelphia. The fatigue factor will be the same in either case, but at least they know the Eagles and can build on that familiarity in the preparation for the game.

The 49ers will be playing this Saturday, giving them a potential two-day advantage over Dallas in terms of preparation and rest. The Eagles will be coming off a bye week, which at least opens up the door for the “rest versus rust” issue. That first-round bye has hurt teams before and perhaps that would work in Dallas’ favor as well.

[The following scenario was mistakenly left out of the original version of this article.]

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Scenario 4
Vikings d. Giants
Seahawks d. 49ers

Cowboys @ Vikings in second round

After seeing Dallas wallop Minnesota back in November, who wouldn’t mind this matchup? It’s not likely since it requires the Seahawks to upset the 49ers, but at least it’s on the table.

The Vikings still feel like the same team they were in Week 11 and really all season. They’ve skated by in some wins, even against suspect competition, and lost big to their better competition. Double-digit losses to the Lions and Packers down the stretch left Minnesota looking shaken going into the playoffs.

As mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Giants pulled off the road win this Sunday. If the Cowboys somehow do end up going to Minnesota in the second round, they’d likely be favored to win.

Granted, repeating the lopsidedness of the 40-3 blowout earlier this year would be hard to do. But it at least would present a much different mental approach than Dallas would have against the 49ers or Eagles. They could walk in with some swagger and focus on recent successes against the Vikings, rather than past failures and question marks.

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