The Cowboys’ 2023 playoff run may begin where the last one did. Based on Week 16’s results and what lies ahead, Dallas could easily be returning to Tampa Bay and a first-round rematch with the Buccaneers.
Despite their loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Cowboys can now fall no lower than the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs. Losses by the Saints and Vikings in Week 16 ensured that no other wild card team could catch up to Dallas. While the Rams and Seahawks are both 8-7 and could match the Cowboys’ overall, Dallas has head-to-head wins over both. So even if the Cowboys were to lose every remaining game and finish 10-7, and one or both of Los Angeles or Seattle wins out, Dallas would still be the fifth seed based on tiebreakers.
Other NFC playoff hopefuls like the Falcons, Packers, Saints, and Vikings can now finish no better than 9-8.
While the Cowboys are still holding out hope of winning the NFC East, the Eagles would have to get upset in one of their final two games against the Cardinals or Giants to make that possible. Philadelphia should be a heavy favorite in both of those contests, even after having to fend off New York in Week 16. Barring an unexpected loss by Philly, the Cowboys will finish the year as the fifth seed. That means a road game against the NFC South winner, who is locked into the fourth seed, and right now that’s looking like it will be the Buccaneers.
On a four-game winning streak and with budding chemistry behind veteran QB Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay has the lead in the division and is well-positioned to finish the job. They can put New Orleans away with a win next week, which would give them a head-to-head tiebreaker, and then finish the season against the Carolina Panthers.
Even if the Falcons can win their last two against the Bears and Saints, both on the road, they would need a Bucs loss to just pull even in overall record. Atlanta and Tampa split their season series, so then it would come down to division record. Currently, the Bucs have the edge there as well.
Last January, the Cowboys went to Tampa and got the road victory. It was a memorable game; Dak Prescott played lights out while Tom Brady was sent into retirement on a low note. It was a short-lived glory as Dallas went on to an ugly elimination at the hands of the 49ers.
If the Cowboys and Bucs were matched up today, Dallas would likely be favored even as the road team. But after two straight losses for the Cowboys and Tampa’s current streak, it will be interesting to see what momentum they bring into the postseason.
Again, it’s still possible that Dallas might win the NFC East or that Tampa might not win the South. But at their current trajectories, and based on the teams around them, the Cowboys and Buccaneers are heading toward another first-round playoff date. We’ll see if it proves true after the final two weeks of the regular season.