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.
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 Giants||6-5|
|Week 14||San Diego Chargers||8-3|
|Week 15||@ New Orleans Saints||11-0|
|Week 16||@ Washington Redskins||3-8|
|Week 17||Philadelphia Eagles||7-4|
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:
|1||New Orleans Saints||11-0||NFC South|
|2||Minnesota Vikings||10-1||NFC North|
|3||Dallas Cowboys||8-3||NFC East|
|4||Arizona Cardinals||7-4||NFC West|
|5||Philadelphia Eagles||7-4||Wild Card|
|6||Green Bay Packers||7-4||Wild Card|
|7||New York Giants||6-5||on the bubble|
|8||Atlanta Falcons||6-5||on the bubble|
|9||San Francisco 49ers||5-6||on 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
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|
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).
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 22-33 (.400)
Week 13 @ Washington Redskins 3-8 Week 14 @ Atlanta Falcons 6-5 Week 15 Dallas Cowboys 8-3 Week 16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-10 Week 17 @ Carolina Panthers 4-7
2. Minnesota Vikings
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 29-26 (.527)
Week 13 @ Arizona Cardinals 7-4 Week 14 Cincinnati Bengals 8-3 Week 15 @ Carolina Panthers 4-7 Week 16 @ Chicago Bears 4-7 Week 17 New York Giants 6-5
3. Dallas Cowboys
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 35-20 (.636)
Week 13 @ New York Giants 6-5 Week 14 San Diego Chargers 8-3 Week 15 @ New Orleans Saints 11-0 Week 16 @ Washington Redskins 3-8 Week 17 Philadelphia Eagles 7-4
4. Arizona Cardinals
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 25-30 (.455)
Week 13 Minnesota Vikings 10-1 Week 14 @ San Francisco 49ers 5-6 Week 15 @ Detroit Lions 2-9 Week 16 St. Louis Rams 1-10 Week 17 Green Bay Packers 7-4
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 32-23 (.582)
Week 13 @ Atlanta Falcons 6-5 Week 14 @ New York Giants 6-5 Week 15 San Francisco 49ers 5-6 Week 16 Denver Broncos 7-4 Week 17 @ Dallas Cowboys 8-3
6. Green Bay Packers
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 27-28 (.491)
Week 13 Baltimore Ravens 6-5 Week 14 @ Chicago Bears 4-7 Week 15 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 6-5 Week 16 Seattle Seahawks 4-7 Week 17 @ Arizona Cardinals 7-4
7. New York Giants
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 32-23 (.582)
Week 13 Dallas Cowboys 8-3 Week 14 Philadelphia Eagles 7-4 Week 15 @ Washington Redskins 3-8 Week 16 Carolina Panthers 4-7 Week 17 @ Minnesota Vikings 10-1
8. Atlanta Falcons
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 29-28 (.509)
Week 13 Philadelphia Eagles 7-4 Week 14 New Orleans Saints 11-0 Week 15 @ New York Jets 6-6 Week 16 Buffalo Bills 4-8 Week 17 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-10
9. San Francisco 49ers
Remaining Opponents Total W-L: 21-34 (.382)
Week 13 @ Seattle Seahawks 4-7 Week 14 Arizona Cardinals 7-4 Week 15 @ Philadelphia Eagles 7-4 Week 16 Detroit Lions 2-9 Week 17 @ St. Louis Rams 1-10