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.
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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!