It’s Wild Card or bust for your Dallas Cowboys at the 12 week mark of the NFL season, and even those Wild Card hopes appear to be fading. The Cowboys are 4½ games behind Philadelphia for the NFC East title, and the tiebreakers are grim. A Wild Card berth at least appeared plausible before the Cowboys were slaughtered by the Chargers on Thanksgiving Day, and they now face a final stretch that allows zero margin for error.
Unfortunately, zero margin for error isn’t all the Cowboys need. They’ll also need some fortuitous scoreboard watching along the way, and who to root for each week can often be confusing.
Never fear, Cowboys Nation optimists! We’ve got your handy rooting guide for week 12 of the NFL season.
CURRENT WILD CARD STANDINGS
Buffalo Bills (5-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)
Dallas’ victory over Kansas City stands as the high-point of their season, but it was the Chiefs’ third loss in a stretch that has seen them lose four of five games. A Chiefs victory improves the Cowboys’ strength of victory on the season, and damages the Lions’ strength of victory. There is a chance that Dallas could find themselves facing a schedule/victory strength tiebreaker with the Lions, so improving Dallas’ strength of victory, while decreasing Detroit’s (who has beaten Buffalo this season) would be a big win.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
Atlanta is two and a half games ahead of the Cowboys right now due to their head-to-head victory two weeks ago. A Tampa Bay victory keeps Dallas two games behind the Falcons, rather than a crippling three games back.
Chicago Bears (3-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)
I know…it seems counter-intuitive to root for the Eagles, but with the division race out of reach, Philadelphia actually helps Dallas in tiebreaker scenarios. The Cowboys have to sweep their final five games, a stretch that includes an end of the season match-up in Philadelphia. If the Eagles keep winning, they’re more likely to rest starters in the final week, and it improves Dallas strength of schedule/strength of victory numbers. The Lions have already beaten Chicago, and play them once more, so it’s a dual benefit in the SOS/SOV tiebreakers.
Carolina Panthers (7-3) at New York Jets (4-6)
The Cowboys are two and a half games back of Carolina overall, but are in reasonable striking distance for the tiebreaker (conference record). Dallas can’t get to the tiebreakers without making up the gap, which means Cowboys Nation should throw their full support behind New York this weekend.
Seattle Seahawks (6-4) at San Francisco 49ers (1-9)
Look, these aren’t Vegas picks, so you shouldn’t go throwing down your hard-earned cash on the 49ers this weekend. But in terms of what most benefits the Cowboys down the stretch, staying a game behind the Seahawks would be big. It’s not as imperative to have Seattle lose as it is other teams in the Wild Card chase, however. Dallas is a game and a half back, but will get the chance to make a game up themselves when they play Seattle on December 24th. A victory would also give them the tiebreaker, which would mean a two-game swing in the race if you win on Christmas Eve.
New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
The Saints play three games against Wild Card contenders in the final few weeks, so it would be helpful to bring down the strength of schedule of a few of Dallas’ rivals. But a larger factor here is that Cowboys fans want LA to win the NFC West. If the Seahawks manage to catch and pass the Rams, LA would then take Seattle’s place in the Wild Card chase, which would not be beneficial. Los Angeles has already beaten the Cowboys this season, which means they hold the trump card over Dallas in all ties.
Green Bay Packers (5-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2)
I know I’m giving a few Cowboys fans heart palpitations by telling them they need to cheer for the Eagles, 49ers, and Steelers, but this is what Dallas brought on themselves by sacrificing the division. Not only would a Green Bay loss give Dallas an advantage in the Wild Card race, it would also inflict further damage on Detroit’s strength of victory, as the Lions beat the Packers and Dallas did not.
Houston Texans (4-6) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)
This is a pretty meaningless match-up in terms of tiebreaker implications, but a win for Houston would reduce Detroit’s strength of schedule (and potentially strength of victory if they top the Ravens in week 13).