NFL Playoff Picture for Week 11: Alex Smith injury opens door for Dallas Cowboys playoff run

Life comes at you fast, and it's even faster when the NFL is involved. Just look at the Dallas Cowboys, who managed to flip around their season over the last two weeks and actually put themselves in a pretty good position for a playoff run. Imagine saying "Jason Garrett extension" out loud a few weeks. Now it might be a reality.

Dallas came out of its bye at 3-4, needing a big home win against the Titans after trading for Amari Cooper. Instead, Dallas got pushed around in the second half by Tennessee and fell to 3-5. Everything looked bleak up until they went into Philly and stole a win the next week.

The Cowboys followed it up with another huge win in Week 11, a second straight road win over a dangerous home team, in this case the Atlanta Falcons. Powered by a second straight 100-yard rushing game for Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys evened their record to 5-5 and put themselves in great position to make a run at the NFC East crown.

Part of that position is about bad injury luck to their biggest obstacle, with the Washington Redskins losing quarterback Alex Smith to a broken leg, 33 years to the day of Joe Theismann's famous injury. Smith going down means Colt McCoy has to handle quarterback duties, and it means McCoy will get a Texas homecoming over the holidays, with the Redskins traveling to Dallas for a Thanksgiving afternoon game against the Cowboys. 

Early lines suggest the Cowboys will be close to a touchdown favorite. It's a game they should win. The Cowboys also have two games at the end of the season against the Buccaneers and Giants, both of which should be wins as well. So we're looking at an eight-win team with the Saints (home), Eagles (home) and Colts (road) left to deal with. Presuming that many victories for a Cowboys team that has come up short is dangerous move, but they'll certainly be heavy favorites in at least three more contests.

Managing to pull off 4-2 with a win over Washington, who has four of its remaining six games on the road and a pair of matchups against the Eagles, could very easily end up giving the Cowboys the division title when all is said and done. 

If this scenario plays out and the Redskins also manage to end up at 9-7 -- 3-3 wouldn't be out of the question at all -- the Cowboys would likely have the tiebreaker because, in this hypothetical, the Cowboys beat Washington and have a better record in the division. 

The unthinkable a few weeks ago might be melting into reality. The Cowboys could very well end up hosting a playoff game. 

screen-shot-2018-11-20-at-1-06-38-am.png
CBS Sports

AFC: Who's in

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)

The Chiefs fell just short of beating the Rams in an insane game on Monday night in Los Angeles, becoming the first team in NFL history to score 50 points and not actually win a game. They're still in great shape for a division title thanks to the Chargers melting down against Denver.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1)

It wasn't pretty, but the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger found a way to sneak out of Jacksonville with a win. They're in pole position to win the division and have a showdown with the Patriots coming up that could very well determine who ends up snagging the other bye.  

3. New England Patriots (7-3)

The Patriots are on bye in Week 11. 

4. Houston Texans (7-3)

The Texans rolled into Washington and stole a two-point victory over a banged-up Redskins team. But wins are wins, and now the Texans have the most in the AFC South. They have one game remaining against each AFC South rival and all of them are at home.

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)

The Chargers might have snuffed out their ability to catch the Chiefs in the division with a bad loss at home to the Broncos on Sunday. 

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

The Ravens stopped a losing skid by starting Lamar Jackson and beating the Bengals in a game that's going to have major playoff implications at the end of the season. Baltimore couldn't afford to get swept by Cincinnati if it wanted to make a postseason run.  

AFC: Who's out

7. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5): Rough loss for the Bengals, who made a nice little run at trying to topple the Ravens.

8. Miami Dolphins (5-5): The Dolphins are on a bye in Week 11.

9. Indianapolis Colts (5-5): The Colts absolutely destroyed the Titans at home on Sunday. They have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC South if they keep up this consistency.   

10. Tennessee Titans (5-5): The Colts held on at home against the Jags to inject some life in their AFC South hopes. They might have one of the best offensive lines in the league right now, and Andrew Luck is being protected at a high level by the guys in front of him and his coaching staff. This is a dangerous team. 

