- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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By the end of this day, the Washington Redskins or the Dallas Cowboys will be NFC East champions. If the Redskins are the champs, and three other games break the right way, the New York Giants can make the playoffs as a wild-card team but the Cowboys cannot. If the Cowboys are the champs, and two other games break the right way, the Redskins can make the playoffs as a wild-card team but the Giants cannot.
It'll all be resolved soon enough, but the playoff scenarios for the three NFC East teams that still have a chance remain complicated enough to warrant a refresher explanation. So here's the breakdown of what has to happen today to get your team in, whichever team that may be.
Tonight's game between Cowboys and Redskins at FedEx Field will determine the NFC East champion. Whoever wins that game will win the division and be the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Redskins could still make the playoffs as a wild-card team if they lose to the Cowboys and get help elsewhere.
The Cowboys cannot make the playoffs as a wild-card team. They will either be division champions or miss the playoffs.
The Giants cannot win the division but can make the playoffs as a wild-card team if they beat the Philadelphia Eagles and get help.
Any NFC East team that reaches the playoffs would play either the Seahawks or the 49ers in the first round.
And here's a more in-depth explanation of the whole thing:
If the Redskins beat the Cowboys, the Redskins will be 10-6, the Cowboys will be 8-8 and the Giants will be no better than 9-7, so no tiebreakers come into play. The Redskins win the NFC East outright.
If the Cowboys beat the Redskins, the Redskins and the Cowboys will both be 9-7, and the Giants will be no better than 9-7. The Giants would be eliminated from a three-team tiebreaker because they would be 3-3 in the division and the other two teams would be 4-2. The Cowboys would then win with the two-way tiebreaker by virtue of their superior record in games played against common opponents -- teams they and the Redskins both played. The Cowboys are 8-4 in those games, with victories the Redskins couldn't get over the Bengals, Steelers and Panthers, while the Redskins are 7-5. Common-opponents record is the No. 3 tiebreaker in two-way ties, after head-to-head record (Cowboys and Redskins would be 1-1 against each other) and division record (they'd both be 4-2 in the division).
If the Redskins lose, they can still be a wild-card team if the Vikings lose to the Packers and the Bears lose in Detroit. Those games will be completed by the time the Redskins and the Cowboys kick off at 8:20 p.m. ET, so the Redskins will know before they take the field whether they still have the safety net of the wild card or whether they need to win the division to reach the playoffs.
If the Giants beat the Eagles, they would need the Cowboys, Vikings and Bears all to lose in order to reach the playoffs as a wild-card team. So if the Giants win their game at 1 p.m. ET while the Lions beat the Bears and then the Packers beat the Vikings in their 4:25 pm ET game, the Giants will watch the prime-time game needing the Redskins to win it. If any of those four games breaks the wrong way, the Giants are out. So Giants fans need the Giants, Lions, Packers and Redskins all to win.
The NFC East champion will be the No. 4 seed in the NFC and will host a first-round game against the No. 5 seed, which will be either the Seahawks or the 49ers. The Seahawks are the more likely opponent. They will be the No. 5 seed unless they beat the Rams and the 49ers lose to the Cardinals today. But if those two results happen, the Seahawks will win the NFC West and the 49ers will be the No. 5 seed and visit the NFC East champion on Saturday or Sunday for a first-round playoff game.
If the Redskins or Giants end up with a wild-card berth, they will be the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play on the road in the first round against the No. 3 seed in either San Francisco or Seattle. If the Packers win their game today, they are the No. 2 seed and get a bye, which means the No. 3 seed would be the NFC West champion (see above) and host the sixth-seeded wild-card team, which the Giants or Redskins could be. If the Packers lose their game today to the Vikings, they could be the No. 3 seed but that wouldn't matter for NFC East purposes, because it would mean the Vikings got the final wild-card spot and the only NFC East team going to the playoffs this year will be the Cowboys-Redskins winner.