No matter what happens over the next two weeks, the Cowboys’ season won’t be over. But even with a playoff spot clinched, Dallas still hopes to improve its positioning. They’ll need help from other game outcomes, and thus we bring you the Week 17 rooting guide.
The Cowboys have established a solid floor to their 2023 postseason. At the very worst, they will be the fifth seed and travel to meet whoever wins the NFC South. Right now that’s trending toward a rematch with Tampa Bay, but things are still undecided on both fronts.
The hope now is that enough things happen, particularly with the 49ers and Eagles, to still allow Dallas to move back into the NFC East lead and perhaps even the top spot in the conference. While both are unlikely, neither is off the table with two weeks to go in the regular season.
Here are the NFC playoff standings ahead of Week 16:
- San Francisco 49ers (11-4 overall, 9-1 vs NFC)
- Philadelphia Eagles (11-4 overall, 7-3 vs NFC)
- Detroit Lions (11-4 overall, 7-3 vs NFC)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7 overall, 6-4 vs NFC)
- Dallas Cowboys (10-5 overall, 7-3 vs NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (8-7 overall, 6-4 vs NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-7 overall, 6-5 vs NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-8 overall, 6-4 vs NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (7-8 overall, 4-6 vs NFC)
- Green Bay Packers (7-8 overall, 5-5 vs NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (7-8 overall, 4-6 vs NFC)
The 49ers hold the top spot in their three-way tie with Philadelphia and Detroit based on their superior 9-1 record in the NFC. The Eagles currently have a strength-of-victory edge over the Lions to make them the second seed, but that will likely change over the last two weeks. In the wild card, Los Angeles swept Seattle in the regular season so gets the sixth seed on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So what do the Cowboys need to have happen in Week 17 to help them potentially move back into the division lead and higher seeding? Or if they do wind up as the fifth seed, how can we get the best possible opponent out of the NFC South? Let’s get into the rooting guide.
Cowboys over Lions
While Dallas can’t drop lower than the top wild card spot, we’d love to see them prevent Philly from winning the NFC East and earn a first-round home game. While they don’t necessarily have to beat Detroit to make that happen, it would certainly improve their chances. Philly isn’t likely to drop both of their remaining regular-season games, if any, so the Cowboys need to win out to have a realistic opportunity.
If Dallas can somehow win the division, a head-to-head win over Detroit would likely ensure they’d be the second seed in the NFC. That would mean home games in the first two rounds, and perhaps even the NFC Championship Game if the number-one seed gets upset. And if the 49ers somehow stumble further over their last two games, the top seed is still on the table.
Cardinals over Eagles
Philly nearly got upset at home last week by the Giants. Could Arizona, with Kyler Murray back and a season-long reputation for being surprisingly competitive, push the Eagles to the brink again?
If Philadelphia loses and Dallas wins, the Cowboys would not only move back into first place in the NFC East but control their destiny. The Eagles would be 7-4 against the NFC and Dallas would be 8-3. That would be the tiebreaker if both teams are victorious in their Week 18 finales.
Commanders over 49ers
Dallas would need to win out and have San Francisco lose out to have any real shot at the number-one seed. That means rooting for our downtrodden brethren in the NFC East this week. Washington feels fully imploded at this point and an unlikely upset candidate, but they will at least be at home. Still, with the Niners coming off the loss to Baltimore, they’ll probably take their frustrations out on the Commanders in a lopsided game.
Falcons over Bears
Saints over Buccaneers
If the Cowboys do end up as the fifth seed, which NFC South team do we want to meet in the first round? Tampa is starting to get hot and the Saints have a solid QB and a notoriously difficult home environment. Atlanta, who can’t decide on a quarterback right now, feels like the softest opponent of the group and who we’d want to win the division and host Dallas. These outcomes wouldn’t clinch the NFC South for the Falcons but would at least keep the door open in Week 18.
Rams over Giants
Seahawks over Steelers
Packers over Vikings
Again, assuming Dallas winds up as the fifth seed, we want the other two wild card teams to have the best potential to upset the Eagles and Lions in the first round. Not only does that knock Detroit and Philly out but it could also help the Cowboys avoid seeing San Francisco again until the NFC Championship Game. If the 49ers do finish as the top seed, they’ll face the lowest-seeded team still alive in the second round.
The Rams have been getting dangerous as the season ends, particularly on offense. Seattle remains a tough opponent with veteran leaders. Those are the two best wild card options for competitive potential. The Packers would be next up, especially after Minnesota just lost TE T.J. Hockenson for the season.