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