Something happened to the Cowboys for the first time during their 2017 season Sunday night in Oakland: They got lucky. Scrapping for their playoff lives against the Raiders, the Cowboys survived two Dak Prescott interceptions, an injury to All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith and a 55-yard pass interference penalty that threatened to give the game away in the last two minutes, thanks to an incredible mental error by Oakland quarterback David Carr on the game's next-to-last play. Thanks to Carr's mistake, the Cowboys remain alive, hanging on desperately to hopes of capturing the sixth and final ticket to the NFC playoffs.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
With the win, the Cowboys raised their record to 8-6. They get superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott back for their Christmas Eve tilt with the Seattle Seahawks after going 3-3 during his six-game suspension, which stemmed from domestic violence allegations made in 2016 by his ex-girlfriend. While the Cowboys' road to the playoffs remains long and pothole ridden, it still exists. Let's take a look at the possibilities and necessities for postseason football for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys still need to win out.
As was the case before the Cowboys knocked off the Raiders, they aren't getting in if they don't finish 10-6. Dallas needs to beat Seattle and Philadelphia in the season's final two weeks. A loss to either team kills the Cowboys' playoff chances, according to The New York Times' handy simulator, leaving them a less than 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. Wins over the Seahawks and their injury-decimated defense and the Eagles, who are playing without their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, would set the Cowboys' playoff chances at about 60 percent.
The Lions need to lose.
Maybe the most unlikely piece of the puzzle for the Cowboys is a Detroit Lions loss. During the season's final two weeks, the Cowboys need either the Bengals or the Packers to knock off the Lions, who are 8-6 like the Cowboys but ahead of them in the standings based on the common opponents tiebreaker. The Bengals are 5-9 and in the process of dumping their longtime head coach, Marvin Lewis. The Packers 7-7 and on the extreme fringes of playoff contention. If they're eliminated from the race this week, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers likely won't play in Detroit against the Lions. Without Rodgers, the Packers are average, at best.
Either the Panthers, Saints or Falcons need to lose twice.
For the Cowboys to finish ahead of one of the NFC South's trio of contenders, the Cowboys need one of them to lose twice. The most likely candidate for that is the Falcons, who, after what should be a walkover against the Bucs on Monday night, face the Saints and the Panthers in weeks 16 and 17. The Panthers have the Bucs next week before their showdown with the Falcons. The Saints play Tampa Bay, too, in their last game of the season. The Cowboys will be alive for the season's final week because New Orleans and Atlanta play each other Sunday.