Dallas Cowboys fans fear Ezekiel Elliott may carry playoff hopes with his suspension. Yet a six game split would clear the wildcard path.
A word to the wise, Cowboys fans shouldn’t either.
The only way Dallas leaves this stint out of playoff contention is by losing five of the next six games without their star runner.
Even 2-4 would keep alive a 9-7 finish and wildcard tiebreaker scenarios. The strength of their wildcard resume would depend on which two teams they beat.
But 9-7 tiebreaker scenarios are wasted speculation at this point. Dallas can control their own destiny by splitting these six suspension games.
Parity in the NFC is monumental this year. Only five teams have fewer than three losses already.
A 10-6 final record will all but guarantee an NFC wildcard slot. There’s little chance more than six teams will reach 10 wins. Four will be division winners.
To control their fate Dallas must break even (3-3) without Zeke. This would bring the overall record to 7-6 with three games remaining.
RUNNING THE TABLE NOT SO DAUNTING
So Dallas reaches 7-6, they’d still have to win out to guarantee the playoffs. Beating Oakland, Seattle, and Philadelphia is naive, wishful thinking. Or is it?
WEEK 15: RAIDERS ON LIFE SUPPORT
At last glance, preseason Super Bowl contender Oakland (3-5) is in dire straits. All five of their losses came in the last six games.
It wouldn’t be unlikely for them to suffer three more defeats by December 17.
Higher positioned playoff contenders New England, Denver, and Kansas City are on deck to destroy playoff dreams (8 total losses) before Dallas arrives.
At that point two more wins would remain after the re-energized Cowboys (with Zeke back) knocked off a deflated Raiders team.
WEEK 17: DIVISION CHAMP EAGLES (without starters)
Let’s jump Seattle and discuss the season finale first. If Dallas is chasing a wildcard in the last game, Philadelphia (7-1) has won the division and a playoff bye.
The roles were reversed last year when the two teams played in Week 17. As most bye bound teams do, Dallas sat their starters to avoid injury.
The must-win Cowboys would have an easy task against Eagles’ back-ups. Just as Philadelphia beat our subs by 12 last year, Dallas would coast to victory.
So there’s two likely wins. One against a struggling, possibly playoff dead Raiders team. Another against the Eagles resting their starters.
WEEK 16: WINNER-TAKE-ALL VS. SEATTLE
The Week 16 battle against Seattle would decide the season for Dallas (8-6). The victor would all but secure a wildcard without needing tiebreaker help.
Seattle (5-2) is formidable, but not a stifling force like previous years. Their ground units (offense and defense) rank 20th or lower in rushing yards and yards per carry.
This ride or die game takes place at Cowboys Stadium. There will be no harsh weather disadvantage that comes with playing at Seattle in December.
Wildcard teams mostly play on the road in the postseason, so Dallas fans would treat their final home game as a home playoff game.
A raucous home crowd would lend a ripe environment to all but clinch a wildcard.
The bottom line is Dallas needs to squeeze out three wins over these six suspension games and playoff destiny will remain firmly in their control.