It’s simple. If Dallas wins on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, they’re in! No chance for a wild-card spot with an 8-8 record.
|1||(yz) Green Bay||North||13-1-0|
|2||(y) San Francisco||West||12-3-0|
|3||(x) New Orleans||South||11-3-0|
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There is this rush on Twitter, where everything is always rushed, to assert that Saturday’s late afternoon game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles would become "meaningless" if the New York Giants beat the Jets in their early afternoon game. Some have gone as far as to suggest that the Cowboys would use this as a chance to rest players in advance of a Week 17 game against the Giants for the division title.
But while the game would, if the Giants beat the Jets, become "meaningless" to the Eagles (who would be eliminated) and to the NFC East race (which would be decided the following week at MetLife Stadium), it would in no way become "meaningless" to the Cowboys, who could still get into the playoffs as a wild card team if they beat the Eagles this week and lose to the Giants next week.
Is it a slim chance? Sure. It requires a lot of things. The Cardinals and the Seahawks each would have to lose at least one more game, for example. And the Falcons would have to finish 0-2. But while those things might — on their own or in combination with each other — seem unlikely, they are all possible, and as long as the possibility exists, why should the Cowboys or their fans discount it?
The Giants cannot be a wild-card team, by the way. If they get to 9-7, they’re division champs. And with Atlanta and Detroit each having already won nine games, there will be no 8-8 wild-card team in the NFC. There are a couple scenarios for the Cowboys to be a 9-7 wild-card team. The point is a simple one: There’s no reason for Dallas not to try and win Saturday, no matter what the Giants do in their game, and I don’t understand why everyone’s in such a rush to declare the game "meaningless" when it’s not.
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x-clinched playoff berth
y-denotes division winner
z-denotes first-round bye
*-clinched home-field advantage
During the regular season, the seeds reflect how the playoffs would stand if the season ended up to that point. The NFL playoffs are not based on a pure bracket system. In the divisional playoffs, the No. 1 seed is assured of playing the lowest-seeded Wild Card survivor. There are no restrictions on intra-division games and the higher seed of any matchup will have home-field advantage.
• Baltimore is the AFC North leader ahead of Pittsburgh based on head to head (2-0).
• Houston is the No. 1 seed ahead of Baltimore and New England based on conference record (8-2 to the Ravens’ 7-2 and the Patriots’ 7-2).
• Baltimore is the No. 2 seed ahead of New England based on common games (4-0 to the Patriots’ 3-1).
• Denver is the AFC West leader ahead of Oakland based on division record (3-2 to the Raiders’ 2-2).
• Cincinnati finishes ahead of Tennessee based on head to head (1-0).
• San Diego finishes ahead of Buffalo based on conference record (4-5 to the Bills’ 3-5).
• Cleveland finishes ahead of Miami and Jacksonville based on head to head sweep (2-0).
• Miami finishes ahead of Jacksonville based on conference record (3-6 to the Jaguars’ 3-7).
• Atlanta is the No. 5 seed ahead of Detroit based on head to head (1-0).
• Seattle finishes ahead of Arizona based on head to head (1-0).
• Carolina finishes ahead of Tampa Bay based on head to head (1-0).
• Carolina finishes ahead of Washington based on head to head (1-0).
• Washington finishes ahead of Tampa Bay based on conference record (4-5 to the Buccaneers’ 3-6).
• Indianapolis (Week 12), Jacksonville (Week 13), Cleveland (Week 14), Miami (Week 14).
• Minnesota (Week 12), St. Louis (Week 12), Carolina (Week 14), Tampa Bay (Week 14), Washington (Week 14).
NFL Playoff Tracker courtesy: CBS Sports