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Complete Breakdown of Cowboys Playoff Scenarios

Jess Haynie



A Cowboys Win vs Giants Can't Be Taken For Granted 1
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

With two weeks left in the regular season, the 8-6 Dallas Cowboys are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Despite all of the turmoil that has hit the Cowboys in 2017, they could still sneak into the tournament and end the year on a surprisingly positive note.

Before we dive into all of the scenarios, here is the current playoff picture in the NFL. Our focus today will of course be on the NFC, where the Cowboys play. I'm sure we'd all agree that if Dallas could actually play another AFC team this season, we'll be damn happy with whoever we get.

NFC Playoff Picture


Today, we're going to get into every possible scenario that would allow the Cowboys to make the playoffs. Our focus will be on the other NFC teams that have to lose for Dallas to make it in. Just know that the Cowboys have to win their next two games (vs Seahawks, @ Eagles) to even be in the mix for a playoff spot.

These scenarios aren't that complex, really. The Cowboys need for at least one of the three contending teams from the NFC South, New Orleans, Carolina, or Atlanta, to go 0-2 in these final two weeks. We'll look at each teams' remaining schedule for just how likely any of that is.

That's not all. Dallas also needs for the Detroit Lions to lose one of their final two games. Both are currently tied at 8-6 overall and, if they remain tied at the end of the year, would also have identical 8-4 records in the conference. That means it goes to the "common games" tiebreaker, and we'll explain shortly why that's not good for the Cowboys.

Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees

Scenario 1: Saints Go Marching Out

  • WK 16 -- Atlanta Falcons
  • WK 17 -- @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It's hard to fathom New Orleans losing both of these games. They will be looking for revenge after losing to Atlanta a few weeks ago. And if they were to lose that games, the Saints would be playing for their playoff lives the following week against a weak Bucs team. They have too good a coach and quarterback to just completely collapse with so much on the line.

However, if the unthinkable happened, the Saints would be 10-6 and 7-5 against NFC teams. If Dallas wins out, they will also be 10-6 but have an 8-4 record against the NFC. With no head-to-head tiebreaker to worry about, the Cowboys would move ahead of New Orleans for playoff seeding. In this scenario, Dallas would likely be the 6th seed with Carolina winning the NFC South and Atlanta taking the 5th-seed Wild Card.

Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton

Scenario 2: Panthers Plummet

  • WK 16 -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • WK 17 -- @ Atlanta Falcons

I don't trust Carolina quite as much as New Orleans, but they get the benefit of playing the Buccaneers at home rather than in Tampa. While last night's game showed the Bucs are still willing to fight even with nothing to play for, the Panthers have won six of their last seven games.

If the Bucs can pull off the upset this week, that Week 17 game in Atlanta becomes a matter of survival for the Panthers. If the Falcons were to also lose this week in New Orleans, which seems likely, then it essentially be a "Loser Leaves Town" match as one of them would miss the playoffs.

Pressure goes one of two ways in sports; it either drives or distracts you. Cam Newton has a great play when things are running smoothly, but he doesn't always respond well to adversity. That could give the Cowboys the opening they need.

Matt Ryan

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Scenario 3: Falcons Collapse, Again

  • WK 16 -- @ New Orleans Saints
  • WK 17 -- Carolina Panthers

This is, by far, the most-likely scenario for Dallas to get into the playoffs. The Falcons will have a hard time sweeping the Saints with the second game in New Orleans. The Saints can clinch a playoff spot with their 11th win and push for one of the top two seeds in the NFC. They will be plenty motivated.

After what we saw last night in Tampa Bay, and for most of this year, the Falcons are clearly not the same team every week. Which version shows up to these final two games? There is an Atlanta team that can absolutely beat the Saints and Panthers, but there's one that could easily lose out and slide right out of the playoffs.

If Atlanta splits the two games, that doesn't help the Cowboys. They have that head-to-head tiebreaker from beating Dallas in Week 10 and that would keep them on top. They have to lose both for Dallas to pass them in the playoff standings.

