Saturday, December 05, 2009

Will it be a December to remember?

The Dallas Cowboys late-season woes have been well-documented in the 13 seasons since America's Team last won a playoff game. With the Cowboys sitting at 8-3 with a one-game lead in the NFC East, the final five games on the 2009 schedule - perhaps the most challenging five game stretch this franchise has faced in some time - seem even more treacherous than in years past.

The Cowboys will finish the 2009 regular season with three of five games on the road, three games against NFC East rivals, and two against division-leaders including undefeated New Orleans. It begins Sunday at New York, where the Cowboys were beaten down last season without Tony Romo. And while the Giants have certainly struggled in recent weeks - going 1-5 after a 5-0 start - the Cowboys will also be facing their own recent history.

Since 1996, the last year the Cowboys won a playoff game (going 2-1 in the regular season, 1-1 in the playoffs), the December/January regular-season record for Dallas has been nothing short of sickening. And when they have made the playoffs... eh.

Reg. Season
Barry Switzer
Chan Gailey
L vs. Ariz
Chan Gailey
L at Min
Dave Campo
Dave Campo
Dave Campo
Bill Parcells
L at Car
Bill Parcells
Bill Parcells
Bill Parcells
L at Sea
Wade Phillips
L vs NYG
Wade Phillips

In 2005 and 2008, the Cowboys finished one game out of a playoff berth, with bad December beats that could have been the difference between a playoff appearance and an early end to football in North Texas.

For the Cowboys to make the playoffs in 2009, they need to win one of the follow final five games of the season:
Week 13@ New York Giants6-5
Week 14San Diego Chargers8-3
Week 15@ New Orleans Saints11-0
Week 16@ Washington Redskins3-8
Week 17Philadelphia Eagles7-4

If Dallas can win two games, they could get to 10 wins on the season and almost certainly wrap up the NFC East. If I had to pick two games that the Cowboys have the best chances to win, I suppose it would be the home game against San Diego, and either game on the road against New York or Washington. However, none of these five games could be considered "locks" like the Cowboys' last game against Oakland.

If the Cowboys win just one game, they might, might, be able to limp into the playoffs, but that would most likely only extend a 1-4 finish to the season into another postseason disappointment.

NFC Playoff Picture
The road to Super Bowl XLIV begins in just six weeks, and only with three of the NFC divisions all but locked up, it seems that just five teams will be fighting for the final three spots, with one of those teams being the NFC East Champ. The Saints, Vikings and Cardinals have 5-, 3-, and 2-game leads in their respective divisions. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants are all still in contention for the NFC East crown, and Green Bay and Atlanta are still fighting for Wild Card attention.

The current NFC playoff picture:

1New Orleans Saints11-0NFC South
2Minnesota Vikings10-1NFC North
3Dallas Cowboys8-3NFC East
4Arizona Cardinals7-4NFC West
5Philadelphia Eagles7-4Wild Card
6Green Bay Packers7-4Wild Card
7New York Giants6-5on the bubble
8Atlanta Falcons6-5on the bubble
9San Francisco 49ers5-6on the bubble

The playoffs would open today with the Packers at Cowboys and Eagles at Cardinals. The Eagles lost in Arizona in last season's NFC Championship game, while the Packers clunked the Cowboys at Lambeau earlier this season.

Who gets home field advantage in the NFC?
The Saints and Vikings don't play each other this season, so each team needs to keep winning down to the final week if they want to lock up home field advantage. Both the Saints (7-0) and Vikings (8-0) are undefeated in the conference, and all remaining Saints games are in the conference, so if the Saints and Vikings finish with identical records, the Vikings would claim home field with a better conference record. Still a long way off, and the remaining platter schedule for the Saints isn't extremely taxing.

