Though we’re only a week away from the start of the 2022 playoffs, there’s still plenty left undetermined on the NFC’s side of the bracket. The Dallas Cowboys are right in the middle of the uncertainty, with multiple potential scenarios for the first round still in play pending the results from Week 18.
The vast majority of Cowboys fans are rooting for the ultimate prize: the number one seed in the conference and all that comes with it. Not only would that grant Dallas a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the tournament, but it would also make the Cowboys the first back-to-back winners of the NFC East since 2004.
To get there, Dallas has to win its own game against the Washington Commanders. They would also need a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles to the New York Giants in order to win the division, then a loss by the San Francisco 49ers to the Arizona Cardinals to move up to the number-one seed.
That’s certainly a lot to ask for, especially with both the Eagles and Niners facing teams that have nothing to play for this week. But even if Dallas doesn’t get everything it wants from those games, that still leaves four different potential first-round opponents yet to be decided.
If the Cowboys don’t win the NFC East then they’re headed to Tampa Bay in the 4/5 matchup as the top wild card team. If Dallas wins the division but doesn’t get the top seed, then they’ll be second and face one of either the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, or Seattle Seahawks as the seventh-seeded team.
Let’s take one last look at the regular-season standings, then dive into the schedule and discuss what needs to happen for Dallas to get the best possible playoff matchups.
- Philadelphia Eagles (13-3 overall, 8-3 vs NFC)
- San Francisco 49ers (12-4 overall, 9-2 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (12-4 overall, 7-4 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8 overall, 8-3 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (12-4 overall, 8-3 vs NFC)
- New York Giants (9-6-1 overall, 4-6-1 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-8 overall, 5-6 vs NFC)
In Range (Wild Card)
- The 49ers are ahead of the Vikings thanks to a better record in conference games.
- 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 this week.
Cowboys @ Commanders
Giants @ Eagles
Cardinals @ 49ers
As mentioned above, these are the big three outcomes needed to get Dallas into that top seed. While there are some afraid of the Cowboys having a week off and then coming out flat in the second round, that’s a risk worth taking to get home field plus the extra rest and healing time for players. Dallas went 8-1 at AT&T Stadium this year.
The Giants may or may not rest some players in Week 18, even though they can’t do anything to change their playoff position as the sixth seed. Cowboys fans will want them to play everybody, especially with Eagles QB Jalen Hurts likely returning this Sunday.
Unfortunately, Arizona isn’t likely to give the 49ers much trouble. They were barely solvent with Kyler Murray and now they’re down to David Blough, who they just signed off Minnesota’s practice squad a few weeks ago, as the starting quarterback. Their season never even really started.
Let’s say Dallas winds up NFC East champions but the Niners win their game, putting the Cowboys as the second seed in the playoffs. That means we’ll be very interested in who claims that final wild card spot for the 2/7 matchup in the first round.
Rams @ Seahawks
Lions @ Packers
This is an interesting situation between Detroit, Green Bay, and Seattle. The only team that controls its own destiny is the Packers; if they beat the Lions, they’re automatically in the playoffs regardless of what the Seahawks do. Green Bay’s superior record against NFC opponents would take care of that.
Seattle needs to win its own game and have Detroit beat Green Bay to make it, having a head-to-head victory over the Lions earlier this year. Similarly, the Lions have to beat the Packers and have the Seahawks lose to Los Angeles to avoid that tiebreaker.
Right now, Detroit and Green Bay are the hotter teams going into the tournament. The Packers have won four in a row and Detroit is 6-2 over the second half of the regular season. Meanwhile, Seattle has only gone 2-5 since Week 10 and is limping into the postseason.
If the Cowboys are going to wind up as either the first or the fourth seed, maybe you want to see the Lions or Packers make it so that they could potentially knock off the Eagles, 49ers, or Vikings in the first round. But with the potential for the Cowboys being in that 2/7 matchup, give me the scenario that brings the Seahawks to Dallas.
Unfortunately, thanks to the schedule makers, Detroit will know if it has anything to play for before kickoff. The Rams-Seahawks game will be played earlier in the day, meaning a Seahawks win would eliminate the Lions from the playoffs before their game even starts. This could set up nicely for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to sneak their way back into the postseason, one of the last teams I want the Cowboys to have to deal with.
Buccaneers @ Falcons
This has no bearing on playoff seeding, but it’d be nice for Tampa Bay to have as little momentum as possible before a possible 4/5 matchup with the Cowboys.
Vikings @ Bears
While Minnesota can no longer threaten Dallas’ postseason goals, I’d like to see them stay in the third seed and host the Giants in the first round. They barely beat New York a few weeks ago and the Giants could easily finish the upset in a second meeting.
Saints @ Panthers
As always, we’re rooting for that 2023 first-round pick New Orleans traded to the Eagles to have as little value as possible.