Cowboys clinch top wild card, here’s how win puts playoff pressure on Eagles

The Dallas Cowboys returned the favor on Saturday. After falling to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6 in their fifth-straight game without starting QB Dak Prescott, they flipped the script. In Week 16, the Cowboys took out the Eagles, 40-34, to improve to 11-4 on the season. The rematch win moved Dallas’ record within the NFC East, the only NFL division with four teams at .500 or better,  to 4-1.

While all four teams are currently in playoff position with two weeks remaining, Saturday’s results clinched the top wild-card seed for Dallas. The Cowboys will, at the least, be the No. 5 seed once the dance starts. Their victory also allowed “at the least” to remain a thing. The club isn’t yet out of the hunt for better things.

Current NFC Playoff Seeding

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-2)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (12-3)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (11-4)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)
  5. Dallas Cowboys (11-4)
  6. New York Giants (8-6-1)
  7. Washington Commanders (7-7-1)
  8. Seattle Seahawks (7-8)
  9. Detroit Lions (7-8)
  10. Green Bay Packers (7-8)
  11. Carolina Panthers (6-9)
  12. New Orleans Saints (6-9)

Race for No. 1 Seed

The Eagles need just one win in the final two games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC East and the conference’s lone bye week. That’s because while the Minnesota Vikings could still tie them in overall record, the Eagles early-season win over Minnesota would be the first tiebreaker.

The Vikings would have to win out while the Eagles lose out in order to claim the No. 1 spot.

The 49ers would have to win out, with the Eagles losing out and Minnesota losing a game to earn the bye week.

And as for the Cowboys…

Cowboys still alive for the division and here’s how pressure works on the Eagles

With the victory on Saturday, the Cowboys have kept their very faint chances of winning both the division and the conference alive. They’d still need to do their own work plus get a ton of help.

Dallas would win the NFC East if:

  • They defeat Tennessee in Week 17 AND
  • Defeat Washington in Week 18 AND
  • Philadelphia loses to New Orleans in Week 17 AND
  • Loses to New York Giants in Week 18

This combination of things would give Dallas the No. 3 seed at a minimum and is far fetched on its own. Dallas should win their final two games, despite being on the road as long as they have a reason to try in each. That last part, a reason to try, is high-key important.

Thanks to their win Saturday, Dallas kept Philly from clinching. The Eagles would have LOVED to be able to use the next two weeks to go into playoff prep mode, but they absolutely can’t just yet. They would’ve preferred to give Jalen Hurts and his shoulder two weeks of rest, but because things nothing’s secured, they’ll need to play him and other guys who are nicked up but able to suit up.

If they had things locked up with two weeks to go, they could have sat a handful of guys in Week 17, a different set of guys in Week 18, taken the bye and been as healthy as possible for the divisional round. That isn’t possible now, they have to go all out to win at least one of these next two weeks.

But wait… there’s more

With the Cowboys playing on Thursday, a loss to the Titans gives the Eagles the division. While not the overall clinching they’d be looking for, that’s still some release of pressure. But if Dallas wins? Then Philadelphia is really feeling the pressure. They have to defeat the Saints on Sunday or else they’ll have to suit up everyone in Week 18 to clinch the division against the Giants.

And while the records say they are favorites over both the Saints and Giants, each of those teams could be playing for their seasons in those matchups. The Saints can still make the playoffs as the NFC South champions.

The Giants are likely to clinch a playoff spot in Week 17. They play at home, against Indianapolis and if they win, they’re in. But if they lose, they’ll have a win-and-in game in Week 18 against the Eagles.

So while Dallas has just a 3% chance of all of that happening, there’s certainly an explainable path for that to occur.

Dreaming the big dream

Let’s say that 3% chance comes to fruition. The Cowboys take down the Titans on Thursday, followed by the Saints upsetting the Eagles on Sunday as they sniff a division championship. At the same time, the Colts pull of an upset of the Giants to make New York care about Week 18, where they pull off the win and make the Eagles a paltry 3-3 in the division. Dallas takes down Washington to move to 5-1 in the East and wins it off of tiebreakers.

All of that would “only” give Dallas a home game in the wild-card round. It would “only” give them a 29% chance at the No. 1 seed. To get all the way to a bye week, Dallas would still need help.

  • Minnesota has to lose on the road to either Green Bay in Week 17 or Chicago in Week 18 AND
  • San Francisco would have to lose either on the road at Las Vegas or at home to Arizona.

Green Bay is hot right now, and the Vikings do nothing but play in close games (except against the NFC East when they get blown out the water). A close game against Aaron Rodgers trying to will his team into the playoffs?

The Raiders are a Jekyl and Hyde organization and could upset the 49ers just as much as they could lose by 30.

Path to No. 1 Recap

All in all 7 things have to happen for the Cowboys to win the NFC and earn the bye, a 0.8% chance according to FiveThirtyEight.

  • Dallas beats Tennessee in Week 17, Washington in Week 18
  • Philadelphia loses to New Orleans in Week 17, NY Giants in Week 18
    • Likely requires NYG to lose to Indianapolis in Week 17
  • Minnesota to either lose to Green Bay in W17 or Chicago W18
  • San Francisco to either lose to Las Vegas W17 or Arizona W18

If they don’t…

Again, Dallas is locked into at least the 5 seed. They will face the NFC South champion, on the road, as that division is locked into the 4 seed.

If Tampa Bay wins against Carolina in Week 17, that’s it, the Week 1 rematch is locked. If the Panthers win, they’d win the division with a Week 18 win over New Orleans.

The Saints would need to win both their remaining games (including Week 18 over Carolina) and have the Bucs lose their last two games to win the division.

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