11. Denver Broncos (4-6): The Broncos picked up a huge win over the Chargers on Sunday, backdooring a road division victory and pushing themselves a little closer to .500.

12. Cleveland Browns (3-6-1): The Browns are on a bye in Week 11. 

13. Buffalo Bills (3-7): The Bills are on a bye in Week 11.

14. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7): The Jaguars suffered a brutal loss to the Steelers that might effectively wrap up their season, as they're a full four games behind the Texans with just six games left. The wild card is a long shot too.

15. New York Jets (3-7): The Jets are on a bye in Week 11. 

16. Oakland Raiders (2-8): The Raiders fell further away from the potential No. 1 overall pick, but landed a much-needed second win on the season for Jon Gruden against the Cardinals in a battle of bad football teams.

AFC: Who's Eliminated

No one ... yet. 

NFC: Who's in

1. New Orleans Saints (9-1) 

Woo, boy. The Saints played the Eagles on Sunday afternoon and it was NOT close, with New Orleans chasing another 50 burger and not getting there only because Sean Payton and Drew Brees took their foot off the gas when the Eagles couldn't muster any points. Safe to say the Saints are Chiefs fans on Monday.  

2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1)

The Rams still have defensive issues, but they came away with a HUGE win against the Chiefs, because they need to keep pace with the Saints, who still have to play the Panthers twice in the final three weeks. The Rams aren't coasting but they needed that win if they want homefield advantage and they got it.

3. Chicago Bears (7-3)

The Bears sent a message to the rest of the league that they are very much for real after handling the Vikings on Sunday night.

4. Washington Redskins (6-4)

Washington might have seen its season go up in flames on Sunday as they lost to the Texans at home and Alex Smith suffered a broken leg that will end his season. The Cowboys are coming on strong and Washington will have go with Colt McCoy in Dallas on Thanksgiving.

5. Carolina Panthers (6-4)

The Panthers suffered a tough loss to a really weird Lions team in Detroit and now will have a very hard time chasing down the Saints in the division.   

6. Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)

Kirk Cousins was picked off twice and the Vikings were dominated by the Bears defense on Sunday night. 

NFC: Who's out

7. Seattle Seahawks (5-5): A Thursday night victory over the Packers gives the Seahawks a serious window to try and make a playoff run. It's not going to happen for the division title, but Russell Wilson and Co. can definitely sneak out a wild card berth.  

8. Dallas Cowboys (5-5): Don't look now, but here come the Cowboys. After winning in Atlanta, Dallas is nipping on the wild card heels and in the NFC East.

9. Green Bay Packers (4-5-1): Very tough loss for Green Bay in Seattle on Thursday as it sets them way back in terms of trying to make the playoffs. They best they can do is finish 10-5-1 if they manage to win out.  

10. Atlanta Falcons (4-6): The Falcons' disappointing season probably ended on Sunday at home against the Cowboys. They will likely need to win out and get to 10-6 to have a shot at the playoffs.

11. Detroit Lions (4-6): The Lions are a confusing Jekyll and Hyde NFL monster and swung back to the positive side with a shocking win over the Panthers at home on Sunday. 

12. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6): The Eagles are just struggling right now, and were absolutely manhandled by the Saints on Sunday on both sides of the ball. 

13. New York Giants (3-7): Eli Manning is actually playing kind of well right now and the Giants are doing their best to avoid landing a top five pick. 

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7): The Buccaneers played two quarterbacks again Sunday, which sums up their season nicely. Jameis Winston almost helped them beat the Giants but came up just short.

15. Arizona Cardinals (2-8): The Cardinals managed to lose to the Raiders despite David Johnson putting up a huge game. Not great, Bob.

16. San Francisco 49ers (2-8): The 49ers are on a bye in Week 11.

NFC: Who's Eliminated

No one ... yet. 

Legend:
(x) - clinched playoff berth
(y) - clinched division 
(z) - clinched first-round bye 
(*) - clinched home-field advantage

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories