As the Dallas Cowboys wobbly stand on the brink of a playoff berth, each remaining week will create new and sometimes unlikely friends and allies.
As it stands today, even if Dallas wins out the Cowboys already need help in the form of a Giants loss. There are also scenarios that would keep hope alive even if Dallas drops the Steelers game this week.
The two final games are not quite as forgiving. Next week vs. New Orleans is an NFC conference game, Dallas will need that conference win to trump Washington if they end up tied at 9-7.
This would push the two teams to a 4th tiebreaker which would be their record vs. common opponents. Fortunately Dallas has a substantial lead in this area.
Naturally, the final game against Washington is a must for Dallas to slide in the playoffs. It would keep the division record tiebreaker advantage over the Giants intact.
And also bury the Redskins even if they are a game better than the Cowboys before that final contest. Well, that last statement is assuming Dallas would have beaten the Saints.
Below are this week’s match-ups with significant relevance to the Cowboys’ race for the playoffs. Each game will involve a temporary ally Dallas fans should support in their Week 15 battles…
BENGALS AT EAGLES (THURSDAY 7:20 CT)
Both Cincy and Pittsburgh are two games back of Baltimore in the AFC North race. If Baltimore increases their lead to three games, they’ve won their division.
Their only motivation remaining next week would then be to play for a first-round bye.
In years past it’s been clear that while higher seeding is preferred, it is nowhere near the motivating factor as fighting for the division.
With Baltimore hosting the Giants next week, Dallas would like them to have as much to play for as possible. A Bengals win on Thursday would keep next week’s Ravens-Giants game very relevant.
DENVER AT BALTIMORE (SUNDAY NOON CT)
As explained above, a Baltimore loss would keep their remaining games relevant to a division title. This would force them to exert maximum effort and motivation again the Giants next week.
WASHINGTON AT CLEVELAND / NEW YORK GIANTS AT ATLANTA (SUNDAY NOON CT)
If both the Redskins and Giants each lose their three remaining games, Dallas would win the division even with losing to Pitt and New Orleans.
That scenario is highly unlikely and not necessary to win the division, yet illustrates the “more the merrier” point for losses by these division rivals.
ALLIES: BROWNS / FALCONS
GREEN BAY AT CHICAGO (SUNDAY NOON CT)
Chicago is currently 1.5 games ahead of the Cowboys in the race for a wildcard spot. They are literally only one game ahead of Dallas at 8-5, yet hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their win over Dallas in Week 4 (which assigns a half point extra).
The Cowboys would have to finish one full game ahead of Chicago to trump them for a wildcard. 3 straight Chicago losses would be ideal, no less than 2 losses will help in any scenario).
TAMPA BAY AT NEW ORLEANS (SUNDAY NOON CT)
This one is not all that relevant as the Saints are done and Tampa Bay sits 1.5 games back from Dallas, with the Cowboys assigned an extra half point due to the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.
At 8-8 Dallas would lose the wildcard tie-breakers to Chicago and Seattle anyway, so it makes no difference.
In my opinion, Dallas should prefer to face the Saints next week following New Orleans absorbing another loss.
That would bring the New Orleans loss total up to 9 and further extinguish their confidence.
Not to mention, there are currently only 4 teams in the NFL with more than 9 losses. With this loss, the Saints might start focusing on maximizing draft position.
MINNESOTA AT ST. LOUIS (SUNDAY NOON CT)
Both teams are still a threat to Dallas if an odd wildcard race ensued. With Minnesota clinging to a 1/2 game lead over St. Louis and also matching the Cowboys 7-6 record, the Vikings are currently the greater threat.
INDIANAPOLIS AT HOUSTON (SUNDAY NOON CT)
With only 2 losses, the Texans currently possess home-field advantage in the AFC. With a 3rd loss, the Texans would be thrown into an even more intense race for the #1 seed between a handful of teams.
A Baltimore win this week (which Dallas would not prefer) coupled with a Texans loss, would bring the two teams a game apart int he race for home-field.
Thus the Ravens game at the Giants next week would continue to have strong importance. Not to mention, with a second straight Texans loss, they’d be hell bent on righting the ship next week and knocking off Minnesota.
SEATTLE VS BUFFALO (SUNDAY 3:05 PM CT – TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA)
Seattle is a game above the Cowboys and also hold a 1/2 game head-to-head tiebreaker. 3 straight Seattle losses is ideal, no less than 2 will help Dallas.
If Buffalo could somehow squeeze out a win here, Seattle’s remaining schedule hosting both San Francisco and St. Louis is no layup.
PITTSBURGH AT DALLAS (SUNDAY 3:25 PM CT)
While all of the Cowboys’ remaining games are crucial to winning the division title race, this one is the least critical of the three.
Following only a Pitt loss, and assuming a tie, Dallas would trump the Giants by way of better division record.
The Cowboys would tie the Redskins in both division and conference tiebreakers, yet win the ensuing common opponents tiebreaker.
All that changes drastically if Dallas dropped either game against New Orleans or Washington, and later landed in a 9-7 tie. In that scenario both the Giants and Redskins would own the tiebreaker over Dallas.
ALLY: COWBOYS (Naturally)
SAN FRANCISCO AT NEW ENGLAND (SUNDAY 7:20 CT)
The honor in this one goes to San Francisco. With a New England loss it would tie them with Baltimore for the 2nd seed and bye in the playoffs (if Baltimore beats Denver this week).
All three teams would have a 10-4 record, yet the Ravens would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Pats and Broncos. This would result in a Ravens maximum effort vs. the Giants next week.