Matthew Stafford

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford

Detroit Lions & Common Games

  • WK 16 -- @ Cincinnati Bengals
  • WK 17 -- Green Bay Packers

So yeah, even if Dallas catches a break and one those NFC South teams goes 0-2, we also need the Lions to drop a game and get out of the way. If they win out, Detroit would match Dallas in overall record (10-6) and conference record (8-4). That would bring the common games tiebreaker into play, which work in the Lions' favor.

This year, Dallas and Detroit share the following opponents: Arizona, Atlanta, Green Bay, NY Giants. In this scenario, Dallas will have gone 3-2 against those teams and Detroit will have gone 4-1. The games against division rivals (NY for the Cowboys, GB for the Lions) do count twice.

Dallas lost to both Atlanta and Green Bay. The Lions will have one loss from the Falcons but will have swept the Packers and beaten the Cardinals and Giants. Therefore, Detroit would get the common games tiebreaker.

What's worse, Detroit has a pretty easy road ahead of them. This week they get a Bengals team who just announced that their head coach is a lame duck. Maybe Cincinnati's veterans fight hard to send Marvin Lewis out in style, but they're 5-9 and haven't beaten a good team all season.

If they get that win, the Lions then head home to welcome what should be a Brett Hundley-led Packers team. After losing last week and being eliminated from playoff contention, Green Bay will likely put Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve. I'm sure they'll still play for pride against a hated rival, but the Lions are the better team this year and will have way more motivation.

So again, three things have to happen for the Dallas Cowboys to still make the playoffs:

  1. Dallas has to win out and finish 10-6.
  2. Either the Falcons, Panthers, or Saints has to go 0-2 in the final weeks.
  3. Detroit has to lose one of their final two games.

Now, there is one other fantastic scenario where both the Panthers and Saints go 0-2 while Dallas and Detroit win out. That would put all four teams at 10-6 with the Cowboys and Lions having the better records against NFC teams. That means Dallas and Detroit are your Wild Cards while Atlanta wins the NFC South. This is so unlikely, though, that it's barely worth consideration.


Can the Cowboys still get in even if they finish 9-7?

Unfortunately not. The Saints and Panthers already have 10 wins. Even if the Falcons finish 9-7 as well, they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys from their Week 10 victory. Dallas has to win out and finish 10-6 to have any shot at the playoffs.

Is there any scenario where Dallas can clinch a playoff spot in Week 16?

None. At best, Dallas can jump from #9 to #7 in the NFC if they beat Seattle and the Lions also lose. But even if Carolina and Atlanta both lose this week, they would still hold on to their Wild Card spots thanks to better records (Panthers) and tie breakers (Falcons).

Why didn't we just win one or two more games this year and avoid all this mess?

This year is a great reminder of why every game counts in an NFL season. If just a couple of plays had gone differently against the Rams or Packers in Weeks 4-5, Dallas would not only be in the driver's seat for a Wild Card spot but could even be pushing the Eagles to still take the NFC East.

But alas, we have the situation we have. All Dallas can do is keep winning and hope the other playoff contenders don't do the same.

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

1 Comment
  • dallas1966

    Jess I can see the Panthers losing their last two games. With the Panthers owner making the announcement that he is selling the team, once the Panthers have played their last game, will be a distraction, because the players on the Panthers will have to address that subject matter, instead of the upcoming games. In addition, to LB Thomas Davis suspension.

Star Blog

How The Seattle Seahawks Have Increased Importance In Cowboys’ Lore

Kevin Brady



Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys At Seattle Seahawks: 5 Bold Predictions
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

You can't talk about this decade's Dallas Cowboys without discussing the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2012, when Golden Tate took out Sean Lee on a crack-back block and the Seahawks embarrassed a Cowboys team who had just defeated the defending champion New York Giants, we saw which of the two teams was truly ready for the big stage.

In 2014, as Rolando McClain intercepted Russell Wilson and the Cowboys clinched a critical road victory, we knew that Dallas was a legit contender.

In 2015, when Seattle finally came to Dallas and rendered the return of Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant meaningless in a 13-12 win, the then 2-5 Cowboys were sent further into a Romo-less abyss.

And, in 2017, Dez Bryant's key drops and Dan Bailey's missed field goals during a horrendous home loss to the Seahawks on Christmas Eve might have sealed each of their fates for the following offseason.

