It's Going to Be Really Hard for the Cowboys to Make the Playoffs
The Cowboys have already lost the biggest game of their regular season. Thanksgiving's debacle, the 33-10 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles, has left the team needing to win out to ensure its spot in the playoffs, something that was unthinkable after the team's 6-1 start.
11-5 probably won't be good enough, at least for the Cowboys, because of their loss to the Redskins in week 8. That loss, combined with the one to the Eagles, leaves the Cowboys with two division losses. The Eagles have none, which means that even if the Cowboys can win in Philadelphia against a team that humiliated them, they will still lose the divisional tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record.
For reasons that I'll outline in a second, if the Cowboys don't win the division, chances are they won't make the playoffs. That means to get in, they need to finish with a better record than the Eagles, a team they are one game behind with four to play. The Eagles do have the Seahawks, who have reasserted themselves as one of the two best teams in the NFC, on Sunday, but the game is in Philadelphia. If Philly takes care of business against Seattle and in their final two games against the woeful Giants and Redskins, the outcome of the Cowboys/Eagles matchup sandwiched in between won't matter. If Seattle does the Cowboys a favor, Dallas could still win the division, but only by winning out against a schedule that includes -- in addition to the game in Philadelphia -- a December 20 home game against the 8-4 Colts.
Getting in via the wild card, while still possible, is unlikely because of the number of NFC teams that look good to finish 11-5 or better. Those teams, in addition to the Eagles, are the Packers (9-3), Lions (8-4), Cardinals (9-3) and at least one of the Seahawks (8-4) and 49ers (7-5). Wild card ties between three or more teams are broken by conference record, and the Cowboys have more intra-conference losses (4) than each of the aforementioned teams except the 49ers. Basically, to get the fifth or sixth seed, the Cowboys need late-season chaos to reign over their rivals or to be tied with only Seattle, whom the 'Boys beat head-to-head.
The 1985 Broncos and the 2008 Patriots are the only 11-5 clubs to miss the playoffs in NFL history. Both missed out at the expense of 8-8 division champions -- the Browns in '85 and the Chargers in '08. It's no coincidence that the likelihood of a third 11-5 team staying home has been ratcheted up this year thanks to the NFC South abomination. In order to make sure they play in January, rather than just being a curiosity, the Cowboys only have to do one thing. Win.
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