The Cowboys' NFL playoff hopes aren't dead yet; here's how they can still get in

In the first few weeks after Ezekiel Elliott started serving his six-game suspension, things couldn't have gone worse for the Dallas Cowboys.

In their first three games without Elliott, the Cowboys went 0-3, dropping them to 5-6 and seemingly leaving them out of the NFC playoff picture. However, if you wrote off the Cowboys after their three-game losing streak, you might want to put them back on your radar because a playoff spot now seems to be within reach.  

After two straight wins, not only are the Cowboys still alive, but they're only one week away from getting Elliott back. The Cowboys running back is set to return for the final two games of the season, and both will be big games because the Cowboys could still have a shot to make the playoffs. 

So what in the name of Tom Landry has to happen for the Cowboys to get to the postseason?

Let's take a look at the most plausible scenario. 

First, the Cowboys have to win out, which means beating the Raiders on the road, the Seahawks at home and the Eagles in Philadelphia. One thing that's important here is that the Cowboys can't end the season in a two-way tie with the Falcons, Packers or Rams because all three of those teams beat Dallas during the regular season. 

With that in mind, here's the easiest route for the Cowboys to get to the postseason. 

  1. Cowboys go 3-0 down the stretch to finish 10-6. 
  2. The Panthers (9-4) go 3-0 or 2-1 down the stretch, with wins over Green Bay and Atlanta
  3. The Falcons (8-5) go 1-2 in their final three games, which is plausible because they play New Orleans and Carolina over the final three weeks
  4. The Packers beat the Lions in Week 17, but go 9-7 or worse. If Green Bay loses to Carolina this week, 9-7 would be the best they can do, so Cowboys fans, you're probably going to want to start cheering for Carolina. 
  5. The Rams win the NFC West. The Cowboys can get in without this happening, but it's a lot more difficult since the Rams have that head-to-head win over Dallas. 

If all that happens, the final NFC seedings would look like this: 1. Eagles 2. Vikings. 3. Saints 4. Rams 5. Panthers 6. Cowboys. 

The Cowboys could also theoretically get the fifth seed, but that's complicated and I said we were only going to discuss the most plausible scenario. The Cowboys could also get into the postseason with a 9-7 record, but it would involve a scenario where the Packers, Lions and Falcons all finish 8-8 and the Seahawks finish 9-7, and like I said, we're only discussing the most plausible scenarios here. 

The downside for the Cowboys is that they could actually be eliminated from the playoffs by the end of Week 15. If the Cowboys lose to the Raiders, they'll be eliminated if the Saints (vs. Jets), Panthers (vs. Packers) and Falcons (at Buccaneers) ALL win, so four things would have to happen for the Cowboys' playoff hopes to end this week. 

For more on the postseason, be sure to check out this week's playoff projections

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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