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Dallas Cowboys Playoff Berth, Division, And First-Round Bye Clinching Scenarios

RJ Ochoa



Dak Prescott

The Dallas Cowboys are going to the playoffs this season, it's as factual something can be without actually being factual.

For the first time this season - and in quite some time - the Dallas Cowboys can definitively secure a playoff spot this week. It's the most wonderful time of the year indeed, right?

That's why we're here today... to talk playoffs. When your team has one loss the week after Thanksgiving, you get to legitimately do this math. Here at Inside The Star we've got the math for you on multiple scenarios where the Cowboys can clinch: a playoff berth, the NFC East title, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage.

Before we begin it's important to understand just exactly what the field of variables we're working with is. Additionally it's important to know that for things of first-round bye/wildcard/general conference playoff nature, the immediate tiebreaker is head-to-head record (if applicable), followed by conference record. The current NFC playoff landscape is here for your reference.

Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys Playoff Berth, Division, And First Round Bye Clinching Scenarios 1

Put your pencils down, let's party!


Clinching A Playoff Berth

This is the bare minimum, a simple ticket to the dance. Here are the scenarios for how the Cowboys can clinch a playoff berth, in order from quickest to slowest routes:

  1. Beat The Vikings + Redskins Loss To Arizona OR Buccaneers Loss To San Diego: The Redskins, Bucs, and Vikings can each attain 11 wins at the absolute maximum this season. A win Thursday would give Dallas 11, and prevent Minnesota from winning out, and that coupled with a Washington/Tampa Bay loss would mean six teams at the very most in the NFC could get to 11 wins maximum... and the Cowboys would already be there.
  2. Win ANY Two Games: Should the Cowboys not get the help that they need this week from Arizona or San Diego, they simply would just have to get to 12 wins since the Redskins, Bucs, and Vikings mathematically cannot.

Clinching The NFC East

It's long said that NFL teams construct their rosters in order to win their division. The Dallas Cowboys play in the NFL's most storied division - the NFC East - and it's been quite good in 2016. Here are the scenarios for how the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East:

  1. Beat The Vikings + Beat The Giants In New York Next Week: You know very well that the Cowboys are 10-1 currently, a win in Minnesota would up that ante to 11-1. The Giants currently sit at 8-3, and say they won in Pittsburgh... they'd be 9-3. Go a step further with your saying and say the Cowboys beat the Giants, that'd make it 12-1 to 9-4 with three games to go. Now technically the Cowboys could lose out and Giants win out, but it wouldn't matter. In that scenario the Cowboys and Giants would both end up with 4-2 records in their division (which is the immediate tiebreaker), so the next tiebreaker would be common games. In this wild world of assumptions the Cowboys wins over the Vikings and Packers (who New York lost to) would carry the fact that the Giants would - hypothetically - beat Detroit who, worst case scenario, would have beaten us. We would own the tiebreaker and the division.

The next two scenarios are based on the hypothetical that the Giants win the December 11th showdown with the Cowboys. 

  1. Win Any Three Games + One Giants Loss: Say for a second that the Giants beat the Steelers pulled off the upset in New York next Sunday Night and beat the Cowboys... the formula is still the same. As long as the Cowboys won three games - any three - they'd still hit 13 on the season, and one NY loss would limit them to 12.
  2. Win Every Game That's Not The Giants Game: In a weird world where the Giants won every game from here on out (including the Cowboys one), it's still a Cowboys-dominated world. As long as Dallas won every game that wasn't the Giants game... they'd have a 14 to 13 win edge.

The Cowboys/Vikings and Giants/Steelers games are huge for us this week. Since the Giants lost to the Vikings and the Cowboys beat the Steelers, those are both games that could swing in advantage of the Cowboys. The Cowboys can actually still clinch the NFC East next week even if they lose to the Vikings, here's how:

  • Cowboys Lose In Minnesota + Redskins Lose In Arizona + Giants Lose In Pittsburgh + Cowboys Win In New York: Obviously we don't want to plan on losing, but if we do and the Giants lose to the Steelers then that common game record still grows by a game in our favor since we beat the Steelers. Washington losing simply ensures that they don't get to 11 wins on the season like the Cowboys/Giants still potentially could. Huzzah.

Clinching A First-Round Bye

With five games yet to play there obviously quite a few directions the NFC can go before it's all said and done. We're concerned with the Dallas Cowboys here and how they can secure things, and we're discussing these things from a macro perspective entering Week 13. If these things take a spicy turn, you know we'll have you taken care of here at Inside The Star. Enough jibber-jabber... Here are the scenarios for how the Cowboys can clinch a first-round bye:

  1. Win Next Two Games + Two Other Division Leaders (Seahawks, Lions, Falcons) Lose Once In Next Two Weeks: This is the scene in the movie where the mathematical equations fly by the unsuspecting character. Here's how this works... two wins would put the Cowboys at 12-1, and we already covered how that gives us the division. That's important for first-round bye purposes because you have to be a division winner to get one. Beyond that we need two of the other three current division leaders to lose a game because this would put 2/3 of them at eight wins with three games to play. 12 > 11. Boo-ya.
  2. Win Any Three Games + Win The Division: Again, I realize it goes without saying to say that you need to win your division to get a bye, but I said it! So there! Three wins puts the Cowboys at 13 and, assuming they do win the NFC East, no division winner can catch that as the leaders all currently sit atop theirs with seven wins and five games to go.

Clinching Home-Field Advantage

We're greedy. It's ok to admit that.

We want the Cowboys to clinch the division, bye, and home field advantage! Just like the little girl in Willy Wonka that fell down the goose tunnel or whatever... we want it all. It's actually very simple as far as what it takes to ensure that the road to Super Bowl LI goes through Dallas:

  1. Win The Division + Get To 12 Wins + Seahawks, Lions, And Falcons All Lose At Least Once: You know very well by now how winning the next two games locks up the NFC East, and you know that it also puts the Cowboys at 12 wins on the season. The other three NFC division winners can all - if they won out - hit 12 wins maximum. If they each lose once that number falls to 11. Sucks to suck, NFC.
  2. Win The Division + Get To 13 Wins: No other division winner can mathematically get to 13 wins on the season. Assuming the Cowboys are a division winner with 13, they are the kings.

These are the playoff scenarios and how they influence the Cowboys as we enter Week 13. We'll have you updated here at Inside The Star if/when these circumstances change. Huzzah!

How likely do you think any of these are? Let us know! Comment below, Email me at, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Playoff Berth, Division, And First-Round Bye Clinching Scenarios" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

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Player News

Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick

Jess Haynie



Devin Smith

The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.

Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:

Jason Bernstein on Twitter

Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back.

Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.

Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.

The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.

For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!

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Dallas Cowboys

Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways

John Williams



Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.

Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.

The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.

Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.

Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.

In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.

This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.

Mike Garafolo on Twitter

Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan

Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.

The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.

Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.

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DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class

Kevin Brady



Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.

Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.

One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring. ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures.

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.

Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.

Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.

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