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Cowboys playoff picture: Ranking all potential first-round matchups

Depending on Week 18, Dallas could wind up facing any of seven teams in the Wild Card round.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

[Ed. Note - The Seattle Seahawks were mistakenly left out of the original versions of this article. It has been corrected.]

As of today, we know that the 2023 Dallas Cowboys will be in the playoffs and that they have no shot at being the top seed in the NFC. Beyond that, many possibilities remain open for Dallas based on the Week 18 outcomes. Naturally, some are more desirable than others.

The Cowboys can win the NFC East and secure the #2 seed with a victory this Sunday over Washington. No other outcomes matter; Dallas controls its destiny now thanks to tiebreakers over the Eagles and Lions. But even then, four teams could wind up as the #7 seed and Dallas’ first-round opponent.

If Dallas does slip to the #3 or #5 seed, even more scenarios open up. So with all of these potential matchups on the table, let’s rank them from best to worst for the Cowboys’ chances of advancing out of the Wild Card round.

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

1. Hosting the Vikings

Minnesota probably isn’t making the playoffs but they still have a shot. If so, their current quarterback issues and a 1-5 record since Week 10 make them an ideal first-round opponent.

The Vikings haven’t been able to decide on a quarterback for the last two months. They benched Josh Dobbs after two losses, then tried Nick Mullens for a bit, then started rookie Jaren Hall last week. Hall was so ineffective that they went back to Mullens at halftime.

That sort of instability under center, coupled with one of the league’s worst rushing offenses, doesn’t bode well for a team in the postseason. On the off chance that the Vikings do sneak into the playoffs, they’ll be most welcome at AT&T Stadium.

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

2. Hosting the Saints

New Orleans is the one NFC South team that could still make the playoffs as a wild card. The Bucs and Falcons can only get in as division winners.

While New Orleans is better than Atlanta and perhaps even Tampa Bay, having just beaten them on the road last week, the Cowboys have been a different team at home than on the road. Even against a superior opponent in this case, home turf seems better than traveling to face the other NFC South options.

We’ll talk about the Saints again in a bit, also having the potential to play them on the road.

Indianapolis Colts v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

3. Visiting the Falcons

Like Minnesota, Atlanta has been bouncing between quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Desmond Ridder. While the dual threat of RBs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier is a little concerning for the Cowboys’ defense, the Falcons just aren’t scary overall.

Despite the NFC South being up for grabs this year, Atlanta has floundered lately with a 1-3 slide over their last four games, Two of those losses were to the Panthers and Bears, albeit on the road.

Granted, this makes them the least likely team to come out of the NFC South and even be in the playoffs. But if it does happen, and Dallas somehow winds up as the 5th seed, this wouldn’t be the worst consolation prize for not winning the NFC East.

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

4. Hosting the Packers

Again, the Cowboys inspire much more confidence as the home team. The Packers might be better than the Buccaneers and Saints overall, but not enough that it outweighs the benefits of the game being in Dallas.

Green Bay has been a tough team to gauge this year. They’re 8-8 for a reason, sometimes beating playoff teams like Detroit or Kansas City but then losing to the likes of the Giants. QB Jordan Love can do good work but probably isn’t someone you want trading blows with Dak Prescott this year, particularly with the Packers’ injury issues at wide receiver.

Still, this is when we start getting into the more concerning potential scenarios. While Green Bay is a middling team right now, they have the potential to put it all together in a given week and give anyone a tough game.

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

5. Hosting the Seahawks

Seattle’s probably a better team right now than anyone on this list outside of Los Angeles. It was only a month ago that they came into AT&T Stadium and pushed the Cowboys to their limit in a 41-35 shootout. Dallas had no answer for DK Metcalf and nearly took their first home loss of the year.

On the one hand, Dallas needed a turnover-free game to survive the Seahawks the last time around. On the other, the Cowboys' defense was unusually generous and didn’t even get a sack on Geno Smith. If these two teams met again, especially in Dallas, which of those two factors is more likely to repeat?

Odds would favor Dan Quinn making some adjustments, and the Cowboys’ pass rushers actually making some plays, than Seattle being able to slow us down. If the game was going to be in Seattle it might be at the bottom of this list. But a second time around in Dallas, the Cowboys are more likely to make it a more one-sided game than repeat what we saw in November.

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

6. Visiting the Buccaneers
7. Visiting the Saints

Who’s better between the Bucs and Saints is a tough call. They’re both 8-8 and split their season series, each upsetting the other as the visiting team. Both have quarterbacks who can do damage on a good day. When Baker Mayfield is on he’s capable of making big plays and reacting well to pressure. Derek Carr is a bit more conservative, but also capable of high production when things are going right.

It’s so close that the tiebreaker comes down to the venue. We know what Dallas can do in Tampa Bay, having blown Tom Brady and the Bucs out of their own building in last year’s playoffs. The Superdome is a tougher place to play, especially if the Saints crowd smells any blood.

You can almost call this a wash between the two scenarios, and hopefully neither happens. The Cowboys need to do their part this Sunday and secure home field for the first two rounds. But on the off chance they do wind up as the fifth seed, they’ll be headed to face one of these two teams.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

8. Hosting the Rams

This isn’t the same Los Angeles team that Dallas beat up two months ago. Breakout RB Kyren Williams didn’t play that week, and now the Rams are on a 6-1 tear with their only loss coming in overtime to Baltimore. They’re the classic “nobody wants to see them” team that’s getting hot at the right time.

With a veteran QB in Matt Stafford and an offensive guru in Sean McVay on the sideline, the Rams know how to win and take advantage of defensive weaknesses. They’re well-equipped to frustrate Dallas between Williams’ running, quick passes to Cooper Kupp, and big play potential for Puka Nacua.

Thankfully, even with Aaron Donald still around, Los Angeles’ defense isn’t what it used to be. Dallas could still put up points in a shootout, but it could be a game where they couldn’t afford any mistakes.

Yes, the Cowboys would be at home and that’s preferable to the alternative. But the Rams are on another level right now from any other team on this list. Detroit nearly ended Dallas’ home win streak last Saturday, so the opponent can still matter more than the venue. The Cowboys' chances on the road against New Orleans or Tampa feel stronger than having to beat Los Angeles again, especially the way they’re currently playing.

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