While the Dallas Cowboys are still NFC East Champions and guaranteed a home game in the NFC playoffs, yesterday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals was still costly. It potentially dropped Dallas from the second to the fourth seed in the tournament and removed any chance that the Cowboys could catch the Packers for the top seed in the conference.
With only week to go, Dallas fell to 11-5 and are now two games back of the 13-3 Packers following their win last night over Minnesota. Thanks to other potential tiebreakers in their advantage over the Bucs, Cardinals, and Rams, Green Bay clinched the number-one seed last night.
The second and third seeds are still on the table for the Cowboys. Though they don't come with a bye week or the guaranteed homefield throughout the playoffs, they would offer more attractive first-round opponents than what Dallas can currently expect as the fourth seed.
The fifth seed is now certain to be either the Cardinals or the Rams. Right now it would be Arizona but they still have a chance to overtake Los Angeles and win the NFC West this week. That would drop the Rams to fifth and make them Dallas' first-round opponent.
Neither of those scenarios is ideal. The Cardinals and Rams are both assumed to be superior opponents than the 49ers, Eagles, or Saints among the potential NFC wild card teams.
If the Cowboys can beat Philadelphia this Saturday and get some help from losses by Arizona, Los Angeles, or Tampa Bay, Dallas could move back up to a higher seed and a more desirable first-round matchup.
Getting back to the second seed will be tough, requiring losses by all three of those teams in Week 18. But even getting into the 3rd/6th matchup would be an improvement.
It remains to be seen how much various NFC teams will invest in this week's games. Resting players and preparing for the postseason may be deemed more worthwhile than trying to slightly improve your place in the tournament bracket.
However it shakes out, the Cowboys' playoff picture is now a bit clearer than it was before yesterday's games. And, unfortunately, it's also looking a little tougher than before.