If you asked the Dallas front office, they would say the Cowboys are already deep in a playoff run. It's just the type of playoffs that they may get bounced from even if they don’t lose again the rest of the year.
There are three games left for Dallas this season unless they make it into the real postseason (the one after the regular season), and none of the matchups offer a cupcake victory.
As we consider the scenarios in which they makes the postseason, the reality is that the Cowboys can't afford a single loss.
You see, the NFC has a bit of a logjam. The Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers also sit at 7-6. Along with needing to win out, Dallas also needs both the Packers and Lions to take an L in one of their remaining three games to have an honest shot.
The Packers have games against the Panthers, Vikings, and Lions remaining on their schedule, and have a two-game win streak going with backup Quarterback Brett Hundley. Hundley launched it a staggering 45 times and connected on 35 of those passes, with three of those resulting in touchdowns.
He finished with 265 yards and a win against Cleveland. This gave him his second highest QBR (111.2) of the season, and his highest season rating that resulted in a victory. He seems to really be on a roll as the playo-- WAIT A MINUTE, THAT'S AARON RODGERS' MUSIC!
Green Bay may have the same record as the Cowboys, but they own the tiebreaker thanks to the last time Rodgers prevented Reunion Tower lighting up the Star. Rodgers has been cleared to return and will start against Carolina before getting juicy division matchups to close 2017, just in time to dash Cowboys fans hopes one more time before the year is up.
Aaron Rodgers may be Dallas' daddy, but the city's real son Matthew Stafford has the Lions controlling their playoff destiny. Their remaining matchups are against the Bears, Bengals, and Packers.
The Bengals are out of the race, and the Lions already hold victories over Chicago and Green Bay this season. The win over the Packers came while Hundley was the starter, so it's possible and deliciously ironic that Rodgers may have Cowboys fans rooting for him in the New Year's Eve matchup.
Seattle is currently ahead in the playoff pecking order at 8-5, and has games against the NFC West leading Rams and Arizona Cardinals sandwiching their matchup against Dallas. Since the Cowboys need to win out to have a shot anyway, let’s say Dallas beats them in Zeke's return game and Seattle wins their remaining two games. The Seahawks would finish at 10-6 but lose the tiebreaker in the head-to-head matchup to Dallas.
What else needs to happen?
Looking at the rest of the playoff picture, the Cowboys would also need Carolina or Atlanta to drop two out of their last three to have an opportunity to slingshot past them. The Falcons have the lowly Bucs and a rematch against New Orleans, who they beat just a week ago.
The Panthers will deal with the returning Rodgers and the aforementioned Bucs before they go at each other in the final week. One of them is losing on the last day of 2017, so one more loss for either gives Dallas their chance.
So who's left on the Cowboys schedule?
First up is the Oakland Raiders. Another team that was a trendy Super Bowl pick prior to the season. Raider nation came into 2017 with hope that the momentum seen before the Derek Carr injury last season would continue. Ah but we can't forget that the autumn wind is a pirate, blustering in from the sea.
The Pacific gust has given Carr his lowest QBR (88.8) since his rookie season. He still has two playmakers the young Dallas secondary will need to contain in Amari Cooper and former Carter Cowboy Michael "Trabtree" Crabtree. Both could play but may not be at 100%. Cooper is still nursing a physical injury (Ankle), and Crabtree is recovering from a mental injury (Aqib Talib snatched his chain that he taped to his chest).
Christmas Eve brings back Ezekiel Elliott against the Seattle Seahawks. This is the one game Dallas can't afford to lose due to the tiebreaker. Elliott will be returning from his undisclosed location where he has been training in earnest, and Dak Prescott's life should get a whole lot easier.
Even if they win against Oakland and Seattle, Dallas won't be catching Philadelphia for the Division banner. The math just doesn't add up. Carson Wentz is on Injured Reserve, a casualty on the road to the NFC East crown. Austin's own Nick Foles is more than serviceable, but can he win a title? That's for the Philly media to debate.
The name of Tony Romo has come up in rumors (as he was in Green Bay when their own franchise QB went down). The thought of Tony Romo leading the Eagles to their first Super Bowl would lead to a collective blood pressure increase Statewide. Fear not, loyal reader…Romo isn't going to be in Eagles green against Dallas.
That's bad news for the Philly faithful, but by the time Dallas makes it to their last regular season game, it won’t matter who's under center for the birds. They could sign someone off the street. If Dallas doesn’t take care of business against Oakland and Seattle and have a few other lucky breaks go their way, pride will be the only thing on the line.
Do you think the Cowboys can pull off a December miracle and make the playoffs? Make your predictions to Irvin on Twitter @twittirv.