Not only were the Cowboys humiliated in Indianapolis, but both NFC East contenders won their games. Even if Dallas were to finish 8-8, they'd still hold tiebreakers over all three division rivals. They just need for Philadelphia or Washington to run the table and finish 9-7 overall.
One silver lining from last week was a loss by Seattle, which allowed the Vikings, Eagles, and Redskins to all pull a little closer for that 5th-seeded wild card spot. The Seahawks appear to be a cut above the rest of that pack, and they're the last of those teams the Cowboys want to see in the first round.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- New Orleans Saints (12-2)
- Los Angeles Rams (11-3)
- Chicago Bears (10-4)
- Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1)
- Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
- Washington Redskins (7-7)
- The Cowboys lost to Seattle earlier this year, but still remain the 4th seed as a division winner over a wild card team.
- The Eagles are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. They play each other again in Week 17.
The Carolina Panthers are 6-7 and not mathematically eliminated yet, but the news that Cam Newton is being shut down for the year sounds like they're throwing in the towel. We'll bring them back into the conversation if something miraculous occurs.
Here are this week's games involving the NFC playoff contenders:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys
Dallas had the “win and you're in” carrot in front of them last week in Indianapolis and we saw how that went. It's hard to argue that the team didn't get comfortable with their division and playoff positioning and just weren't up for that game like they should've been.
Any complacency the Cowboys developed over their five-game win streak got trampled on by the Colts. If they approach this one with Tampa the way they should, Dallas stands to win and clinch the NFC East.
Tampa has some incentive to lose, too. They are currently in the 8-10 range for their 2019 draft pick, and a loss could move them into the Top 5. Hopefully they're not above tanking.
Washington Redskins @ Tennessee Titans
The Skins eked out a win last week against the free-falling Jaguars. This week they get much stiffer competition in Tennessee, still vying for a wild card spot in the AFC.
All Dallas needs is for Washington to lose one game to be fully eliminated from the NFC East race. They split their head-to-head series this year and, no matter what happens the rest of the way, the Cowboys will have a better division record. We just can't finish a game behind them in overall record.
Ideally, Dallas will handle business against Tampa and make this a moot point. But if not, we'll take a Redskins loss happily.
Houston Texans @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Rams were supposed to do us a solid and knock out Philly last week, but they weren't up for it. Now we're looking to the Texans to do the same.
The good news is that Houston still has plenty to play for. They're trying to hang on to one of the top two AFC seeds and the first-round bye. They still haven't even clinched the AFC South yet, with the Colts and Titans still in range.
Hopefully, that means the Texans will go to Philly and bring the Nick Foles Memorial Run to a quick end.
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
If you think the Seahawks are the more dangerous playoff team than the Vikings, which I do, then you'd rather see Minnesota in the first round. With Dallas all but locked in to the #4 seed, we need the Vikings to move up to #5 over Seattle.
All Minnesota has to do is get one game on Seattle to move up the standings. With the Seahawks facing a tough game against Kansas City this week, this could be the best opportunity for that to happen.
Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
Dallas can't catch either L.A. or New Orleans for a first-round bye at this point, so it doesn't really matter. But if you really want to look ahead and play the hypothetical game, then would you rather see the Rams or Saints in the second round?
Let's assume that Chicago and Dallas finished 3rd and 4th, respectively, and then win their first-round home games. Currently, the Saints and Rams are the 1st and 2nd seeds. That means the Bears would go to LA and Dallas would go to New Orleans.
Do you want to face the Saints again, or do you like the Cowboys' chances better against the Rams? If the answer is Rams, we need them to retake the #1 seed.
But if you'd rather face New Orleans again, would like to see Chicago overtake Los Angeles for that #2 seed, then we need the Rams to lose. It all depends on your favorite path for the Cowboys in the postseason.
Chicago Bears @ San Francisco 49ers
As we just discussed, the desired result for the Bears depends on how you want to see the road lay out for Dallas in January. They need to keep winning if you want them to potentially move up into the top two.
I know, I know… you just want Dallas to get to the playoffs and not worry about this other stuff. But if any ripple or wrinkle can help the Cowboys in the postseason, why shouldn't we root for it?
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New Orleans Saints
Another mostly irrelevant game; the Saints just need one win to lock up a first-round bye. If you'd like Dallas to avoid a road game in New Orleans next month, though, then we probably want the Saints to drop to the #2 seed.
Pittsburgh is in a tight battle with Baltimore for the AFC North, and the loser isn't guaranteed a wild card spot. That means the Steelers will give the Saints everything they've got, and maybe help knock them down a peg in the NFC standings.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Seattle Seahawks
Assuming Dallas remains the #4 seed in the playoffs, we need Seattle to drop to #6. They play the Cardinals next week, so this is the best chance for that to happen.