The Cowboys jumped from fifth to second in the NFC playoff picture with last week’s win over the Eagles. But the new NFC East leaders can’t afford any letdowns; any shot at winning the division and getting the number-one seed still depends on Philadelphia and the San Francisco 49ers losing at least one more game.
As has been broken down several times on this site, Dallas could win all of their remaining games but still lose the division to Philly. If they do take the East, the Cowboys also need to be at least one game better than the 49ers to avoid the head-to-head tiebreaker and claim the number-one seed.
At this point, the NFC feels like it’s all about these three teams. Even the Detroit Lions are seemingly suspect now, losing two of their last three and barely squeaking by bad teams in other recent games. With Minnesota and Seattle also sliding, the jumble of teams vying for the last two wild card spots, plus whoever wins the NFC South, don’t feel threatening at all.
Here are the NFC playoff standings ahead of Week 15:
- San Francisco 49ers (10-3 overall, 8-1 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (10-3 overall, 7-3 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (9-4 overall, 6-3 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7 overall, 5-4 vs NFC)
- Philadelphia Eagles (10-3 overall, 6-2 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-6 overall, 6-3 vs NFC)
- Green Bay Packers (6-7 overall, 4-4 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (6-7 overall, 4-4 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-7 overall, 5-5 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (6-7 overall, 4-5 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (6-7 overall, 3-5 vs NFC)
For tiebreakers among the true contenders, the 49ers have the head-head-over Dallas and would be the number-one seed with these standings. The Cowboys are the current NFC East leaders based on a better division record (4-1) than the Eagles (3-1), but we’ve already discussed extensively what it would take for Dallas to actually win the NFC East by the end of the season.
In the sloppy NFC South, Tampa Bay currently has a common games tiebreaker over Atlanta and a head-to-head edge over New Orleans. So much can still happen here; the Saints have a game left against each team and all three are separated by slim margins. Cowboys fans should still be highly interested in this tortoise race as the eventual winner is still our most likely first-round opponent.
All of a sudden, the two teams who don’t win the South could now be vying for wild card spots. The Seahawks and Vikings have been struggling and allowed others to get into the conversation. Green Bay is the current seventh seed with a complex combination of tiebreakers over the other 6-7 clubs. With four more weeks to go, who knows where they’ll all stand when it matters?
The Week 15 schedule provides plenty of opportunities for big swings in the NFC picture. Let’s get into our rooting guide for Dallas fans.
Cowboys over Bills
Dallas probably can’t afford any losses if they want a shot at winning the NFC East, let alone the number-one seed. While dropping this one to an AFC team wouldn’t hurt their conference record, it would be another loss in their common games tiebreaker with the Eagles. Dallas and Philly are currently tied at 6-2 and Buffalo is one of the teams that they both played. Dallas can actually clinch a playoff spot with a win.
Seahawks over Eagles
While Seattle winning would actually make it harder for Dallas to clinch a playoff spot this week, are we really worried about the Cowboys getting into the tournament at this point? The focus should be on how good a seeding Dallas can get and that’s where the Seahawks can help us by hanging another loss on Philly. That, or any other Eagles’ loss the rest of the way, would open the door for the Cowboys to control their own destiny in the NFC East. Seattle isn’t looking great right now but they may still be the best team left on Philadelphia’s schedule.
Cardinals over 49ers
Crazy things happen in division games. Arizona pulling off this upset at home wouldn’t be the wildest thing that happened this season, and it would certainly benefit the Cowboys. They have to finish at least one game better than the Niners to avoid that head-to-head tiebreaker.
Lions over Broncos
As we’ve been saying for a few weeks now, Dallas’ odds of winning the NFC East aren’t good. If we can’t be the number-one seed in the conference, far better that Detroit gets it than Philadelphia or San Francisco. While it’s unlikely the Lions would beat out the 49ers for it, anything that keeps them in the hunt is worth rooting for.
Bengals over Vikings
Dallas has a three-game lead over Minnesota so this one doesn’t matter too much. However, with Cincinnati being from the AFC, their winning this game means nothing. The Vikings are one of the few teams with any shot at challenging for the fifth seed, so why not see them lose?
Buccaneers over Packers
There’s a double benefit to Tampa Bay winning here. For one, the Bucs aren’t scary as the NFC South winner and Dallas’ potential opponent in a “4th vs. 5th” matchup. Also, even if they don’t take their division, Tampa feels like a weaker wild card team than Green Bay. Of the 6-7 teams, the Packers and Rams feel like the two with the most “any given Sunday” potential to be a problem in a playoff game.
Commanders over Rams
By that same logic, Washington beating Los Angeles here helps keep Sean McVay, Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford, and some other guys with skins on the wall out of the playoffs. Not only that, but the Commanders’ 2024 draft position is hurt by a better record. That’s a win-win for the Cowboys.
Giants over Saints
Falcons over Panthers
These two are about shaping Dallas’ playoff path. If we do wind up as the fifth seed, we’d rather see Atlanta or Tampa Bay winning the NFC South and being our opponent than having to go to the Superdome. Plus. as an added bonus, New York’s fourth-straight win would further damage their upcoming draft pick.