The Cowboys lost horribly in last Sunday’s trip to Buffalo, but their shot at winning the NFC East may have actually improved. Thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss in Seattle, Dallas maintained its division lead and watched their rival take a critical loss within the conference.
Even before kickoff against the Bills, Dallas clinched a playoff spot thanks to earlier action that day. They’re at least guaranteed to be a wild card now and, with certain outcomes this week, can lock up being no lower than the fifth seed. That’s especially important this year with the fourth vs. fifth matchup looking like a relatively easy game against the NFC South winner.
But winning the NFC East and getting into one of those higher seeds, with at least a first-round home game, is still the goal. As we’ve broken down throughout the week, the Eagles’ NFC loss to the Seahawks cost them the advantage in conference play. Now, if both Dallas and Philly win out, the division tiebreaker would be strength of victory (SOV).
Long story short; SOV is determined by adding up the win-loss records of every team you’ve beaten. Whichever batch of opponents has the better composite record gives either Dallas or Philadelphia the win.
Right now, the Eagles would have the advantage if both teams win out. But if teams Dallas has beaten like the Chargers, Jets, and Seahawks can win some more games the rest of the way, while some of Philly’s unique opponents like the Bills, Chiefs, and Vikings lose, the Cowboys could still catch up and get the tiebreaker. It’s not a likely scenario but at least not impossible.
Here are the NFC playoff standings ahead of Week 16:
- San Francisco 49ers (11-3 overall, 9-1 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (10-4 overall, 7-3 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (10-4 overall, 6-3 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7 overall, 6-4 vs NFC)
- Philadelphia Eagles (10-4 overall, 6-3 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-7 overall, 6-3 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (7-7 overall, 5-4 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-7 overall, 6-5 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (7-7 overall, 4-5 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (6-8 overall, 4-6 vs NFC)
- Green Bay Packers (6-8 overall, 4-5 vs NFC)
Dallas is currently the second seed thanks to one extra NFC win over Detroit. Their Week 17 matchup should settle matters more than anything else. Tampa Bay is the current frontrunner in the NFC South thanks to a head-to-head win over New Orleans, but they’ll meet again next Sunday.
The four-team rumble for the last two wild card spots finds the Vikings and Rams hanging on but by slim margins. Minnesota’s 6-3 record within the NFC is keeping them as the sixth seed right now. Los Angeles’ head-to-head win over Seattle and better conference record than New Orleans gets them into the last spot. Much can still happen here, and the Packers and Falcons are still in striking distance.
So let’s get into the rooting guide. We’ll break down each relevant matchup by how it could potentially benefit the Cowboys, and that now covers a lot of ground with the SOV tiebreaker.
Cowboys over Dolphins
Of course, we never root against the Boys. But let’s take this opportunity to dig a little deeper into what happens if they do beat Miami. Because the Eagles beat the Dolphins earlier this year, Miami’s current 10 wins (and probably 11-12 by the end) would be a big boost to Philly’s SOV at the end of the year. But if Dallas can also beat them, it essentially takes Miami off the board as the Cowboys would now get those same wins calculated into their SOV.
Giants over Eagles
Break out the gabagool and embrace the Tommy Devito experience. New York can potentially hang a devastating NFC East loss on Philadelphia which would take so much complexity out of the tiebreaker conversation. At that point, Dallas could suffer a loss to Miami or Detroit and still be division champs.
Ravens over 49ers
This one is all about preserving some hope of Dallas getting the number-one seed, for which they’ll probably need at least two losses by San Francisco the rest of the way. Baltimore will almost have to be one of the teams to do it as the Commanders and Rams are the other two left on the Niners’ schedule.
Lions over Vikings
Detroit is one of the teams that will factor into Dallas’ SOV and Minnesota is one of Philadelphia’s. With next week’s game between the Cowboys and Lions being more critical to seeding issues, this is a good swing game to help Dallas gain some ground on the Eagles in SOV.
Plus, Minnesota is one of the only teams who could still threaten for the top wild card spot. Even if Dallas loses this week, losses or ties by the Vikings and Saints would secure that the Cowboys can fall no lower than the fifth seed.
Jaguars over Buccaneers
Chargers over Bills
Jets over Commanders
Seahawks over Titans
Panthers over Packers
Bears over Cardinals
Raiders over Chiefs
Lots more SOV-relevant action here. Dallas’ SOV would be determined by the final records of the Chargers, Jets, Lions, Panthers, and Seahawks. The Eagles’ five teams would be the Bills, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, and Vikings. Simply put, we want the Cowboys’ five teams to win as many games as possible the rest of the way and for Philly’s teams to lose.
There are some additional bonuses in these outcomes. If you’re rooting for Atlanta to win the NFC South, which you should given their QB issues, then a Bucs loss helps. A Packers loss not only boosts Carolina’s record but also drops Green Bay as a potential wild card team.
Rams over Saints
Falcons over Colts
There’s no SOV impact here but just shaping the eventual NFC South winner, who could easily be Dallas’ first-round opponent. The Falcons have just switched quarterbacks from Desmond Ridder to Taylor Heinicke despite being a game out of their division and a wild card spot, showing how unsettled things are there. Give me that over Baker Mayfield or David Carr in a playoff game.
On that same score, a Saints loss to Los Angeles not only helps keep New Orleans out of the playoffs but also could help Dallas clinch the fifth seed. The Rams can’t catch Dallas thanks to our head-to-head tiebreaker.