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Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Playoff Machine: Two NFC East teams in?

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

ESPN.com has launched its Playoff Machine, which is a giant gray orb suspended in space that can blow up entire planets.

Wait. That's not what it is at all. That's ... that was something else. I was thinking of something else. Sorry.

ESPN.com's Playoff Machine is an interactive tool you (and I) will use constantly between now and New Year's Day to determine what the results of various NFL games mean to the playoff chances and/or seeding of your favorite team. As you can see, based on current records, it has the Dallas Cowboys as the lone NFC East representative, seeded fourth and hosting the wild-card Detroit Lions in the first round of the playoffs. That's what would happen if the season ended right this very minute and the playoffs began this weekend. The New York Giants would be out, based on a tiebreaker.

But the cool thing about the Playoff Machine is that you can change it any way you want. For instance, if you go to that tab in the upper right corner where it says "Select Criteria," you can project the playoff field based on a number of factors -- home teams winning every game the rest of the way, road teams winning every game the rest of the way, etc. If you select "Power Rankings," it projects the results of the final six weeks of the season based on the current ESPN.com Power Rankings, and the Giants win the division and the Cowboys get in as a wild card. Of course, if you want to see that, you have to move quickly. It's Tuesday morning, which  means the Power Rankings will change in a few hours and (spoiler alert) the Giants might have dropped a few spots.

If you really have time and/or don't feel like working, you can go week-by-week and project the results of every NFL game by clicking on the logo of the team you think will win. That way, if your question is something like, "What happens if the Giants and Cowboys split their head-to-head games and the Giants beat the Packers and lose to the Saints and Jets but the Cowboys get upset in Arizona and lose again to the Eagles?," you can actually go ahead and answer that yourself. You can play around and see what kind of results it would take at this point, in their games and other games, to get the Philadelphia Eagles or the Washington Redskins into the playoffs.

You know you're going to obsess over this stuff for the next six weeks, so we're here to help. Enjoy. And on behalf of the company, I'd like to offer a formal apology to all of your bosses, teachers and parents for the time you'll surely be spending on this thing.