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Cowboys fall behind Eagles in NFC East race

Philadelphia is now up by a game, but there’s still hope with two weeks to go

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are back in second place in the NFC East. With just weeks left in the regular season, Dallas’ Week 16 loss to Miami and the Eagles’ win over the Giants has put Philadelphia back in the lead.

Both teams found themselves in close games. Despite a mostly uninspiring performance, the Cowboys had a one-point lead over the Dolphins with under four minutes to go. But a facemask penalty on Damone Clark, followed by more defensive letdowns, allowed Miami to milk the clock and hit a gimme field goal for the victory.

At least Dallas was on the road against a fellow playoff team. Philadelphia nearly extended their losing streak in a surprisingly close battle with the visiting Giants. Up 20-3 at halftime, the Eagles had a turnover on the first kickoff of the second half and gave New York enough momentum to rally back to a one-possession game. While Philly got the win, it still left concerns about where they stand going forward.

Both the Cowboys and Eagles are in that boat now. Having two of the four best records in the NFC feels rather meaningless now; both are struggling and creating doubts ahead of the playoffs. At the very least, San Francisco’s beatdown from Baltimore has given some hope that the 49ers aren’t untouchable in the NFC.

Here are the division standings ahead of Week 17:

Obviously, the Eagles now control their destiny in the NFC East. Dallas would need them to drop at least one game to reopen any hope of claiming the division. But even though Philadelphia’s last two games are against the Cardinals and Giants, their shaky play over the last month leaves some sense of possibility.

As a reminder, here are the tiebreakers used to decide a division winner:

  1. Head-to-head
  2. Division record
  3. Common games record
  4. Conference record
  5. Strength of victory

We talked a lot last week about that strength-of-victory tiebreaker. If Dallas and Philadelphia had both won out from Weeks 16-18 then it would’ve been the deciding factor between them. But the Dolphins are one of the opponents who factor into common games, and the Eagles beat them earlier this year. Currently, Dallas is 5-3 in common games and Philadelphia is 5-2.

This week the Eagles host the Cardinals, the last game that will count towards common games. If they win then they secure the tiebreaker. But a loss to Arizona would once again even things up between Dallas and Philly in common games. It would also hang a fourth NFC loss on the Eagles, which would potentially allow the Cowboys to move back up into the lead.

Dallas of course needs to handle its own business against Detroit this Saturday night. They can ill afford to drop that game now for their own NFC record, let alone other potential postseason impacts. And there are still critical NFC East matchups for both the Cowboys and Eagles in their finales against Washington and New York, respectively.

The key takeaway here is that, as bad as it feels right now, Dallas’ loss to Miami wasn’t as damaging to the goal of winning the division as it might seem. All they need is for Philadelphia to slip once in either of its next two games, which they seem very capable of doing right now, and the Cowboys could pounce and retake the lead.

Can Dallas correct course and take advantage if the Eagles give them an opportunity? That’s the big question now as we head into the penultimate week of the 2023 regular season.

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