Last week went about as well as the Dallas Cowboys could've hoped for. Their own victory over the New Orleans Saints was huge, and losses by the Redskins, Bears, Panthers, and Vikings all improved Dallas playoff positioning. Will Week 14 be as kind?
The Rams and Saints still have a big lead for those top two seeds, but everything has clustered behind them. Seven teams are within two games of each other, and Dallas is thankfully near the top of that heap at the moment.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- Los Angeles Rams (11-1)
- New Orleans Saints (10-2)
- Chicago Bears (8-4)
- Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)
- Carolina Panthers (6-6)
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-6)
- Washington Redskins (6-6)
- The Cowboys lost to Seattle earlier this year, but still remain the 4th seed as a division winner over a wild card team.
- The Panthers are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker.
- The Eagles are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. They play each other again in Week 17.
- The Redskins beat the Panthers earlier this year, but their loss to Philadelphia within their own division negates that tiebreaker.
The Week 14 schedule sets up well for the Cowboys to get another boost to their playoff contention. Dallas can deliver its own haymaker to a division rival, and other teams they need to lose have tough matchups.
Here are this week's games involving the NFC playoff contenders:
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
The NFC East lead is on the line when the Eagles come to Dallas on Sunday. If Philly wins, they would tie the Cowboys in overall record and improve to 4-1 in the division, while Dallas would drop to 3-2.
Even if the Cowboys fall here, the rest of the schedule favors them to retake the lead. The Eagles have the Rams and Texans in their next two games, while Dallas has the Colts and Buccaneers. Both have soft Week 17 finales against the Redskins and Giants, respectively.
But Dallas isn't putting Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez out there on Sunday. Dak Prescott has been heating up the last few weeks, and the Cowboys defense has emerged as one of the top groups in the league.
If they didn't lose their rhythm during the 10-day break, Dallas is in a great position to sweep the Eagles and tighten their grip on the NFC East.
New York Giants @ Washington Redskins
With Washington close to pulling Sonny Jurgensen out of retirement, the Redskins' status as a playoff contender is debatable. So are their chances of beating the Giants, who even with no shot at the postseason are still playing to win.
A Giants win is actually doubly good for Dallas. Not only does it help knock off Washington, but it further hurts New York's positioning in the upcoming draft.
Carolina Panthers @ Cleveland Browns
A date with the Browns used to be a good medicine for a team needing a win, but this Cleveland team isn't a pushover anymore. In fact, one could argue that they should be favored to win at home over the free-falling Panthers.
Dallas is fully invested in Carolina's continued losing. The Panthers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys from Week 1, so we don't want them in the way in case Dallas needs a wild card spot to make the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dallas is still three games behind the Saints for a potential top-two seed, and the first-round bye that comes with it, but every little bit helps. However, one would expect that New Orleans will unleash hell on the Bucs to try to bounce back from last week. A second-straight loss, especially to a team with Tampa's issues, is highly doubtful.
Los Angeles Rams @ Chicago Bears
Dallas isn't catching the Rams at this point, so the better outcome here is a Chicago loss. It would pull the Cowboys and Bears even (assuming Dallas wins this week) both in overall record and in their record against NFC opponents. Chicago still has tough division games against the Packers and Vikings to close out the year, so Dallas would have a strong chance of moving ahead of them into the 3rd seed.
Minnesota Vikings @ Seattle Seahawks
This is a tough one to call as far as what favors Dallas more. Both teams are contenders for a wild card spot, so the Cowboys benefit from either losing.
Seattle has a head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas and they are currently tied in overall record. If Dallas were to need a wild card spot to make the playoffs, the Seahawks would be our biggest problem.
The Vikings are also right there, currently one game behind the Cowboys. If they finished with the same number of wins, Minnesota would have the advantage since they have a tie on their overall record. That gives them a slightly higher win percentage, and thus the tiebreaker if needed.
Again, this all comes down to the wild card race. If Dallas keeps winning, they'll take the NFC East and make all of this moot.
But if Dallas were to lose, they need as many roads as possible to stay alive for the postseason. A Seahawks win this week all but closes that road. A Vikings win isn't quite as damaging.
It's a win-win scenario, but the slightly bigger win comes with Minnesota beating Seattle.