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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!


Dallas Cowboys

Could Cowboys Have Another “Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey” Debate?

Jess Haynie



Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey

The debate over "Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey" for from the 2016 NFL Draft has never really stopped in Dallas. From before that draft until now, Cowboys fans still argue over which player the team should have taken. For the team, could they face that question again in the next few years?

A little over three years ago, the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth-overall pick. In so doing, they also snubbed Ramsey; the cornerback expected to become a Cowboy and wound up going with the fifth pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Where you stand on this issue likely has a lot to do with how you value running backs. Some argued in 2016, and still do, that no RB is worth that high of a pick or paying top dollar for in future years. You've seen plenty of those opinions this offseason as talk of a long-term contract extension for Elliott has heated up.

Those same folks would have loved for Dallas to take Jalen Ramsey, who instantly became one of the NFL's top corners. And in 2021, with both players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, they would probably rather see the Cowboys let Elliott walk away and use that money to add an elite player at a position like cornerback.

We mention Ramsey here because of his very public feud with Jacksonville over his contract. The team reportedly informed him they would wait until next year to do a long-term extension, and Ramsey made it known through social media that he was going to drive the price up. Given his known issues with Jaguars' VP Tom Coughlin, it could lead to a parting of ways.

If  Jalen Ramsey hit the open market, and still want to be a Cowboy, could the CB end up in Dallas after all?

Ezekiel Elliott Already Has Second Rushing Title Locked Down

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Let's hypothesize that both Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey have to play 2020 on their fifth-year options. Now the Cowboys are having to decide if they want give Zeke a long-term deal, the franchise tag, or just let him go.

How does the prospect of potentially signing Ramsey, or some other elite talent at another position, sway Dallas' thinking? Could they decide that the best bang for their buck is to spend roughly $15 million per year at RB or at CB, OT, or somewhere else?

The Cowboys already have a Pro Bowl corner in Byron Jones but there's still a lot of uncertainty at the other starting position. Neither Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis have been consistent enough and both will have expiring contracts in 2021.

Ezekiel Elliott will turn 26 that year. He will have five seasons of workhorse mileage. And this is the same Cowboys team that decided to let DeMarco Murray walk away a few years ago.

Of course, Elliott trumps Murray in almost every way. He's been elite every season so far, not just one, and has been far more durable. Assuming personal conduct issues don't remain a problem, Zeke will be much harder to let go of than DeMarco was.

However, the salary cap forces teams to think about the entire roster when making personnel decisions. Even if you can justify paying Elliott huge money, that means less for someone else. And even if it makes sense for a year or two, what about when Zeke is creeping closer to 30 years old?

Jalen Ramsey

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey

Again, I mentioned Ramsey here because of the intrigue with his contract situation in Jacksonville and connection to Dallas from the 2016 draft. It would be quite ironic if the Cowboys, five years later, were again having to decide between the same two players.

But Jalen exemplifies a greater issue that Dallas faces in the coming years. Does it make sense to tie up so much money at running back and weaken yourself at other positions?

While RBs as special as Ezekiel Elliott don't grow on trees, it's still one of the easiest positions to fill. Assuming the Cowboys still have one of the NFL's top offensive lines in a few years, they will be tempted to try and get solid rushing production with a much cheaper ball carrier.

When Dallas let DeMarco Murray go and then drafted Ezekiel Elliott a year later, some thought it could be the start of a new trend in roster management. Draft a RB high, get 4-5 years out of him, and then let somebody else pay him the big money. Rinse and repeat.

But then Zeke came along and has been the stuff of legends. If he has a long-term career in Dallas, he will be right there with Emmitt and Dorsett in the top-three of all time Cowboys running backs.

Elliott isn't just highly productive but brings personality and excitement. Guys like that are hard to let go of; they are as valuable for marketing as they are on the field.

That said, a lot can change in the next year or two. More issues with the league office, or a major injury, could have a dramatic effect on how we see Elliott's long-term value. It may make the decision much easier.

But assuming Zeke remains as valuable as ever, the Dallas Cowboys could be facing another major quandary between the running back and other elite players like Jalen Ramsey. What most helps the team win, and what has the most value over multiple seasons?

Hopefully, Ezekiel Elliott keeps playing well enough to keep the debate going.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch

Jess Haynie



Mitch Hyatt

Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?

Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.

While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.

For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.

Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.

“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”

Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.

The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.

If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.

Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.

Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.

If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.

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Dallas Cowboys

Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?

Mauricio Rodriguez



Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Melina Vastola / USA TODAY Sports

Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.

A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.

In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.

Michael Jackson

CB Michael Jackson

When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.

While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.

After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.

In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.

Tell me what you think about "Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL 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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