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Cowboys Playoff Scenarios: Week 16 Impact Games

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

There are only two weeks left for the Dallas Cowboys to sneak back into the NFC playoffs. Along with winning their own remaining games, they need help from a couple of other teams. Today, we'll look at all of the Week 16 games that could impact the Cowboys both this week and next.

A few days ago, I did a full breakdown of the scenarios that could allow Dallas to make the playoffs. That article was more of a global view of what needs to happen; this one will dive deeper into the Week 16 action and how some games could ripple into Week 17 in good or bad ways for the Cowboys.

To get started, here are the current NFC playoff seedings:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (11-3)
  3. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
  4. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
  5. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
  6. Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
    ----------------------------------------
  7. Detroit Lions (8-6)
  8. Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
  9. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

TIEBREAKERS

  • The Rams are ahead of the Saints thanks to a head-to-head (H2H) tiebreaker.
  • The Saints are ahead of the Panthers thanks to a H2H tiebreaker.
  • The Lions (7-4) are ahead of the Seahawks (6-4) and Cowboys (6-4) because of having a better record against NFC opponents.
  • The Seahawks currently have a "strength of victory" tiebreaker over the Cowboys.

How can the Week 16 games help or hurt Dallas? And what is that strength of victory deal all about? Let's get to it.

Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys

The strength-of-victory tiebreaker is based on the overall records of your competition. We could get into just how that was calculated between Seattle and Dallas, but it's really irrelevant because they play each other week. This outcome will trump all other tiebreakers.

Whoever wins this game will have an insurmountable lead on the other thanks to the H2H tiebreaker. What's more, it's an elimination game for the loser. For the Cowboys and Seahawks, the playoffs have already started.

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers

How does a Vikings win or loss effect the Cowboys? It doesn't directly, but it may decide just how much effort the Philadelphia Eagles put into their Week 17 game against Dallas.

If the Eagles can clinch the #1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs this week, that will allow them to rest key players when they play the Cowboys next week. They may not do that given their first-round bye, but at least it gives them the option. A Vikings loss on Saturday night would hand the NFC's top spot to Philly.

Oakland Raiders @ Philadelphia Eagles

The good news is that even if the Vikings win this week, Philly can still clinch the top seed with a victory over the Raiders. They would have a better overall record and conference record than Minnesota going into Week 17. Even if the Eagles lost to Dallas, they would retain a common games tiebreaker over the Vikings thanks to Minnesota's Week 14 loss to Carolina. The Eagles beat the Panthers in Week 6.

Again, we don't know if clinching everything in Week 16 would lead to Philly resting players against the Cowboys. They may want to be the ones to put the final nail in Dallas' coffin this year. They may want to give Nick Foles another game to find his momentum going into the tournament.

So yeah, none of this may end up mattering. But clearly, it's far better that the Eagles have the conservative option than not.

Detroit Lions @ Cincinnati Bengals

The most likely scenario for Dallas to make the playoffs is that one of the Falcons, Panthers, or Saints go 0-2. For that to work, the Lions also have to lose one of their remaining two games. If both Dallas and Detroit finish 10-6, the Lions would have a common games tiebreaker over Dallas (explained here) and would get in over them.

The Lions have this road game in Cincy and then a home game against the Packers next week. While road games comes with an inherent disadvantage, the Bengals are in a bad place now with the announcement of  Marvin Lewis' departure after the season. Will they have any motivation or chemistry, or will the lame duck coach and lost season make them easy pickings for Detroit?

Los Angeles Rams @ Tennessee Titans

Even though they have the two-game lead now over Seattle, the Rams still haven't clinched the NFC West. If they were to lose out and Seattle wins their last two, the Seahawks would take the division.

The Rams play in an early Sunday game. If they win, they will clinch the division just before the Cowboys and Seahawks kick off. It may not mean much, but it could be an emotional kick in the nuts for Seattle and take some wind out of their sails for the game. Every little bit helps, right?

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints

Now we get to the nitty-gritty. Whoever loses this game needs to also lose in Week 17 to help the Cowboys. So the question of who you want to win here really comes down to who is more likely to lose their next one.

The Falcons host the 10-4 Panthers in Week 17. The Saints travel to face 4-10 Tampa Bay.

Even with the home and road difference, that disparity between Carolina and Tampa as opponents would make it seem Atlanta is far more likely to go 0-2. What's more, the Panthers should still be trying to win the NFC South and a playoff home game next week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

Win or lose here, the Panthers should still be fighting in Week 17. Ideally, they will win this one and be contending for the NFC South title when they go to Atlanta next week. If they lose, the Panthers will be fighting to stay in the playoffs. Dallas benefits either way.

The nightmare scenario is one where the NFC South teams all go 1-1 and block Dallas from the playoffs. We're just going to hope that doesn't happen.


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!

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1 Comment
  • Russ_Te

    It gets a lot more simple next week of course. The Cowboys have to bring the A game each week and let it unfold as it will. If they squeak in, it will be on a 5-game win streak. Definite dark horse in that case & clearly could advance. Nobody wants to face the Cowboys running game at full strength.

    The Seahawks were embarrassed last week at home by the Rams, in a game they needed, and I doubt are right mentally coming in to this game.

    I would work Elliott back in with fewer than 20 touches this week, and lots of play action and bootlegs. The receivers have to cash it in by winning on their routes if that’s the gameplan.

    Russell Wilson is today’s Fran Tarkenton with that scramble & tuck-under game. Jaylon Smith may be the perfect LB to spy it with his speed. And a big game would go a long way to set up Smith for next year.

    The team used Jameill Showers this week to emulate Wilson in practice >
    http://www.star-telegram.com/sports/nfl/dallas-cowboys/article191304669.html

Dallas Cowboys

5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

Sean Martin

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5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule 1
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.

If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.

Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.

1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons

The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.

In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.

This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.

5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor

Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.

Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.

The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.

For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.

The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.

Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.

3. Revenge Against the Falcons

The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.

Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.

Cowboys en Español: 3

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

4. Running Through December

The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.

This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.

It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.

Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.

5. Thanksgiving Tradition

For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.

The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).

Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.

Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.

Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.

Tell us what you think about "5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Player News

Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring

Jess Haynie

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James Hanna

In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC

Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.

James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.

That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.


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Player News

Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles
Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports

Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.

There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.

Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.

Bobby Belt on Twitter

Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.

Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.

Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC

Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.

Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.

If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.

The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.

Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.

Tell me what you think about "Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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