Cowboys beating the Eagles in Week 14 creates an odd playoff 'illusion'

The Dallas Cowboys’ pursuit of first place in the NFC East starts this Sunday night. But even with a win to move to the top, it doesn't end there.
Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

The Dallas Cowboys will welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to AT&T Stadium this coming Sunday night with first place in the NFC East on the line.

The lone difference between the two rivals in the standings through 13 weeks is the Week 9 result in Philadelphia, when the Eagles eked out a 28-23 victory over the Cowboys. 

Thanks to the San Francisco 49ers doing to the Eagles what they did the Cowboys earlier in the season, Dallas has an opportunity to find themselves in first place in the NFC East at this time next week with a win over a team that hasn’t won in Arlington since 2017.

It goes without saying that a Cowboys loss effectively ends their NFC East title hopes. A two-game deficit to a team that swept the head-to-head matchup -- and with just four games left -- is, for all intents and purposes, insurmountable.

But even with a victory and a move into either the No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seed on Sunday night, Dallas fans should not get too comfortable.

If both teams are sitting at 10-3 with no games left against each other the rest of the regular season, logic would suggest that the Cowboys control their own destiny when it comes to winning the NFC East, thus preventing the Eagles from becoming the first team to win it in back-to-back years in almost two decades. 

Cowboys beating the Eagles on SNF would create a playoff illusion

However, that is not the case; Dallas, even by winning out, would still need help

The Eagles, even with a loss and a subsequent drop from the No. 1 seed to the No. 5 seed, would control their own destiny to win the division. The reason for this is the fact that the Cowboys would only overtake them on Sunday due to having played an additional NFC East game. Their 4-1 mark would trump the Eagles’ 3-1 mark.

Cowboys fans cannot lose sight of the fact that this disparity is merely temporary. Their move to the top of the NFC East would be more of an illusion than reality.

Let’s say Dallas beats Philadelphia, wins out, and goes 14-3 to finish with a 5-1 record in the NFC East. The Eagles could also win their final four games, and despite being behind the Cowboys at 10-3, they’d be ahead of them at 14-3 because of the extra division game they still must play.

With division records tied at 5-1, the next tiebreaker becomes common opponents. They’d be tied there as well, with both teams having been pounded by the 49ers, the Cowboys having inexplicably lost to the Arizona Cardinals, and the Eagles having done the same against the New York Jets.

The next tiebreaker would be conference record, and that’s where the Eagles would have the edge with just two NFC losses. The Cowboys would have three. 

Worse news for Cowboys fans is the fact that the Eagles probably have, on paper, the easiest remaining schedule in the league – certainly among playoff hopeful teams. 

Winning a road game against the Seattle Seahawks (6-6) is never easy, and yes, the Eagles have dropped their last seven games against Seattle overall. But they also still have games against the Cardinals (3-10) and two dates with the New York Giants (4-8).

The Cowboys, on the other hand, have road games against the Buffalo Bills (6-6) and the Miami Dolphins (9-3) before a huge home clash against the Detroit Lions (9-3). They close out the year on the road against the Washington Commanders (4-9), where they inexplicably lost by 20 a year ago.

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Bottom line, it’s not as simple as just winning out for Dallas. They still need some help along the way, even if they find themselves as the new leaders of the NFC East come Sunday night. There is no margin for error.