November 5th, 2023. A day that will live in infamy for this fan as we watched the Dallas Cowboys squander an opportunity to pull off a road win against the Philadelphia Eagles. Four chances to go six yards. 27 seconds left. Nope.
It’s a moment that still haunts, not only because of how good it would’ve felt to beat the hated Eagles, but because of the two-game swing it had in the standings. From that point on, it just felt like the hole Dallas dug was too deep. The Cowboys have since had four straight victories, but have gained absolutely no ground on the Eagles because those pesky Eagles have continued to stroll along, eking out victories. It’s sorta their thing. And if you think that’s just a bitter response from a Cowboys fan who refuses to give the Eagles credit, well, that’s only sorta true because if you look at overall team DVOA, the Eagles are barely inside the top 10. When people say they’re not as good as their record indicates, they’re right.
While we all have our own opinions about just how good the Eagles are, what’s not up for debate is how Philadelphia has a stranglehold on the NFC East. It’s tempting right now to be optimistic about them losing to San Francisco on Sunday and then the Cowboys beating them at home the following Sunday. If this happened, the Cowboys would temporarily take over the top spot in the NFC East. That would be fantastic, right?
Yes, it would, but remember, we said temporarily. The Cowboys would jump Philly for the division lead, but only because they would have a better division record at 4-1 vs. that of the Eagles at 3-1. If the Cowboys (one game at Washington) and the Eagles (two games against New York) win their remaining divisional games, the Eagles would re-jump the Cowboys for the division lead. The Cowboys would be helpless as the Eagles finish off their schedule which consists of:
- at Seattle Seahawks
- vs. New York Giants
- vs. Arizona Cardinals
- at New York Giants
This is disheartening. If the Cowboys were to win out and the Eagles drop their next two games, Philadelphia could still waltz through their final four games and win the division. The reason for this is that the Eagles hold the advantage in the tie-breaker scenarios. Assuming the scenario we just mentioned where both teams finished at 14-3, here is how things would play out. The NFL tie-breaker procedures for two teams within the same division are as follows:
- Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs). PUSH
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division. PUSH
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games. PUSH
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference. EAGLES WIN
- Strength of victory in all games. EAGLES WIN
The Eagles have so conveniently lost their only game to an AFC opponent, the New York Jets. The Eagles are 6-0 against the NFC so far this season, whereas the Cowboys are 5-3. Even if the Eagles drop their next two games, they’d then be 6-2 in the NFC and would still need another conference loss to tie the Cowboys in this tie-breaking category.
As you can see, the Cowboys are in bad shape in this tie-breaker category and the Eagles would have to lose at least one of their final four games of the season. If that were to happen, would the Cowboys still have to win out to stay ahead of the Eagles?
If both teams finish at 13-4 and the Cowboys' only remaining loss is to the Detroit Lions (non-common opponent), then the Cowboys would win the East based on tie-breaker category 3, win % in common games. If they lose to any other team, they lose the tiebreakers either by conference opponent or strength of victory. Note: the Eagles win the strength of victory because they have beaten teams with a better record.
If we’re being realistic, the Cowboys' best chance to win the division is if somehow Tommy Devito and the New York Giants continue their winning ways and pull off an upset in one of their late-season matchups.
If we come to terms with the likely reality ahead of us and accept that the Cowboys are destined for the five seed and would be playing a wild card road game against the NFC South division winner, which isn’t that terrible, then we should be asking ourselves, how would we like the rest of the seeding to go?
Here is where we present an alternative rooting solution. Not everyone will buy in, but we wanted to put it out there.
Assuming Dallas beats Atlanta or New Orleans, they would be in line to play the No. 1 seed in the NFC as long as the other division winners advanced. If Philly keeps winning, then that would be them. However, if the Eagles drop a couple more games, one of which is to San Francisco, then it could end up being the 49ers who own that top spot. Do we want that? Ask yourself who would you prefer the Cowboys play - the team that has bounced Dallas from the playoffs in two straight seasons, crushed them in Week 5, and have the second-best DVOA in the league, or the
Fly Get By Eagles, Fly Get By ninth-ranked DVOA team? Maybe we shouldn’t be rooting for an Eagles loss on Sunday. Maybe it would ultimately be better if they just beat up on each other and the Eagles eked out another victory.
It’s hard to conceptualize tapping the breaks and playing for the fifth seed, especially with so many games left, but they have to play the long game here. Some will say, “Bring me the top teams, to be the best, you got to beat the best!” And while that’s noble, we just want success. We want to at least advance past the divisional round for crying out loud. We want some breaks for a change. And the best way for that to happen is to have the path of least resistance.
The Cowboys are still playing for something, we get that. The Cowboys have also earned themselves a three-game lead over the next-best NFC teams as well as holding the tie-breaker over Seattle. There is nothing wrong with resting up down the stretch and bracing themselves for another tough road divisional game, preferably against the Eagles.