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"Playoffs?! Don't talk about playoffs. YOU KIDDING ME?! PLAYOFFS?!" -- former NFL head coach Jim Mora, circa 1996

It's a rare sight for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020: enjoying a victory that also happens to keep them in the NFC playoff picture, in at least some capacity. The team finally located a fourth win in 13 tries this season, defeating the also floundering Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. It was an effort primarily driven by just that -- effort -- on the defensive side of the ball that saw the Cowboys force and recover three fumbles on the day, highlighted by a 78-yard touchdown run by defensive end Aldon Smith

Questions about the lack of effort by the defense and coordinator Mike Nolan won't suddenly be deleted by beating up on the 2-9-1 Bengals, who were also without first-overall pick Joe Burrow and starting running back Joe Mixon, but the Cowboys did enough to feel good on Monday. The problem is, the damage to any potential playoff appearance has already been done and is likely far too deep of a wound to heal in their last three games of the regular season. 

Those who would like to see the team tank for a higher draft pick are disappointed this week, but owner Jerry Jones and the team aren't -- trying desperately to figure out how to leap out of the fourth seat in the NFC East to win the muddled division. 

In order to do so, they'd need a lot of help. That would include the Washington Football Team losing out to end the season and the Cowboys running the table, two things that are directly contrary to the recent trajectory of both clubs. For while the Cowboys are winners of just two in their last six games, Washington has torn off four consecutive wins that includes a statement victory over the then-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, and head coach Ron Rivera even polished off the scrappy (albeit depleted) San Francisco 49ers with Dwayne Haskins -- who was previously demoted to third string -- after losing Alex Smith during the game to what's being described as a calf strain.

But, for the sake of objectivity and the science involved, let's bear this out. 

  • If Washington goes 3-0 in their final three games, the Cowboys won't have a chance to win the NFC East and will face being eliminated from playoff contention. 
  • If Washington goes 2-1 in their final three games, Cowboys won't have a chance to win the NFC East and will face being eliminated from playoff contention. 
  • If Washington goes 1-2 in their final three games, even if Dallas runs the table with a 3-0 finish -- by virtue of the 2020 sweep at the hands of Rivera's bunch that awards them the tiebreaker -- Cowboys won't have a chance to win the NFC East and will face being eliminated from playoff contention. 
  • If Washington goes 0-3 in their final three games but the Cowboys lose a single game going forward -- say it with me -- Cowboys won't have a chance to win the NFC East and will face being eliminated from playoff contention. 

Their potential saving grace, outside of Washington, would be to run the table and see the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers all collapse into a 7-9 record, in which case the Cowboys would land a wild card berth by virtue of owning the tiebreaker -- predicated upon them beating the 49ers for any of this to be possible.

As noted above, if they lose to the 49ers in Week 15, all bets are off. 

Currently, the Cowboys have only a 1.3 percent chance of making the playoffs (which would need require them to win the NFC East), per CBS Sports analyst Stephen Oh, and things don't get much friendlier from there even if they do somehow pull off the improbable upset. Their chances of winning the NFC championship dwindle to 0.06 percent and as far as somehow putting together some sort of Gandalph-type wizardry to win the Super Bowl?

The odds are virtual nil -- laying lifeless at 0.03 percent.

Washington, who saw its odds of winning the division nearly double from 36.7 percent to 66.2 percent with its win over the 49ers and the Giants' loss to the Arizona Cardinals, is now in the driver's seat and controls the fate of the entire division. To say it's a long shot for the Cowboys is a gross understatement, but it isn't impossible, or at least not yet. But if they lose and/or if any of the above scenarios take place, you can roll the credits on a wildly disappointing and at times gut-wrenching 2020 season in Dallas.

Even if, subjectively speaking, it's already been over for a long time now.