- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you don't yet know about the Playoff Machine, man are you missing out. This is the interactive device that lets you go through the rest of the season, pick each remaining NFL game and see which teams make the playoffs under certain scenarios. In a division like ours, in which three teams still have a chance to make the playoffs as the division champion or a wild-card team, it's especially fun this time of year.
You know, if the New York Giants win all three of their remaining games, that they will be NFC East champions for the second year in a row. But what if they don't? What has to happen for the Washington Redskins or the Dallas Cowboys to snatch it from them? What are the potential implications of that Week 17 game between the Cowboys and Redskins? What are the chances of any of these teams snagging a wild-card spot if they don't win the division?
This is where the fun starts, and I went through this morning and played with the machine to create some interesting scenarios. Such as ...
GIANTS WIN DIVISION, BUT TWO NFC EAST TEAMS GET IN
The Redskins have the easier path to this possibility, by virtue of tiebreakers. If the Redskins win their next two games and the Bears lose just once (say, next week, to the Packers), then the Redskins could claim a wild-card spot with a Week 17 victory over the Cowboys even if the Giants finish 3-0. The Cowboys need more help. They'd need to win that Week 17 game against Washington, but they'd need the Bears to lose at least two of their remaining three games while they themselves beat the Steelers next week and the Saints the week after that. The Cowboys can make the playoffs at 9-7 -- either as a division champion or a wild card -- but they need multiple losses by more than one team from the Giants/Redskins/Bears/Seahawks group in order to pull that off.
COWBOYS AND REDSKINS MAKE IT BUT GIANTS DON'T
In this scenario, the Giants lose their next two road games in Atlanta and Baltimore, and even though they beat the Eagles in Week 17 it doesn't matter. The Cowboys lose to the Steelers next week but recover to beat the Saints in Week 16. The Redskins beat the Browns and Eagles the next two weeks but lose to the Cowboys in Week 17. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have gone 1-2 (I gave them the home game in Week 17 against the Rams) and the Bears have gone 1-2 (winning the Week 16 game in Arizona). If all of that happens, the Cowboys are a 9-7 division champion that hosts Seattle in the first round, the Redskins are a 9-7 wild-card team that travels to probably Green Bay for the first round and the Giants are a 9-7 team that lost all the tiebreakers and didn't get in.
THREE NFC EAST TEAMS GET IN
This one requires some suspension of disbelief, not to mention some poor play down the stretch by the Bears and the Seahawks. For this to happen, I believe (again, let me know if I'm wrong), the Seahawks must lose all three of their remaining games. Since two are at home, where Seattle is unstoppable, and the other is in Buffalo, this is farfetched. But let's just say it happens, and the Bears lose two of their remaining three. The Giants would need to win only one of their remaining three games (let's give them the Week 17 game against the Eagles). The Cowboys could even lose next week to the Steelers, beat the Saints in Week 16 and then beat the Redskins in Week 17 for the division title. But if the Redskins beat the Browns and the Eagles the next two weeks, these results would make the Cowboys the division-champion No. 4 seed and the Redskins and Giants the NFC wild-card teams. Dallas would host Washington in a first-round game, and the Giants would travel to Green Bay or San Francisco for the first round.
Again, just a few of the scenarios you can create with this thing. Crazy? Nutty? Impossible? Bah. There are three weeks to go, this is the unpredictable NFL, and all things are possible with ... the Playoff Machine.