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Monday, December 5, 2011
Playoff scenarios in the wild NFC East

By Dan Graziano

Monday morning means it's time for a spin around the ESPN Playoff Machine, the interactive tool where you can put in the results of the remaining games to see what various outcomes would mean for the NFL's playoff picture. Click up there now and you'll see the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs as the NFC East champion and No. 4 seed in the conference by virtue of their one-game division lead over the New York Giants.

But we know it's not that simple, of course, since the Cowboys and the Giants have two games left against each other, and the outcomes of those games will go a long way toward determining the division champ. Due to the Cowboys' loss Sunday in Arizona, we can't even mathematically rule out the Philadelphia Eagles or the Washington Redskins, either of whom still could, technically, win the division with an 8-8 record. But let's save those two nutty possibilities for last and focus on what appear to be the more likely outcomes. I looked through a few of the possibilities for the final four weeks and tried to let you know what would happen in each case.

Cowboys beat Giants twice

No matter what else happens in this scenario, the Cowboys would be the NFC East champions. They would be no worse than 9-7 and no other team would be able to win more than eight. If the Cowboys beat the Giants on Sunday and again on New Year's Day, it doesn't matter what happens in Weeks 15 and 16.

Giants beat Cowboys twice and beat EITHER the Redskins or Jets

If this happens, the Giants will be 9-7 and the Cowboys would be 9-7 at best. Even if the Cowboys win their other two games against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, the Giants would be division champs by virtue of the head-to-head record.

Giants beat Cowboys twice, lose to Redskins and Jets; Cowboys win their other two games

The Cowboys would win the division outright with a 9-7 record, as the Giants would finish 8-8. However...

Giants beat Cowboys twice, lose to Redskins and Jets; Cowboys go 1-1 in other two games

The Giants and Cowboys would both finish 8-8, which means the Giants would win the division by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker as long as neither the Eagles nor the Redskins finish 4-0.

Giants and Cowboys split head-to-head games; Cowboys beat Buccaneers and Eagles

The Cowboys would be 10-6 and an outright division champ.

Giants and Cowboys split head-to-head games; Cowboys beat Eagles.

In this scenario, it doesn't matter what the Giants do in their other two games or what the Cowboys do against the Bucs. The Cowboys would be 9-7 and would hold the tiebreaker over the Giants due to a better conference record.

Eagles finish 4-0, Dallas finishes 1-3 or worse and Giants finish 2-2 or worse.

The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants would finish in a three-way tie and the Eagles would be division champs by virtue of tiebreakers. They'd be 3-1 in games against Dallas and New York. The Cowboys would be no better than 1-3 in games against New York and Philadelphia. And the Giants would be no better than 3-1 in games against Philadelphia and Dallas. The second tiebreaker is division record, which would go easily to the Eagles at 5-1. If the Eagles finish 4-0, Dallas finishes 1-3 and the Giants finish 1-3, it's a two-way tie between the Eagles and Cowboys, and the Eagles will have been 2-0 against Dallas, so they'd win on the first tiebreaker. Note: This happens even if both of the Giants' victories are against the Cowboys.

Redskins finish 4-0, Cowboys finish 0-4, Giants lose to Jets on Christmas Eve

The Redskins and Giants would finish in a tie for the division title at 8-8, with the Cowboys 7-9 and the Eagles also under .500. The Redskins would claim the division title by virtue of having won both games against the Giants. Also, they'll have finished 4-0 without two of their best offensive players, Trent Williams and Fred Davis, who are suspended for the rest of the season for drug policy violations. I'll have to look up whether those guys would be allowed to play playoff games.

Is there a scenario I didn't think of that you'd like analyzed? Either use the Playoff Machine or feel free to point it out. I'll try and take care of it in the comments.