With just four weeks to go in the NFL season, it’s time to start playing the “what if” game for the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys. Here are the different ways the playoff picture can shift in week 14.
With last week’s 17-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys became the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth. But, they still have plenty of work to do. Their situation can get better if a few things go their way this weekend.
How Dallas can clinch the NFC East Title
This one is actually rather simple. The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles cannot win the NFC East. They trail Dallas by four and a half and six games, respectively.
With four games to go, those gaps are insurmountable. This leaves only the New York Giants, who face the Cowboys Sunday night.
Since the Giants trail by three games, a loss would put them behind by four. So, a Dallas win on Sunday will clinch the NFC East Championship: simple enough.
Solution: A Cowboys win clinches the NFC East Title
How Dallas can clinch a first round bye
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Believe it or not, this is also a possibility this week. To bypass the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs, the Cowboys just need to finish in the top two of the NFC.
The NFC North-leading Detroit Lions currently sit in the NFC’s number three slot at 8-4 and three games behind Dallas. The NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons occupy the fourth spot at 7-5 and trail the Cowboys by four games.
With a win, the Cowboys will eliminate the Falcons from passing them and clinch at least a tie with the Lions. Furthermore, a Lions loss (or tie) would make it impossible for them to catch Dallas. Since the Lions play at 12 on Sunday, it makes this a key game to watch while waiting for Sunday night’s kickoff. But there’s also the second-ranked Seattle Seahawks behind the Cowboys.
Let’s travel back to October 23. Way back in the season’s seventh week, Seattle played one of the most boring games in NFL history against the Arizona Cardinals. The experience rivaled taste-testing two brands of plain rice cakes, ending in a 6-6 tie. One could call it a pillow fight, but those could actually involve someone getting beaten.
Because of that game, the Seahawks have an 8-3-1 record. Thanks to that tie, they’re two and a half games behind Dallas.
With a Dallas win and a Seattle loss, that lead becomes insurmountable at three and a half with three games remaining. Another Seattle tie would do the same thing. They kick off at 3:25 against the Packers.
Solution: A Cowboys win and a Lions loss or tie, or a Cowboys win and a Seahawks loss or tie will clinch a first round bye
How Dallas can clinch home field advantage
Winning the NFC East and earning a first round bye would be invaluable for the Cowboys this season. But Dallas wants every advantage possible. So naturally, hosting a Divisional Round playoff game and the NFC Championship at AT&T Stadium would certainly stack the deck a little more towards the Cowboys. This could also happen Sunday. Simply put: all three of the previous scenarios need to happen.
Solution: A Cowboys win and a Lions loss or tie, plus a Seahawks loss or tie would clinch home field throughout the NFC Playoffs
This also gives Dallas fans a clear plan on Sunday. First watch Detroit host the Bears at Noon. Keep your expectations tempered though, because Chicago is 3-9. When that game ends, find the Seahawks playing the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field at 3:25. Then, the evening will culminate with the Cowboys and Giants at 7:30 from MetLife Stadium.
So, root for the Bears, then the Packers, then Dallas. If all three hit, the regular season is virtually complete and resting players will be the primary focus for the final three weeks.