The most important moment in this Cowboys/Seahawks history, however, occurred during a preseason game. A meaningless preseason game which turned out to be the most meaningful day in recent Cowboys history.

Cliff Avril dragging Tony Romo down from behind, effectively ending his career, and kicking off the roster massive turnover we have seen the last two offseasons. From Dak Prescott, to a brand new secondary, to the retirement of Jason Witten, and the cutting of Dez Bryant. All of this change, which put an end to the Romo era rosters in Dallas, began with that hit in Seattle.

Since 2012 the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFC really, have been judged by how they play against two teams: the Packers and the Seahawks.

They have been the class of the NFC, and while we like to think that if the "Dez Caught It" game went how it should have Dallas would've handled Seattle, that will forever be an unknown.

Sunday's game is not expected to carry the franchise-changing implications that some of these other match ups have had. The Seahawks are 0-2 and reeling, with a shaky offensive line and reported distrust throughout the organization.The Cowboys, however, can jump-start their season with a big road win over a winless team that they should beat in the minds of many.

But knowing how things between these teams tend to go, Sunday afternoon may end up having major implications on the rest of the Cowboys' season.

Where this could be the case is in a potential Earl Thomas trade. It's been speculated that Seattle has been hesitant to deal Thomas to Dallas before their week 3 match up, but could be more willing to do so after the game.

Especially if that game is a loss which sends them to 0-3. The Cowboys have been actively pursuing Earl Thomas, and Thomas has certainly made it clear that he wants to be in Dallas. The only party not willing to make it happen thus far, are the Seahawks.

So, this weekend, there is a chance another chapter is added to those franchise-changing moments in Cowboys/Seahawks lore.

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Star Blog

A Look Around The NFC East: Week 3

Kevin Brady



Tyrone Crawford, Carson Wentz, Eagles

Week two didn't go as planned for much of the NFC East, with only the Dallas Cowboys reigning victorious last Sunday.

Now, three teams are locked in a tie for first place at 1-1, with the New York Giants lagging behind with a winless record. Week 3 is shaping up to be a potential early turning point, however, with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz returning and each team facing a very beatable opponent.

Let's take a look around the division and see what the Cowboys' foes will be facing this week.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles fell victim to one of the more surprising upsets of the weekend last Sunday, as Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Eagles 27-21. While their defense got off to a shaky start in the loss, it was the offense which proved too little too late in their push down the stretch.

Carson Wentz is expected to not only return but to start on Sunday in the Eagles' match up against the Colts. Indianapolis upset the Washington Redskins last week, but will be 6 point underdogs when the game kicks off in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Wentz should give the defending champs an extra boost, and while they haven't looked as dominant as many expected through the first two games, this could be the game to spring them the rest of the way.

Washington Redskins

As mentioned earlier, the Redskins fell in Indianapolis last week, and are now tied for first place in the division with a 1-1 record. As dominant and impressive as Washington looked in their opener against Arizona, Washington's week two loss featured lethargic offensive play for four quarters.

This week the Redskins are three point home underdogs as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers come to town. Green Bay tied Minnesota a week ago, but behind Rodgers and their potent offense, they have the chance to take advantage of Washington's suspect secondary down the field.

Sunday will be a tough test for the Redskins as they look to get back above .500 against a tough conference opponent.

New York Giants

The Giants' season is on the brink this week, and that really isn't a dramatic statement at all. Now at 0-2 with a division loss to the Cowboys last week, the Giants have to beat the 0-2 Texans on Sunday to get some confidence and keep pace within the conference.

Lucky for them, the Texans haven't looked impressive whatsoever through two games. Unlucky for them, the Texans have strong pass rushers like JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney ready to abuse their weak offensive line.

Houston is a six point home favorite over the Giants, proving it will be an uphill battle for New York to save their season.

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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: La Defensiva de Dallas es Muy Real

Mauricio Rodriguez



Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Después de dos semanas de acción de los Dallas Cowboys, una cosa ha quedado más que clara. La defensiva del coordinador defensivo Rod Marinelli ha demostrado que es realmente buena. No como en otros años, que nos conformábamos con que la defensiva dejará avanzar y cediera tres puntos hasta que se rompía en el último cuarto.

