The Cowboys (6-6) will remain in first place in the NFC East regardless of their outcome against the Bears (6-6) on “Thursday Night Football” to kick off Week 14 of the 2019 NFL season.
That’s because they would still hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the equally maddeningly inconsistent Eagles (5-7), who host the Giants (2-10) on Monday to close Week 14. With four games left to play, the Cowboys, like the Bears, also are two games behind the Vikings (8-4) for the NFC’s second wild-card spot, with the Rams (7-5) in between them.
The Cowboys have gone from a 3-0 start to 3-6 in their past 9 games, which has put coach Jason Garrett on the hottest of seats with their owner/general manager, Jerry Jones, growing increasingly frustrated. Dallas likely has to at least make the playoffs as the No. 4 or No. 6 seed for Garrett to save his job.
Let’s lay out what needs to happen in the final month for the Cowboys to stay in the NFL playoff picture, one way or the other, for the third time in four seasons.
NFL COACHING HOT SEAT TIERS
Cowboys’ Jason Garrett, Browns’ Freddie Kitchens could be fired next
NFL playoff picture for Cowboys vs. Eagles in NFC East race
The easiest way for the Cowboys to guarantee their spot as division champs is to win out. After traveling to the Bears, they host the Rams, play at the Eagles and then close at home against the Redskins. In that scenario, Dallas is 10-6, just like last season, and Philadelphia would be no better than 8-8.
The Cowboys remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .438 (21-27), so that’s certainly possible. Chicago in early December is never easy for a visitor, but Dallas’ hardest game is against Los Angeles at home.
Say the Cowboys finish 3-1 and beat the Eagles. Then they are in again, this time at 9-7 with the Eagles no better than 8-8.
Say the Cowboys finish 3-1 and lose to the Eagles. That makes it more complicated. The Eagles, with their all-division slate, also play the 2-10 Giants twice and the 3-9 Redskins once. There’s a good bet then that both the Cowboys and Eagles will be 9-7.
The first tiebreaker is division record. No good there, because that would put both teams at 5-1, having lost to each other. The second tiebreaker is common games. Outside of the division, those opponents are Packers, Vikings, Bears, Lions, Patriots, Bills, Jets and Dolphins. The Eagles went 4-4 in those games. The Cowboys are 2-5 there before playing the Bears, so in that case, the Eagles would win the division.
Say the Cowboys go 2-2, but one of the wins comes against the Eagles. They would be division champs at 8-8 at worst by virtue of the season series sweep.
Say the Cowboys go 2-2, but they don’t beat the Eagles. They would need the Eagles to go 1-2 against the Giants, Redskins and Giants to make it, which seems highly unlikely.
As far as falling back on a wild card, the Cowboys would need a minor miracle should they finish 3-1 and lose to the Eagles. Beating the Rams in front of them does little good in that scenario, because the Cowboys already lost to the Vikings. That means the Cowboys would not make it then at 3-1 like that unless the Vikings lose out to the Lions, Chargers, Packers and Bears.
However you slice it, unless the Cowboys get help from the Giants or Redskins against the Eagles, the best-case scenario for them is Week 16 shaping up to be the de facto NFC East title game, their only legitimate path to the playoffs.