Even with their 30-10 road win over the New York Giants on Sunday, don’t bet on the Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs.
On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles locked up the NFC East with a 43-35 road win over the Los Angeles Rams, meaning that the Cowboys only way to sneak into the postseason is by earning a wild-card berth.
With a 7-6 record, Jerry Jones’ club technically sits just one game out of the sixth and final playoff spot at the moment. However, because the Green Bay Packers (7-6), Detroit Lions (7-6), Carolina Panthers (9-4) and Atlanta Falcons (8-5) all picked up critical wins in Week 14, the Cowboys must win all three of their remaining games and get a ton of help across the league to even have a chance at playing beyond Week 17 of this season.
Here are the scenarios that must play out over the final three weeks of the NFL season for Dallas to make the playoffs:
▪ Dallas must win out (at Oakland, home vs. Seattle, at Philadelphia); A head-to-head victory over Seattle would give Dallas the tie-breaker advantage over the Seahawks.
▪ Green Bay must lose at least 1 of its final three games (at Carolina, home vs. Minnesota, at Detroit)
▪ Detroit lose at least one of its final three games (home vs. Chicago, at Cincinnati, home vs. Green Bay)
▪ And here’s the real problem scenario: Atlanta must lose two of its final three games (at Tampa Bay, home vs. New Orleans, home vs. Carolina)
So, what are the chances the Cowboys see that improbable series of events actually unfold?
According to fivethirtyeight.com, Dallas’ odds of making the playoffs are 4 percent. That number is just the 17th best in the NFL and the worst percentage of any of the three NFC teams with a 7-6 record.
The surprising return of Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the starting lineup, which could happen as early as this week, could further increase Green Bay’s odds of sneaking into the playoff field.
Dallas does get a few breaks for the final three-game home stretch. The fact that MVP-hopeful Carson Wentz will miss the remainder of this season for the Eagles with a torn anterior cruciate ligament should improve the Cowboys’ chances of picking up a win when the two teams meet in the regular-season finale in Philadelphia on Dec. 31.
And while Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have put up solid numbers over the course of the past five games, the duo doesn’t have quite the same impact as stud back Ezekiel Elliot. Through his first eight games of this season, he recorded 751 rushing yards and seven rushing scores, putting him on pace for another 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown season.
Despite a 5-3 record, Dallas then dropped its next three games in a row when Elliot was forced to serve a six-game suspension handed down by the NFL for his alleged involved in a domestic violence incident. The nadir of that losing streak came on Thanksgiving, when the Los Angeles Chargers handed out a 28-6 beat-down that appeared to cripple Dallas’ playoff aspirations.
Since then, though the Cowboys have won two games in a row by beating up on the Washington Redskins and Giants. And after Garrett and company take on an underachieving Raiders team next weekend in Oakland, Elliot will be eligible to return for the team’s final two games of the season against the Seahawks on Christmas Eve, and at the Eagles on New Year’s Eve.