The Rest of the Way
Over the final five weeks of the season, the NFC dogfight will pit most of these playoff-bound teams against each other, providing plenty of head-to-head opportunities to edge out opponents for the six spots in the conference tournament. Winner gets the Colts. Every team except the Packers will play 2 or 3 games against this pool of 9 NFC teams for the postseason. Here's a breakdown of each team's remaining opponent's records:
(click team to jump to its remaining schedule)
New Orleans Saints (11-0)22-33.400
Minnesota Vikings (10-1)29-26.527
Dallas Cowboys (8-3)35-20.636
Arizona Cardinals (7-4)25-30.455
Philadelphia Eagles (7-4)32-23.582
Green Bay Packers (7-4)27-28.491
New York Giants (6-5)32-23.582
Atlanta Falcons (6-5)29-28.509
San Francisco 49ers (5-6)21-34.382

Remaining schedules for NFC playoff contenders:
1. New Orleans Saints

Week 13@ Washington Redskins3-8
Week 14@ Atlanta Falcons6-5
Week 15Dallas Cowboys8-3
Week 16Tampa Bay Buccaneers1-10
Week 17@ Carolina Panthers4-7
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 22-33 (.400)

2. Minnesota Vikings
Week 13@ Arizona Cardinals7-4
Week 14Cincinnati Bengals8-3
Week 15@ Carolina Panthers4-7
Week 16@ Chicago Bears4-7
Week 17New York Giants6-5
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 29-26 (.527)

3. Dallas Cowboys
Week 13@ New York Giants6-5
Week 14San Diego Chargers8-3
Week 15@ New Orleans Saints11-0
Week 16@ Washington Redskins3-8
Week 17Philadelphia Eagles7-4
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 35-20 (.636)

4. Arizona Cardinals
Week 13Minnesota Vikings10-1
Week 14@ San Francisco 49ers5-6
Week 15@ Detroit Lions2-9
Week 16St. Louis Rams1-10
Week 17Green Bay Packers7-4
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 25-30 (.455)

5. Philadelphia Eagles
Week 13@ Atlanta Falcons6-5
Week 14@ New York Giants6-5
Week 15San Francisco 49ers5-6
Week 16Denver Broncos7-4
Week 17@ Dallas Cowboys8-3
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 32-23 (.582)

6. Green Bay Packers
Week 13Baltimore Ravens6-5
Week 14@ Chicago Bears4-7
Week 15@ Pittsburgh Steelers 6-5
Week 16Seattle Seahawks4-7
Week 17@ Arizona Cardinals7-4
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 27-28 (.491)

7. New York Giants
Week 13Dallas Cowboys8-3
Week 14Philadelphia Eagles7-4
Week 15@ Washington Redskins3-8
Week 16Carolina Panthers4-7
Week 17@ Minnesota Vikings10-1
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 32-23 (.582)

8. Atlanta Falcons
Week 13Philadelphia Eagles7-4
Week 14New Orleans Saints11-0
Week 15@ New York Jets6-6
Week 16Buffalo Bills4-8
Week 17@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers1-10
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 29-28 (.509)

9. San Francisco 49ers
Week 13@ Seattle Seahawks4-7
Week 14Arizona Cardinals7-4
Week 15@ Philadelphia Eagles 7-4
Week 16Detroit Lions2-9
Week 17@ St. Louis Rams1-10
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 21-34 (.382)

Plenty of meaningful football left for everyone in the NFC playoff picture. The first round byes in the NFC appear to be all but locked in, but with very little else decided, it truly should be a December to remember (or in the case of the team that ends up struggling this month, a December to forget).

1 comment:

Matthew said...


You are crazy if you think 10-6 locks the NFC East up for the 'boys. Only if the two wins are against Philly and NY would that make sense. Losing to either one of those teams makes it unlikely that a 10-6 record will be useful in the chase for the East crown.

If we lose to the Giants, we could go 2-2 to the Giants 3-1 (perfectly reasonable given the schedules) and be SoL with the tiebreaker.

If we lose to the Eagles, they simply have to match us game for game until then and the tiebreaker situation is not yet resolved.

Winning the NFC East means either:
Going 2 -3 with wins against NY and Philly OR
Going at least 3 - 2.

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