The good news for Cowboys fans is that even if Dallas loses on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles, the playoffs are securely in hand.
The Cowboys currently sit as the #4 seed in the NFC and while a win won’t necessarily move the team up in the standings, they won’t be lower.
With some help from several Sunday games, the Cowboys could find themselves in the #2 seed or the #3 seed, a change that could have major ramifications, namely which team the Cowboys will face on Super Wild Card Weekend.
If the 2021 season ended today, Dallas would face a rematch against the Arizona Cardinals, who escaped from AT&T Stadium in Week 17 with a three-point victory surrounded in controversy after officiating decisions that may have changed the outcome. The Cardinals are currently the #5 seed and would travel to Dallas for the first playoff game.
In order for the Cowboys to move up in the NFC standings, they would need a win in the City of Brotherly Love, but they will also need help from other teams to take the #2 seed. Three Sunday games -all played at the same time- will determine the Cowboys’ playoff fate. Dallas will need losses by Arizona, Los Angeles Rams, and Tampa Bay.
Should any of those three teams win on Sunday, the Cowboys will lock up the #4 seed in the NFC. There is also a possibility that the Cowboys could end up in the #3 seed. The Cowboys would need a win, along with wins from the 49ers, Seahawks, and Buccaneers.
A victory by Arizona over Seattle and a loss by the Rams to the 49ers gives the Cardinals the NFC West title and the #3 seed. This scenario would pit Dallas against the #6 seed, which is still in play between three teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, who host the Cowboys Saturday.
In almost all scenarios, an Eagles win over Dallas gives Philadelphia the #6 seed and locks the Cowboys at #4. The Eagles could still get the #6 seed with a loss to Dallas and any one of a number of complex factors involving NFL tie-breaker rules but are most likely headed for the #7 seed and a first-round game against Tampa Bay.
As murky as the possible scenarios are at the moment, one thing is certain; Mike McCarthy has no intention of giving the starters the day off.
“We’re going to play to win the game, so that’s our approach,” McCarthy said during his January 3 press briefing. “Obviously, with everything in front of us, we understand the scenarios and so forth. But yeah, we’re going to Philadelphia, and we’re going to line up to do what we need to do to win the game.”
McCarthy told the press that the team discussed the possibilities of resting key players but ultimately decided to plan on playing starters. What is less clear is whether the Eagles staff will play at full strength. The team has numerous players who have entered Covid protocols in recent days and coaching staff have yet to say whether they plan on playing starters Saturday in the season finale.