There may only be one week left in the NFL regular season but the number of ways Week 18 can formulate the playoff picture is rather large.
Entering the regular season finale, the Dallas Cowboys are in a position where they will either be the NFC East Champions and serve as the #2 or #3 seed, or surrender the division and enter the postseason as the top Wild Card as the #5 seed. If they win on Sunday against the Washington Commanders then they take the division and top seed available.
But if the Cowboys lose on Sunda, they would need losses from the Philadelphia Eagles (to secure the division) and Detroit Lions (to take the #2 seed if Philly also loses) to have the best possible situation. Obviously everything works out nicely if the Cowboys just take care of business and win.
While that remains the most important thing around here the reality of the situation is that as fans we can keep our eyes wandering and look to would-be playoff matchups for Dallas in various seeding positions. Recently we noted all seven teams that the Cowboys could face based on all of the permutations and it seems like consensus is that the worst draw for them among practical options is the Los Angeles Rams.
That’s where we get bad news.
Carson Wentz will play a role in who the Cowboys face off against in the Wild Card Round
On Wednesday afternoon it was announced that Carson Wentz will start at quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. LA is visiting the San Francisco 49ers so this feels like a pretty insignificant thing as far as the Cowboys are concerned, but the results of this game are important as far as the overall playoff picture.
The 49ers clinched the top seed in the NFC last week and are believed to be entering a game where they will rest starters. At the very least Christian McCaffrey and Brock Purdy will not play. Having clinched a playoff spot themselves already, it appears that the Rams are going along this same line of thought, but the thing is that unlike San Francisco, the Rams do not have their position in the field cemented.
If you agree that the worst draw possible for the Cowboys is a game against the Rams then you are rooting for the Rams to win this week as a loss opens the door of possibility for them falling to the #7 seed.
The Rams fall to the #7 seed if:
- The Rams lose to the 49ers
- The Packers win against the Bears
If LA loses to San Francisco and Green Bay also loses to Chicago then nothing changes and all of this worry was for nothing, but given that the Rams have chosen to move forward with Carson Wentz in the game, the sirens are starting to go off that they could in fact lose this game even though San Francisco has nothing to gain from winning it.
The Rams and Packers rank fairly close in terms of overall DVOA, but the former is significantly better on offense. It is also not a huge statement to say that L.A. has the better quarterback in Matthew Stafford.
DVOA Rankings entering Week 18 (Overall, Offense, Defense, Special Teams)
- Los Angeles Rams: 18, 7, 22, 32
- Green Bay Packers: 17, 9, 28, 27
Adding to this notion that the core players on the Rams and their head coach have won a Super Bowl together certainly lines up with them being the team worthy of a bit more trepidation. Needless to say, they are the team we would prefer to avoid.
In addition to avoiding the Rams, we also want them as the #6 seed to keep hope alive that they can take care of other business on behalf of the Cowboys. An ideal scenario over the next few weeks is Dallas advancing to the NFC Championship Game (duh) and the Rams winning on the road against the Detroit Lions (who would host them as Detroit is the #3 seed) and then traveling to face the 49ers where they could provide an upset. This would set up the Cowboys to actually host the title game.