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NFC East update: Cowboys, Eagles’ losses make things even messier

Now if both Dallas and Philadelphia win out, a relatively obscure tiebreaker comes into play.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys’ loss to the Buffalo Bills was about as bad as it gets in football, killing momentum and revitalizing concerns about how Dallas will fare in the playoffs. But it could’ve been worse; the Eagles’ loss on Monday night softened the blow and further complicated matters in the NFC East division race.

Going into Week 15, it was widely advertised that Philadelphia would eventually retake the division lead if both teams won out. This was because they’d finish with only two losses against NFC teams while Dallas would have three, which would have been the relevant tiebreaker after the two matched in head-to-head wins, division record, and common games.

But with the loss to Seattle, Philly now has their third NFC loss. While they lost in a nail-biter compared to Dallas getting blown out in Buffalo, it was arguably a bigger loss given the impact on potential tiebreakers.

Here are the division standings with three weeks still to go:

Given how the Cowboys flopped against the Bills and with the Eagles now losing three straight, talking about both teams finishing 13-4 may sound silly. Odds are that things will happen over the remaining regular season which will lead to a less complex conclusion in the NFC East race.

But let’s just play with this a little. If the Cowboys can get right and go beat Miami, they’ll be favored at home against Detroit and certainly against Washington. The Eagles have two games against the Giants and one against the Cardinals to go; all very winnable on paper.

So now, if both Dallas and Philadelphia win out, the strength of victory (SOV) tiebreaker would decide things. It’s simple enough; add up the win-loss records of every team each has beaten and whoever has the most wins has the higher SOV.

Both have already beaten the Patriots and Rams. In this winning-out scenario, you can add the Giants (twice), Commanders (twice), and Dolphins to that list. Those teams wouldn’t matter in calculating the SOV as it’d be the same for both the Cowboys and Eagles. Their wins against each other would also be a wash with matching overall records.

It’s the unique wins, the teams that one club’s beaten and the other hasn’t, which will decide SOV. For Dallas, those would be the Jets, Chargers, Panthers, Seahawks, and Lions. For Philadelphia, SOV would be based on the record of the Vikings, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Bills, and Cardinals.

Currently, the combined records of the Cowboys’ five teams is 29-41. The Eagles’ teams are 34-36, so right now Philly has a stranglehold on the SOV tie-breaker. While anything is possible and the Cowboys opponents they’ve beaten could get hot (and Philly’s falter), it seems highly unlikely that the Cowboys could jump ahead of the Eagles in the SOV tiebreaker scenario.

Unfortunately, Dallas would be relying on the weaker batch of teams. The Chargers have games against Buffalo and Kansas City still to come. Do we realistically expect them to upset even one of those two? Do we think Carolina’s going to go beat Tampa Bay in Week 18 when the Bucs could still be fighting for the NFC South?

Hopefully, a much simpler answer will come. The Cowboys win their next three and the Eagles don’t; problem solved. Even if Dallas were to lose one to either Miami or Detroit, they only need the Eagles to drop one of their division games against the Giants. Or if the Cowboys lose to the Lions but Philly loses to Arizona, Dallas would wind up NFC East Champions on the common games tiebreaker.

There are still so many ways this can shake out. What matters now is how both the Cowboys and Eagles respond to adversity and handle their upcoming games. This division race is about as tight as it gets in the NFL, making many games the rest of the way potentially relevant to the outcome.

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