Things are getting rather congested in the upper half of the National Football Conference. After some surprising losses by the supposed front-runner over the last two weeks, little now separates the two sides of the playoff bubble. It sets up for plenty of excitement the rest of the 2023 regular season, even as early as Week 8.
The last two weeks have seen the former consensus “best team in football,” the San Francisco 49ers, drop two games to the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings. With the Philadelphia Eagles losing in Week 6 and the Detroit Lions losing their second game last week, it creates far more intrigue atop the NFC standings than expected.
The Cowboys now find themselves just a game and a half behind the Eagles, who they still have two head-to-head matchups with this year. The Seahawks are only one back of the Niners. And in the NFC South, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and perhaps New Orleans are all within a game of each other.
Here are the playoff standings ahead of Week 8:
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-1 overall, 4-0 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (5-2 overall, 4-1 vs NFC)
- San Francisco (5-2 overall, 4-1 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-3 overall, 3-2 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (4-2 overall, 4-1 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (4-2 overall, 1-2 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3 overall, 3-3 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (3-4 overall, 3-2 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (3-4 overall, 2-2 vs NFC)
- Washington Commanders (3-4 overall, 2-3 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (3-4 overall, 1-2 vs NFC)
The Lions currently have a “strength of victory” tiebreaker over the 49ers, which will shift with more game results to come. Seattle tops Dallas in the wild card race thanks to their superior record against NFC teams. And in the cluster of 3-4 teams looking through the window, differences in their records within the conference are all that currently divide them.
With no byes in Week 8, everyone will be in action to potentially help or hurt their causes. What game outcomes would most benefit the Cowboys’ playoff positioning?
Rams @ Cowboys
This is a big one for many reasons. A win keeps Dallas apace with the top tier of NFC contenders and improves that losing record so far within the conference. It also gives them a potentially important head-to-head tiebreaker against the Rams who, if they get hot down the stretch, could easily be a factor in the wild card race. The Cowboys can’t afford to look ahead to next week’s first meeting with Philadelphia; this one could be crucial to their playoff hopes as well.
Eagles @ Commanders
Can Washington help us out here? They took the Eagles to overtime a few weeks ago in Philly, but that could also mean that now they’ll be taken more seriously. The Commanders have been unpredictably scrappy at times but surprisingly impotent at others, making it hard to project just what kind of challenge the Eagles are in for this week. Obviously, a ding to Philadelphia’s overall, divisional, and conference records would benefit the Cowboys.
Bengals @ 49ers
After their unfortunate two-game road trip, San Francisco returns home hoping to stop the bleeding. Cincinnati hasn’t been as good as expected so far this year, so this could be the right matchup for the Niners to work out their issues. But if QB Brock Purdy misses this one due to a concussion, asking Sam Darnold to outduel Joe Burrow might be too much. Dallas would love to see San Francisco keep on sliding.
Raiders @ Lions
Since beating the Chiefs in their season opener, Detroit’s only quality win has been over Tampa Bay in Week 6. Losses to the Seahawks and Ravens, especially getting blown out by Baltimore last Sunday, call the Lions’ legitimacy into question. The Cowboys would love to see them drop this one to an AFC opponent, but Vegas is the kind of team that Detroit’s been preying on most of the year.
Browns @ Seahawks
On the surface, you’d like for Seattle to lose and fall below Dallas for potential playoff seeding. After all, the fifth seed should get a desirable first-round matchup against the eventual NFC South winner. But what if the Seahawks can actually overtake the 49ers and claim the NFC West? That could actually be even more beneficial to the Cowboys’ greater aspirations.
Falcons @ Titans
If Dallas does somehow outrace Philly in the NFC East, it’s unlikely that the NFC South winner will be a threat to their playoff seeding. But assuming the Cowboys wind up as a wild card team, the Falcons could easily be one of the other teams vying for one of those spots. Atlanta taking another loss here and further mucking up the situation in their own division is the better result, albeit with a narrow margin for relevance.
Vikings @ Packers
It’s hard to see either of these teams surging to catch Detroit or even really becoming factors in the wild card race. A Minnesota loss just makes that even truer.
Buccaneers @ Bills
This week’s Thursday game is an interconference game with little meaning for Dallas. But in the interest of potential wild card competition down the road, a Tampa loss works in our favor.