First of all, the Dallas Cowboys probably have to win both of their remaining games to make the playoffs. Technically, if both the Giants and Redskins lose this week along with the Cowboys, they could still win the East, but do the Redskins really seem likely to lose to the Eagles? No. The Giants, however, play the Ravens at Baltimore, so having at least one half of the equation tally an “L” isn’t impossible. The Cowboys play the Saints, who have only one win against a winning team, and they struggle at running and defense, so Dallas Cowboys win is possible, if not certain. The real challenge (should winning even matter) is the game the following week against the Redskins to close out the season. Luckily, they, like the Saints, struggle against the pass, so the Cowboys’ offense should be capable of continuing the trend of actually moving the ball down the field.
The NFC Wildcard Race:
The Seattle Seahawks currently lead the wilcard race. The Seahawks are 9-5, while the Vikings and Bears in the NFC North are at 8-6, and then the Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants are all at 8-6 in the East. If the Seahawks lose to the 49ers and Rams while the Cowboys win against the Saints and Redskins, the Cowboys could earn a wildcard berth. Currently, the Seahawks’ magic number is one, meaning that if they win or the Cowboys lose, the Seahawks will win a wildcard spot. Seattle is unlikely to lose against the Rams; they are a six win team with legitimately impressive conquests (including the Seahawks), but they play away from the Edward Jones Dome, where they won 75% of the time. This contrasts conveniently with the Seahawks’ 100% winning percentage at home (6 for 6). All of this is a long winded way of saying the Cowboys are unlikely to win a wildcard spot.
The NFC East:
Can the Dallas Cowboys sweep? As stated earlier, if they sweep they would have a better record than Washington. But what if the Giants also win their two remaining games? In the event that both teams have equal win-loss records, then the division winner is determined by their respective divisional win-loss record. Here, since the Giants would sit at 3-3 while the Cowboys sit at 4-2, so the Giants would lose out and miss the playoffs following their Super Bowl win. The Cowboys, somehow, control their own destiny unless Jason Garrett has something to say about it.
If both the Redskins and Giants get swept. Since this means that the Cowboys would have won at least one game, they’re in.
Fine, let’s assume that the Dallas Cowboys get in to the 2012 NFL playoffs. How will they do?
This question is obviously much more difficult than the others, but my guess is one and done. The Cowboys’ point differential is the worst among winning teams in the NFC by more than three touchdowns, and is second worst among winning teams in the NFL (they better only the Colts.)
I think of point differential like K/9 in baseball. If you don’t follow the sport, skip down some. For those who do, it measures how much you dominate the competition.
Sometimes, inferior competition or running up the score skews the numbers (like the Seahawks), but for the teams with legitimate competition week in and week out, it gives a pretty good idea if they were putting up a formidable fight or just got lucky at the right times.
Strikeouts tend to work the same way in baseball. Jeff Smardzija of the Cubs had an inferior ERA to Scott Diamond of the Twins despite the fact that he struck out almost twice as many batters per game. So next year, when picking your fantasy teams, will you choose Scott Diamond, who got a lot of balls hit to fielders, or Jeff Smardzija, who took the ball out of the realm of possibility of being a hit in the first first place?
Of course you would take Smardzija, and point differential works in a similar manner. Who would you predict to do well in the playoffs: the team that dominates the competition or the one that squeaks by every week?
As a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fans, both you and I would like to pick the Cowboys, but if you put money on the table, the Packers, Seahawks, Falcons, 49ers or Vikings/Bears are all better bets than America’s Team.
The combined point differential among those with a winning record (from the NFC) is 614, while those with a losing record had a combined point differential of -315. Which makes sense, considering that you need more points than the opponent to win the game.
Still, it’s no coincidence that the two best teams in the NFC account for 40% of the point differential because both the Falcons and 49ers truly are that good.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, actually took 1.76% of the point differential out of the equation, signalling that a lot of luck (even if it didn’t always feel like it) went into each and every win.
Consider that the Cowboys have only blown out one opponent (the Eagles), and three of the touchdowns came on defense or special teams. While every teams’ benefits point-differential wise from a pick-six or a return touchdown, requiring them to win against a pathetically inferior opponent like the Eagles should raise alarms.
The fact that most of the Dallas Cowboys games have been very close might provide hope regarding the 2013 season for some franchises (namely the Browns and Rams), but for a (hypothetically) playoff-bound team like the Cowboys, it provides serious concern.
The painfully close losses against Atlanta, New York and Baltimore all provide glimmers of hope for their playoff results, but in the end the inability to “put away” teams like the Panthers, Browns or Buccaneers cast serious doubt as to their ability to “put away” the Packers in week 18.
Great. So no matter what, the Dallas Cowboys are hopeless? Well, not entirely. While that does mean the cards are definitely stacked against us, the Giants last year had a point differential of -6–almost exactly the same as the 2012 Dallas Cowboys. So, you never know