FRISCO, Texas — Both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are tied atop the NFC East going into week 16 with 10-4 records and playoff spots already secured.
The tiebreaker scenarios for each team to win the division have things extremely complicated going into the final three weeks, so here is a comprehensive outlook at what each tiebreaker means and how each team could win the division.
First Tiebreaker - Head-to-Head
When two teams are tied atop the standings, the head-to-head record is immediately thrown into play. With the Eagles and Cowboys splitting their season series at 1-1, this tiebreaker is finalized for the rest of the way and at least forces a second tiebreaker to be used if both teams finish the season tied.
Second Tiebreaker - Division Record
A lot of questions have been circling around social media about Dallas currently holding the edge in the NFC East, but not controlling their own destiny down the stretch.
As it stands going into week 16, the Cowboys are 4-1 against divisional opponents while the Eagles are 3-1. As a result, the Cowboys hold a brief lead in this tiebreaker until the Eagles face off against the Giants this Sunday. Assuming the Eagles win, they would move back into a tie in this tiebreaker scenario.
If both teams win out, both teams will be at 5-1 in the division (DAL win vs. WAS, two PHI wins vs. NYG) and the third tiebreaker will be enforced. However, if either team loses a divisional game, it would create a pretty sizable gap that would allow the other to win the division if they handle business in their respective divisional game(s).
Third Tiebreaker - Record Against Common Opponents
As it stands going into week 16, the Eagles are 6-3 against common opponents played with Dallas while the Cowboys are 7-3. Each of the Eagles' three remaining games are against common opponents while Dallas only has two. As a result, if both teams win out, both would have a 9-3 record against common opponents.
However, if Philadelphia loses any of its remaining games, Dallas could not only win out and take the division, but they could also lose to Detroit (since the Lions are not a common opponent) and still take home the NFC East crown.
Fourth Tiebreaker - Conference Record
Going into week 16, the Cowboys have a 7-3 record against conference opponents while the Eagles have a 6-3 record. That would theoretically be evened up with an Eagles win over the Giants on Sunday at 7-3 since the Cowboys play an AFC opponent.
If both teams win out, both teams will finish at 9-3 in conference play, forcing a fifth tiebreaker.
Where a lane gets paved for the Cowboys is if the Eagles lose any of their three remaining games, including against Arizona. That would give the Cowboys the luxury of not only holding a one-game advantage, but they could also afford to lose to Miami and still hold the tiebreaker advantage at season's end.
Fifth Tiebreaker - Strength of Victory
This is where things get complicated. If both teams win their remaining three games, this fifth tiebreaker will be enacted: strength of victory.
Strength of victory is the combined winning percentage of all teams beaten. As it sits going into week 16, Philadelphia's beaten opponents are 69-71 (.493) and Dallas' beaten opponents are 53-87 (.379). If both teams win out (which is what would have to happen for this tiebreaker to be enforced), the Eagles' beaten opponents would have a record of 82-103 while the Cowboys' beaten opponents would be at 77-108 (as of week 16's records and standings across the league).
Basically what that means for Dallas is that the Cowboys need to pick up at least five games from their beaten opponents in the next three weeks to take over this tiebreaker. Who can pick up those games for the Cowboys?
- Teams winning that would help Dallas pick up a game: Seahawks, Chargers, Panthers, Jets, Lions
- Teams losing that would help Dallas pick up a game: Bills, Chiefs, Cardinals, Vikings, Buccaneers
- Reverse results in both categories would benefit Philadelphia
In looking at it on paper and the matchups ahead in the next three weeks, this tiebreaker more than likely results in Philadelphia winning the division and taking the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but it's not in stone. A few upsets would have to go Dallas' way.
All in all, the best chance that Dallas has at winning the NFC East is if the Eagles drop one of their three remaining games. If that happens, not only could Dallas win out and take the division, but they could also afford to lose to either Miami (refer to fourth tiebreaker) OR Detroit (refer to third tiebreaker) and still win the division. If the Cowboys lost to Washington, they would need the Eagles to lose to the Giants to not lose the divisional record tiebreaker.
Confusing, I know, but there is a lot of football left to be played. This may simply be a reference guide if both teams continue to win down the stretch of the season.