Dallas Playoff Possibilities: The Scenarios

The Cowboys' victory over Chicago keeps them in the playoff hunt, but they'll need a strong finish to make the playoffs. We take a detailed look into all of the possibilities of Dallas running the table, or suffering a single loss. Anything outside of that is a crapshoot.

The Cowboys victory on Thursday night over the Chicago Bears has moved them into fifth place in the NFC playoff race, albeit temporarily. If both Seattle and Detroit win games they are favored to, Dallas will go back to the outside looking in with just three games to go. The good news is that puts Dallas dead-even with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East race with the rematch just seven days away. There are still many playoff possibilities over the last four weeks of the schedule ... so it’s all about the perspective of what one believes is the most likely scenario for Dallas to earn a 2014 playoff berth.

Here’s a look at all the possibilities.

If Dallas runs the table to go 12-4, then:

  • Dallas needs Philadelphia to lose at least one other game, or else the Eagles win the NFC East by virtue of having a better division record. If Dallas doesn’t lose, then it doesn’t matter who else Philly loses to, in the division or out, as long as they drop to 11-5 at best. Then Dallas would be the third seed unless:
  • The NFC West Champion is either the Seahawks or a 5-or-more-loss Cardinals team. This would earn Dallas a bye week as a Top-2 seed. OR
  • The NFC North Champion has 5 or more losses. This would also earn Dallas a bye week as a Top 2 seed. Dallas loses the tiebreaker scenario to Arizona due to a head-to-head loss, and loses tiebreakers to Green Bay or Detroit based on conference record.
  • If Dallas runs the table, Philadelphia loses one additional game, the NFC West Champ is either Seattle or a five-loss Arizona AND the NFC North Champ has five or more loses, Dallas earns the Number One seed in the NFC and Home-Field Advantage through the playoffs.
  • Dallas cannot miss the playoffs at 12 -4. It would be the fifth seed, unless Detroit runs the table to finish 12-4 and wins the NFC North, and Green Bay doesn’t lose another game other than Week 17 to Detroit. In that case, Dallas would be the sixth seed.

If Dallas loses to Philly and goes 11-5, then:

  • Dallas would need Philadelphia to lose its other three remaining games in order to win the NFC East. If that happens:
    • Dallas could only earn the Number One seed throughout the NFC playoffs if the NFC North Champion finishes 10-6 or worse. Dallas loses a tiebreaker to both Green Bay and Detroit.
    • If Dallas is in a two-way tie with Seattle, it would earn the higher seed. If Dallas is in a three-way tie with Seattle and either Green Bay or Detroit, Seattle wins the three-way tiebreaker, then Dallas loses the two-way tie-breaker with the NFC North Champ.
    • If San Francisco runs the table to also end up 11-5 and in a two-way tie with the Cowboys, the 49ers win the tie-breaker with Dallas by virtue of the Week One victory.
    • If Dallas, San Francisco and the NFC North Champion are in a three-way tie at 11-5, the 49ers are the top seed, the NFC North Champ is the two seed, and Dallas is the three seed.
  • Dallas misses the playoffs if it ends up in a three-way Wild Card tie at 11-5 with the NFC West runner-up and the NFC North runner-up. Whatever combination of Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, Green Bay and Detroit, Dallas is out.
  • If Dallas is in a two-way Wild Card tie with Arizona, San Francisco, Detroit or Green Bay, Dallas loses. If it’s for the fifth seed, Dallas is the 6th seed. If it’s for the 6th seed, Dallas is out.
  • If Dallas is in a two-way Wild Card tie with Seattle, Dallas wins the tie-breaker.

If Dallas loses to Indianapolis to go 11-5, then:

  • Dallas will only win the NFC East if it has more wins than Philadelphia due to division tiebreakers, so Philly would have to lose two of their three “non-Dallas” games and finish 10-6.
  • Dallas would lose a tiebreaker with Green Bay if it has the same record, due to strength-of-victory tiebreaker. That Packers' win over New England would be the clincher.
  • With only 2 conference losses out of their current four defeats, Dallas can never win a tie-breaker with Detroit. Since they lose head-to-head tiebreakers with Arizona and San Francisco, the same rules from losing to Philadelphia apply to losing to Indianapolis.

If Dallas loses to Washington to go 11-5, then;

  • Washington hosts a Super Bowl parade for a (likely) four-win team.
  • Same rules from above apply.

So, what's the upshot of all of these scenarios for this Sunday and beyond?

  • If you think that Dallas can run the table, then you root for Seattle to beat Philadelphia on Sunday. You root for Arizona to lose at least 2 of 4 games so that Seattle wins the NFC West with an identical record as Dallas.
  • If you don't think Dallas can run the table, then you should probably root for Philadelphia (barf) to beat Seattle on Sunday. You want Detroit to lose one of the next three games before losing the season finale to Green Bay to get to six losses. You want San Francisco to lose another game to get to six losses. You want Arizona to lose at least three of their final four games to get to six losses. You basically want the entire field to get to six losses to avoid any three-way tie scenarios and scenarios where teams that have beaten Dallas (AZ and SF) are in two-way ties.
  • If you think that second scenario is more unlikely, then revert to scenario one and say "Go Hawks".

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