Cowboys playoff chances: How Dallas can still win NFC East, clinch NFL playoff spot

The Cowboys (5-9) would have been eliminated from NFL playoff contention in 2020 had they lost to the 49ers at home on Sunday. But instead, their Week 15 win gives them a new lease on life in a disappointing, injury-riddled season.

The NFC East title is still within reach after Washington (6-8) lost to the Seahawks at the same time in the early afternoon. The second-place Giants (5-8) are home underdogs to the Browns on “Sunday Night Football.” The Eagles (4-8-1), who went into the week in third place, are losing to the Cardinals.

The Cowboys got swept by Washington, but they finish with a chance to split the season series with the Eagles (Week 16 back in Dallas) and sweep the Giants (Week 17 at New York).

At 7-9 the Cowboys can somehow take the East in 2020, after finishing second at 8-8 last season. Here’s what needs to happen to save its season with Mike McCarthy and without Dak Prescott:

1. Cowboys win out to get to 7-9

Washington has to play the Eagles again, too, in Week 17, but before that game, host the Panthers (4-10). The Eagles, therefore, travel to the Cowboys and host Washington. The Giants, after facing the Browns, have another tough AFC North game at the Ravens in Week 16.

The Cowboys cannot win the division at 6-10, because that means they will be saddled with another division loss and matching Washington won’t be good enough. So 1-1 will not cut it; there remains zero margin for error. 

2. The Eagles lose once to the Cowboys

The Eagles, because of that tie in their record, cannot finish in a deadlock with anyone else in the division. The Cardinals’ result doesn’t mean much either way, because the Cowboys can be responsible for handing the Eagles a first or second defeat in their final three games. 

Jumping the Eagles in Week 15 would be huge, however, because the Cowboys can get in more control of their situation in third place and be focused on passing two teams instead of three over the last couple of weeks.

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3. The Giants lose twice

Again the Giants’ result vs. the Browns doesn’t matter much, because they can still lose to the Ravens and the Cowboys to make this work. That would mean the Giants are 6-10, a full game behind the winning-out Cowboys. Two teams down, one more to go.

4. Washington loses twice

By beating the Eagles and Giants in the final two games, the Cowboys would be doing Washington’s dirty work. The Cowboys also need some help from the Eagles to beat Washington after they hopefully hurt the Eagles. So the one game outside of the division Cowboys fans should watch most is Ron Rivera’s home “revenge game” vs. Carolina next Sunday. 

Because of losing twice to Washington, the Cowboys must finish a game ahead to steal the division. WFT will be favored against the Panthers, but it is more of a tossup matchup because of offensive injuries, namely to quarterback Alex Smith. 

Assuming the Giants lose to either the Browns or the Ravens and the Cowboys take care of their business, that’s the only other game that matters. Before the Cowboys play the Eagles in Week 16, they can fully focus on scoreboard-watching Washington.

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