FRISCO, Texas – It wasn't the most traditional path to the goal, but it's a division championship all the same.
The Cowboys clinched the NFC East title on Sunday evening, just ahead of their primetime kickoff against Washington – and that was even without getting help from their division rivals in Philadelphia.
The Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Denver Broncos, 17-13, in the late-game window. Strange as it sounds, that Raider victory clinched an important tiebreaker for the Cowboys, assuring them the NFC East championship.
The reasoning is a bit complicated, but it boils down to the NFL's process for breaking a tie within a division.
Philadelphia, who improved to 8-7 with a win against the New York Giants on Sunday, is incapable of passing the Cowboys in the NFC East standings. If the Eagles win out and the Cowboys lose their last three games, it would produce a 10-7 tie at the top of the division.
The tie goes deeper than that, though. If that were to actually happen, Philadelphia and Dallas would be tied with a season split in their two games against each other, a division record of 4-2 and an even record in common games and a tied conference record of 8-4.
That leads to the fifth NFL tiebreaker and the one that ultimately decided the division – strength of victory.
Essentially, it comes down to the winning percentage of the Cowboys' and Eagles' opponents. Sunday's slate of games featured six matchups that would've affected those win percentages: Atlanta vs. Detroit, Minnesota vs. Los Angeles Rams, New England vs. Buffalo, Jacksonville vs. New York Jets, Houston vs. Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas vs. Denver.
The Cowboys needed two of those matchups to break in their favor, and they got exactly two. Atlanta defeated Detroit, 20-16, which boosted their strength of victory based on the fact that the Cowboys defeated the Falcons earlier this season.
Conversely, the Eagles defeated the Broncos six weeks ago – and Denver's loss on Sunday hurt that strength of victory for Philadelphia.
It's a lot to follow, but the end result is that the Cowboys can't lose the division no matter what happens these next three weeks. As NFC East champions, they'll be guaranteed at least one home playoff game next month.
Of course, there's still plenty to play for. A win Sunday night against Washington will keep the Cowboys in the NFC's No. 2 seed, and they're still within striking distance of the No. 1 overall seed.
There'll be plenty at stake in these next three games, but the NFC East is now secured.