To say things haven't gone well for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020 is akin to saying the planet Neptune is "just down the road a bit." The list of injuries alone will make your head spin, but add that to the difficulty with installing a new coaching regime in a pandemic year that deletes the entire offseason -- except for a truncated training camp -- and you can truly begin to comprehend what they've been up against in trying to begin the Mike McCarthy era in Dallas.
The good news for the Cowboys is, well, bad news for everyone else in the NFC East, because it involves pointing out how Dallas is still a viable contender for the division crown despite their abysmal 3-7 record. And that means they're not out of the playoff picture in the NFC.
"Playoffs?! Don't talk about playoffs. YOU KIDDING ME?! PLAYOFFS?! I just hope we can win a game! " -- former NFL head coach Jim Mora, circa 1996
Yes, I'm talking to you about the playoffs, and how the Cowboys can sneak their way in. Things likely won't be pretty if/when they get there, but we'd be remiss to not admit there's a chance. As a matter of fact, thanks to a combination of their impressive and gutsy 31-28 win over the streaking Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 11, the Philadelphia Eagles' loss to the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Football Team's win over Cincinnati Bengals, all four NFC East teams have the same tally of wins (3) heading into Week 12.
If Dallas can avoid a sweep when they host Washington on Thanksgiving, they'll retake the No. 1 seat in the division after falling from No. 1 to No. 4 because of a four-game losing streak (get the full NFL playoff picture here). This is where things get (more) interesting in a division brimming with football poverty: odds still list the tumbling Eagles as the frontrunner to take the crown.
So, who to bet on?
According to William Hill Sportsbook, the Eagles have a 36.9 percent chance of winning the NFC East when turning their futures odds into win probability, nudging past the Cowboys -- who hold a 29.4 percent chance of stopping them and taking the throne for themselves. The odds of the latter achieving that mission are even less according to CBS Sports analyst Stephen Oh, who give them only a 26.4 percent chance of it happening, but both numbers are higher than when the latter was floundering at 2-7.
The Giants have the third-best chance (23.5 percent and 24.2 percent, respectively), with Washington bringing up the rear at 21 percent odds from WHS, but Oh is almost completely out on Ron Rivera and Co. finding a way to navigate their schedule en route to the division's best record. He gives them just a 12.5 percent chance of winning the division for the first time since 2015, which isn't something you'd feel optimistic about placing your bet on.
That said, as evidenced, anything can happen in the NFC East.
The path to the playoffs for any of the four teams won't be easy and are all tied to winning the division, as any thought of stealing a wild-card berth -- even in an expanded playoff format to 14 or potentially 16 teams -- is almost mathematically out of the question at this point. As for the road ahead, the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow lessens the degree of difficulty on the Cowboys remaining strength of schedule. It's a toss up on if Andy Dalton can outshoot Alex Smith (not exactly Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady), however, and they face reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson and a very angry Baltimore Ravens team the week after.
This sets the Cowboys up to potentially need victories in their final three games -- which starts against the scrappy San Francisco 49ers followed by one last division battle with the Eagles and Giants in Week 16 and Week 17, respectively -- but Dallas hasn't won two games in a row at any point this season.
It's doable though, considering their schedule, which makes it curious the Eagles would still be frontrunners when looking at the play of Carson Wentz, who leads the league in interceptions and fumbles, in combination with Philadelphia's schedule. Their final six games are an absolute gauntlet, including the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals before then meeting the Cowboys and Washington to finish out the year. The non-division opponents for Philly are all Super Bowl contenders, and they couldn't be far from it themselves.
In a season where the Cowboys should've and could've run away with the division, odds are they won't (although now owning slightly improved chances to make the playoffs), but what happens from here will still be must-watch TV as they wrap up their 2020 barfight with the Eagles, Giants and Washington.