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Cowboys Still Locked Into Playoff Picture, but a Nightmare Scenario Emerges

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The Cowboys appear to have escaped Indianapolis without serious injury. That's literally the one good thing to come out of the weekend for Dallas football fans. The Colts wiped the floor with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and company while the two teams still chasing the Cowboys in the NFC East, the Redskins and the Eagles, pulled off road upsets to keep their divisional hopes alive.

Sunday went as badly as it could have, but, thanks to the hard work the Cowboys put in over the last five weeks, things still aren't that bad for them. They might even be, shudder to say, good. The Cowboys still have a 92 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to The New York Times' handy-dandy playoff-odds calculator. They're still likely going to have a playoff game at home on Jan. 5 or 6, and it's still probably going to be against the Seahawks, the Cowboys' most likely playoff opponent before Sunday's meltdown.

The only things that changed, for now at least, are that All-Pro guard Zack Martin, who missed his first career game against the Colts, is a week healthier and the Cowboys now have a chance to clinch the NFC East in front of their home fans with a win against the Buccaneers on Sunday. The Cowboys came out flat in a game in which all signs pointed to them coming out flat.

Bob Sturm at The Athletic laid it out on Friday, two days before the game. 

Coming into Sunday, the Cowboys had just swept the toughest five-game stretch of their season, beating, in order, the 2017 Super Bowl champion, the 2016 NFC champion, their biggest rival, the best team in the NFL and the 2017 Super Bowl champion again for good measure. Thanks to the best Cowboys defense in at least a decade and a newly functional offense, the Cowboys were looking like Super Bowl contenders and people were beginning to talk about it

The defense is still there — although it took a game off from tackling Sunday — and the Cowboys rushing offense again looked more like 2016, when Elliott led the league in rushing, than 2017, even without Martin. A blocked field goal on the Cowboys' first possession of the game, two key dropped passes and five holding penalties on offense made the game look more lopsided than it was. The Cowboys that played the Colts on Sunday were sloppy, not doomed. 

Lose against the 5-9 Bucs on Sunday, however, and things get dicier. If the Cowboys lose in Arlington and either the Redskins win in Tennessee or the Eagles win at home against the Texans, the Cowboys will have to win on the road in Week 17 against the Giants to be assured of their spot in the playoffs. If the Cowboys lose and both the Eagles and Redskins win, the finale against the Giants will be a win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys, because the Redskins and Eagles play each other the last week of the season.

The Cowboys are 7.5-point early line favorites against Tampa Bay. They should take care of business at Jerryworld on Sunday. If they don't, then it's time to worry. 

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