Christmas Day has come and gone and the NFL regular season is coming to a close. With just one last full-slate of Sunday football to go, the playoff picture is just about set.
While in the AFC all six teams who will be continuing on into the postseason are set, the NFC still has some outcomes undecided. Tonight’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions can’t decide a whole lot, but it does hold the fate of two potential playoff teams in particular.
For the Cowboys…
Simply put, this game is “meaningless.” With the New York Giants’ Thursday night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys locked up the NFC East, the number one seed in the conference, a first round bye, and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. All that’s left for the Cowboys to do is to play out their remaining two regular season games, and await their Wild Card weekend-winning opponent on January 15th. The Cowboys do have a chance to finish with their best home record in AT&T Stadium’s history with a win tonight, however, at 7-1.
Of course, with homefield already being decided, many are wondering if key starters will get time to rest over the course of thee next two weeks. While conventional wisdom would tell you that many starters will probably sit out the season finale at Philadelphia, head coach Jason Garrett has not followed that ideology before (see 2014 Week 17 vs. Washington).
Either way, the Cowboys don’t have much at all to gain in tonight’s game.
For the Lions…
The Detroit Lions are sort of in a similar situation as the Cowboys. Tonight’s game is basically meaningless to them in the sense that they have to beat the Green Bay Packers next week to win the NFC North anyway, regardless of tonight’s result.
However, a win tonight would lock up at least a Wild card spot for the Lions, and would eliminate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from playoff contention. The win would also force Washington into a tricky situation, as they would have to win next week and hope for a Detroit win over the Packers in order to clinch the sixth and final playoff spot.
If Detroit were to lose tonight in Dallas, then they would have to wait and see what Washington did against the Giants next week. If Washington were to win, then the Lions would be forced into a de facto playoff game with their rival Packers on Sunday night.
As usual, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to figuring out this NFC playoff race. Basically, if the Cowboys win tonight, they are in fact helping Washington control it’s playoff destiny. If the Cowboys lose, then there is a high probability that two NFC North teams will find themselves in the playoff picture after Week 17.
It’s a headache to figure out the bottom of the NFC playoffs, but at the top, the Cowboys sit alone without a worry, controlling their own fate until February.