Update: Dec. 23 — After the Cowboys catastrophic loss to the Eagles, the scenario is simple. To get into the playoffs, the Cowboys need to beat the Redskins in Arlington on Sunday and have the Eagles lose to the Giants in New Jersey.
The 2019 Dallas Cowboys are not a playoff team. At least, they aren't a playoff team in the way one usually thinks about the term. They are led by one of the NFL's worst head coaches and sport an underachieving defense and abominable special teams. They've lost six of their last nine games, haven't beaten a team that currently has a winning record and, as they are performing, have zero chance of winning the Super Bowl.
None of that, nor the fact that the Cowboys aren't spiritually or metaphysically a playoff team, means the Cowboys aren't going to make the playoffs. Quite the contrary. Thanks to the NFL's divisional structure and the NFC East being a dumpster fire, the Cowboys are probably going to make the playoffs. Not only that, they're probably going to host a playoff game.
It's not fair and it's probably not good for the long-term health of the franchise, but it's reality.
As things stand, the Cowboys, losers of two in a row and three of their last four, are 6-6. They are first in the NFC East by a full game, thanks to the Eagles going to Miami as 10½-point favorites and losing to the previously 2-9 Dolphins.
Thanks to their one-game lead and the fact that they've already beaten the Eagles once — the Cowboys are 4-0 against the division and 2-6 against everyone else — they have a 73% chance to make the playoffs, according to The New York Times’ handy-dandy playoff odds generator.
The path to turn that 73% chance into a ticket to the "tournament," as former Giants, Jets and Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells likes to call the playoffs, isn't all that complicated.
How the Cowboys can make the playoffs:
1. The Cowboys will win the NFC East and host a game in the wild card round of the playoffs if they beat the Eagles in Philadelphia on Dec. 22 and win one of their remaining three games against the Bears, Rams or Redskins.
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2. If the Cowboys lose to the Eagles on Dec. 22, they have to equal the Eagles' record over the Eagles' last four games to make the playoffs. That means if the Eagles win out, the Cowboys miss the playoffs, even if they win their three remaining games that aren't against the Eagles. Both teams would finish 9-7, and the Eagles would win the division on the league's third tiebreaker, common opponents. (In this scenario, the Eagles would be 4-4 against their common opponents with the Cowboys, while the Cowboys would be 3-5.)
That's the whole thing. The Cowboys are not going to win a wild-card playoff entry — they'd have to win out to do so, in which case they'd win the division.
If they get in, the 8-8, 9-7, 10-6 or even 7-9 Cowboys will get a home playoff game as a division winner, likely against a 12- or 13-win 49ers or Seahawks club that just missed out on winning the NFC West. The question, the one that Jerry Jones and the rest of his family brain trust need to get ready to answer now, is whether making it that far — because that's as far as this team seems capable of making it — is enough to save Jason Garrett and the rest of the coaching staff's jobs.
The Cowboys (6-6) face the Bears (6-6) at 7:20 p.m. Thursday in Chicago. Fox 4 is televising.