No, ahora es diferente. Este año, los Dallas Cowboys tienen presión al QB opuesto. No sólo DeMarcus Lawrence, sino Taco Charlton, Randy Gregory y recientemente, los linebackers. Hemos visto a Jaylon Smith y Damien Wilson brindar presión y sobre todo, llegar a sus objetivos.

Los linebackers no han brillado sólo en esto, sino en otros ámbitos defensivos, como cobertura aérea y más. Incluso Joe Thomas ha logrado mantener su nivel que vimos en pretemporada cuando se le ha pedido entrar al campo.

Y en cuanto a la secundaria, no podríamos estar más agradecidos con la actuación de nuestros cornerbacks. Byron Jones está jugando a un nivel increíble. La semana pasada, Eli Manning sólo se atrevió a lanzar el balón en su dirección en cinco ocasiones. En esas cinco, consiguió sólo un pase completo para cero yardas. Chidobe Awuzie también ha tenido un gran inicio al 2018, manteniendo un nivel de juego consistente y efectivo. Estamos hablando de que el domingo pasado, estos dos cornerbacks se enfrentaron a uno de los mejores WR en la NFL, Odell Beckham Jr.

Finalmente, la posición de safety se ha visto como la unidad más débil en la defensiva. Jeff Heath es un titular promedio y Kavon Frazier tiene mucho camino por recorrer. Afortunadamente, hay esperanza de que Xavier Woods regrese de lesión este domingo.

A pesar de que en el 2016 todos veíamos a la ofensiva como nuestro futuro, es sorprendente el nivel que ha mostrado la defensiva. Es más agresiva, más efectiva y más confiable que en otros años. No podemos subestimar la llegada del coach Kris Richard al equipo.

Sobre todo después de que en el partido contra los New York Giants y los Carolina Panthers se demostró que Richard está involucrado directamente con las decisiones de las jugadas que se ejecutarán en el campo. Incluso Marinelli no tuvo problemas admitiendo que efectivamente, Richard estaba ganándose un rol en este aspecto.

Esto es muy relevante para los Dallas Cowboys, pues una de las cosas más destacadas que hemos visto las últimas semanas es el usaje de cargas o "blitzes" especiales en varias oportunidades. Incluyendo tercer down y largo.

Es algo que no habíamos visto nunca con el conservador Marinelli y que claramente es producto de Richard. Este personaje que viene de los Seattle Seahawks continua emergiendo como un candidato real al puesto de coordinador defensivo en el 2019 o quien sabe, quizá sea nombrado head coach si las cosas comienzan a ir mal para este equipo.

Sin duda alguna, la defensiva ha demostrado que es muy confiable y real. Es tiempo de que la ofensiva de Dallas responda a esto y comience a mover más las cadenas y sobre todo, aprovechar las oportunidades que tengan de anotar touchdowns. Empezar a depender de goles de campo nunca sale bien.

Linehan: "Butler Has Had a Good Camp", But Will He Stay?

Dallas Cowboys WR Brice Butler (Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports)

Sobre la llegada de Brice Butler

Increíblemente, Brice Butler regresó a los Dallas Cowboys, incluso después de todos los comentarios que hizo en ciertos programas de televisión. La primera reacción al respecto fue de confusión; ¿por qué regresar con un receptor que nunca fue tan especial y que habló tanto de Dallas?

La respuesta a esta pregunta se esclareció un poco este jueves por la noche cuando surgieron los rumores de que Terrance Williams, quien fue arrestado en el offseason por intoxicación pública, podría ser suspendido pronto por la NFL.

Esto probablemente no sucederá antes del partido de la semana 3, pero de todas maneras explica mucho sobre el último movimiento de los Cowboys.

Predicción #DALvsSEA

En un partido bastante cerrado, creo que la defensiva de los Dallas Cowboys hará lo suficiente para llevarse la victoria. Es de suma importancia derribar a Russell Wilson y sobre todo, que la ofensiva tenga su mejor actuación de la campaña. La defensiva de Seahawks es bastante efectiva y no será sencillo vencerlos.

Marcador: Dallas Cowboys 21 - Seattle Seahawks 17

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: La Defensiva de Dallas es Muy Real" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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