If the Dallas Cowboys defeat the New York Giants this Sunday and Washington loses to the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas will have done the previously unthinkable by winning the NFC East. That means a guaranteed home game in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, and one of either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Los Angeles Rams coming to town the following week.
Thanks to a three-game winning streak and Alex Smith's injury in Washington, the Cowboys have clawed their way back and made this Week 17 finale meaningful. Any of Dallas, Washington, or New York could still win the division depending on the outcomes of this weekend's games.
Whoever wins the NFC East is already locked into the fourth seed for the playoffs; the lowest of the four division winners. The Packers, Saints, and Seahawks all have 12-11 wins already and the best that Dallas or Washington can hope for is to finish 7-9.
As the 4th seed the NFC East winner will host the 5th seed, aka the top wild card team, in the first round of the playoffs. Based on the current standings that would be Tom Brady and the 10-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While still just one game behind the Saints (11-4) in overall record, Tampa lost both of their games against New Orleans this year. That gave the Saints the head-to-head tiebreaker and means they've already clinched the NFC South as of last week.
But even the 5th seed isn't locked up yet for the Bucs. They could still fall to 6th and allow the Los Angeles Rams to move up depending on the regular-season finales.
The Rams are 9-6 and have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bucs from their Week 11 victory. They host the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday while Tampa is hosting the Atlanta Falcons. If the Rams win and the Bucs lose then LA would slide up into the 5th seed and face the winner of the NFC East.
Los Angeles should have a much tougher battle this week with the Cardinals still fighting for a wild card spot themselves. The Falcons are completely out of the playoff hunt and may not give Tampa much resistance.
And while they're already locked into a wild card spot, the Bucs will have plenty of incentive to try to keep that 5th seed and play the NFC East winner over one of the top three teams in the conference.
I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “can we make the playoffs first? Sheesh.” But by the time Philly and Washington kickoff on Sunday Night Football we will know whether or not the Cowboys are even still alive, plus who the 5th seed in the playoffs will be between the Bucs or the Rams.
If Dallas can handle their business and get a little help the Eagles, then either Tom Brady or Aaron Donald will be leading their squads into AT&T Stadium for the most unexpected playoff game in Cowboys history.