Thanksgiving week in the NFL has always felt like a significant point in the season. It’s the beginning of the home stretch before the playoffs, when we can really see where teams stand and the opportunities to change fortunes become fewer.
Heading into Week 12, the NFC playoff picture is still a jumble. Even the Eagles, who eked out a big win on Monday night in Kansas City, can’t breathe easy with the Lions right behind them for the number-one seed. The Cowboys are also still in striking distance in the NFC East.
For Dallas, a critical goal was accomplished last week as they moved ahead of Seattle in the wild card race. If they can hang on to the fifth seed, that likely means a first-round game against the eventual division winner from the NFC South. If the Cowboys can’t catch the Eagles in their own division, playing the Saints, Falcons, or Bucs, even on the road, is a nice consolation prize.
If one aspect of the tournament is starting to become clear, it’s who the seven teams will be. Seattle and Minnesota have the last two wild-card spots and have two more wins than any of the 4-6 crowd below them. The Vikings are also halfway to getting a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Packers, playing them again at home in Week 17.
With whoever winds up winning the NFC South still being a major variable, the rest of the conference is forming its upper crust. It will drive much of the discussion over these final seven weeks of regular-season action.
Here are the NFC playoff standings ahead of Week 12:
- Philadelphia Eagles (9-1 overall, 6-0 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (8-2 overall, 5-1 vs NFC)
- San Francisco 49ers (7-3 overall, 5-1 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (5-5 overall, 2-3 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (7-3 overall, 4-3 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-4 overall, 5-2 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-5 overall, 6-2 vs NFC)
- Green Bay Packers (4-6 overall, 3-3 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (4-6 overall, 3-4 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-6 overall, 3-4 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6 overall, 3-4 vs NFC)
No tiebreakers are at work among the seven playoff teams; their slots are obvious based on overall record and division standings. As for the 4-6 outsiders, Green Bay is on top with a superior conference record. The Rams trump the Falcons with a strength-of-victory tiebreaker, and Atlanta is over Tampa currently thanks to a head-to-head win.
How can the Week 12 schedule help the Cowboys further improve their postseason position? Let’s get into our rooting guide.
Commanders @ Cowboys
Just when Washington was starting to look like a threat at the bottom of the playoff race, they pooped the bed against the Giants and all but ended their season. They do have a head-to-head win over Seattle and two upcoming games against Dallas to potentially help them, but the Commanders are just too inconsistent to be taken seriously. Let’s just hope they don’t have one of their up games this Thursday.
Bills @ Eagles
We were a few dropped passes by Chiefs receivers, and some dubious penalties, away from Philly taking a much-needed loss on Monday night. Buffalo has been surprisingly shaky this year but is capable of beating anyone. Fighting for their own playoff lives in the AFC, the Bills will hopefully help Dallas by doing what KC didn’t. If the Eagles can just drop one of their next two games, the Week 14 rematch between them and the Cowboys could be for the NFC East lead.
Packers @ Lions
We’re starting to get into a tough rooting place with Detroit. If you still believe in the Cowboys winning the NFC East, you’d like them to get the number-one seed as well. That means Detroit needs to lose a few. If you’re resigned to Philadelphia taking the division, you’d rather them not get that extra week of rest. Detroit is the best candidate to jump above them in that scenario. So how you root here really hinges on these other factors.
49ers @ Seahawks
Two big games between San Francisco and Seattle are left to play this year. The 49ers are out to prove their three-game slide in October is well behind them. With Seahawks QB Geno Smith nursing an injury to his throwing arm, this could be a tough day against the Niners’ stout defense. The best thing for Dallas from the NFC West is for Seattle to win the division, but they also don’t want either team to beat them out for the fifth seed. With San Fran having the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys, we may have to start rooting against Seattle soon.
Saints @ Falcons
Bucs @ Colts
There’s a big showdown in Atlanta this Sunday between the Falcons and Saints. QB Derek Carr is still in concussion protocol and may miss it, giving Atlanta an excellent chance to move into the division lead. Atlanta or Tampa Bay would be a preferable first-round matchup for Dallas over New Orleans, so we’re rooting for one of them to win the NFC South.
Bears @ Vikings
It’s hard not to root for QB Josh Dobbs for many reasons. But story aside, Minnesota is starting to get a little too frisky and isn’t that far behind Dallas in the wild card race. The Bears are irrelevant so the Vikings dropping this one would further tighten the Cowboys’ grip on the fifth seed.
Rams @ Cardinals
While mostly out of it now, Los Angeles still has late-season games against the Saints (Week 16) and 49ers (Week 18) where they could help Dallas by winning. They need to still be fighting for something by then, and losing to Arizona just might kill whatever motivation they have left.