The Cowboys are fighting on two fronts now this season. They're still a contender for the top seed in the NFC but also have rivals closing the gap in the division. This makes many games on the Week 14 schedule noteworthy for Dallas.
As always, we're going to focus on teams that currently still have seeming playoff relevance. Apologies to the Bears, Giants, Lions, and Seahawks but there's just only so much time in the day.
If the season ended today, here would be your NFC playoff picture.
Current NFC Playoff Standings
- Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
- Green Bay Packers (9-3)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)
- Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
- Los Angeles Rams (8-4)
- Washington (6-6)
- San Francisco 49ers (6-6)
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
- Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
- Carolina Panthers (5-7)
- Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
- New Orleans Saints (5-7)
- The Packers (7-2) are ahead of the Bucs (6-3) based on a superior record in conference games.
- Washington (5-2) is ahead of the 49ers (5-5) based on a superior record in conference games.
- The Vikings are ahead of the Panthers based on a head-to-head victory..
- The Panthers are ahead of the Falcons and Saints based on head-to-head victories.
- The Falcons are ahead of the Saints based on a head-to-head victory.
Even if getting the number-one seed eventually becomes out of reach for Dallas, there's plenty of incentive to just move up from fourth. Drawing the Rams in the first round is an unenviable assignment for anyone; the likely drop off from L.A. to Washington, San Francisco, or whoever else ends up in the other two wild card spots is considerable.
That's why talk of resting Ezekiel Elliott or treating any remaining games as expendable may be foolish. Continuing to fight for a higher seed could ultimately get Dallas farther than anything else they do over these last five weeks.
Week 14 Impact Games
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Football Team
This one's big for so many reasons. For the Cowboys it's about taking a commanding position in the division and throwing water on Washington's four-game win streak. For the D.C. Nameless, it's about proving that what their recent surge isn't fool's gold.
With the Bucs and Cardinals both in tough games this week, Dallas has a great shot here to gain ground in the conference race. While they'd remain the NFC East leaders even in a loss, the Cowboys would squander a major opportunity towards larger goals.
Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
This is kind of a win-win scenario for Dallas. An Arizona loss would pull the current number-one seed a little more in range with a big Week 17 meeting between the Cowboys and Cardinals upcoming. If the Rams lose, they become more vulnerable to the other wild card contenders and could perhaps slip out of the fifth seed.
Either way this one goes, Dallas' playoff prospects should get a little better.
Buffalo Bills @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the Bucs' head-to-head win over Dallas from Week One, the Cowboys need to gain two wins on them before the end of the year to rise in the NFC standings. Though Buffalo isn't the team that people expected in 2021, they're still 7-5 and should give Tampa all they can handle.
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers
Getting the number-one seed will also mean overtaking the Packers. Unfortunately, the Bears are unlikely to give Dallas any help in that regard.
San Francisco 49ers @ Cincinnati Bengals
It's hard to know what to make of the Niners this year. After a 4-1 run to get back into the playoff hunt they dropped a bad one last week against the Seahawks. In truth, all of the wild card hopefuls after the Rams are schizophrenic this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings
Another Jekyll & Hyde team this year, Minnesota leads the current jumble of teams hoping to pull even with the Eagles while Philly's on its bye week. Anything that keeps the NFC East rivals out of the tournament works for me.
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
Neither of these teams is likely to threaten the NFC given their quarterback situations. If Carolina wins, that locks up the head-to-head tiebreaker with Atlanta and all but ends the Falcons' season.
New Orleans Saints @ Jets
Sean Payton reminded everyone last week that he can still coach with the best of them, making Dallas sweat despite a very shorthanded roster. Not having to play in New Orleans will make any potential playoff meeting less scary, but the Saints are not a team I'd want to tangle with twice.
Philadelphia Eagles – BYE
As already mentioned, Philadelphia finally gets its bye week at this late juncture of the season. They're helped by either outcome of the Dallas-Washington game; one would make the Cowboys more catchable in the NFC East and the other leaves the Eagles tied with the Football Team in the wild card race.