After a few weeks with the same six teams, we finally have a chance. Tampa Bay’s road win over the Chargers moved them into the last Wild Card spot. That sixth seed was surrendered by Washington after a loss to the Cardinals.
If the NFL playoffs started today, these would be the NFC standings. I’ve included the teams with less than eight losses as they still have a slim possibility of qualifying.
- Dallas Cowboys (11-1)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1)
- Detroit Lions (8-4)
- Atlanta Falcons (7-5)
- New York Giants (8-4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
- Washington (6-5-1)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
- Green Bay Packers (6-6)
- Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1)
- New Orleans Saints (5-7)
- Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
- The Falcons (3-1) are ahead of the Bucs (2-1) in the NFC South due to a better division record. They’ve already played each other twice and split the series.
- The Vikings are ahead of the Packers due to a head-to-head victory in Week 2. They play each other again Week 16 in Green Bay.
- The Saints (4-4) are ahead of the Eagles (3-6) due to a better record against NFC opponents.
Dallas is involved in the most important NFC game of the Week 14. However, there are a few other key matchups to look at. As always, we’ll look at each game with a bias towards what’s best for the Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants
The most important game left on their regular 2016 schedule, Dallas clinches the NFC East with a win. The Giants would remain a Wild Card team but would move closer to the edge of elimination.
If the Giants win then they would move to 9-4 with Dallas dropping to 11-2. That is still a nice cushion with only three games left, but at that point the Giants would have the head-to-head tiebreaker. Dallas could not afford a December slide.
Washington @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are barely hanging on, but they’ll have home field in this rivalry game. They will do more as a spoiler than anything if they win, pulling Washington even further away from the playoffs.
The last thing I want for the Cowboys to have to deal with with in the postseason is one of their division rivals. Those games rarely follow logic. Strengths and weaknesses tend to blur and strategy feels less important. The playing field becomes more even then, and that’s not good for the Cowboys.
Arizona Cardinals @ Miami Dolphins
The Cardinals have only one road win all year and it was against the hapless 49ers. Miami is a much better team and fighting for their playoff lives, so things don’t look good for Arizona here. A loss here should take them out of the playoff conversation.
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions
Detroit can take a huge step towards a division title this week. They have a soft opponent in Chicago while the Vikings are on the road and the Packers have to host the Seahawks.
The Cowboys will be interested in this one. If they beat the Giants, Dallas could clinch a first-round bye with a loss by either Detroit or Seattle. If both the Lions and Seahawks lose, Dallas would clinch the top seed and home field advantage. A loss by Detroit doesn’t seem likely here, though.
Minnesota Vikings @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The resistible force meets movable object; Minnesota’s lost six of their last seven and the Jags have lost seven in a row. After how close they made their game with Dallas last Thursday night, though, I would be fine with not seeing their defense again in January.
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The surging Bucs are on a four-game win streak and have pulled even with the Falcons. They have the tougher game this week, facing Drew Brees while Atlanta gets Jared Goff.
There’s a strong possibility that whoever doesn’t win the NFC South between the Bucs and Falcons will earn one of the Wild Card spots. Still, as I’ve said before, I’d much rather that Dallas face the Buccaneers than the Falcons in the postseason. Both Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston could put up huge numbers against our pass defense, but Winston’s youth could also work against him in his first playoff appearance.
Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams
As stated above, I’d be happier for the Buccaneers to win the NFC South and for the Falcons’ high-powered offense to fall right out of the mix. I doubt they will slip out of the Wild Card spot, but every loss helps.
Unfortunately, the Rams don’t look like they’ll be winning again any time soon.
Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers
The Seahawks will clinch the NFC West with a win and a loss by Arizona. Their winning the division is a foregone conclusion, really, so the bigger concern is keeping their first-round bye intact. If Seattle loses and Detroit wins, the Lions would become the number-two seed.
Green Bay still has a little life after two-straight wins. If they can hold home field against the Seahawks, their last three games are all in the division. They beat Detroit in Week 3 and can get the tiebreaker in Week 17.