FRISCO, TX — In the game of thrones, you win or you die … or rather you see your potentially special season end abruptly and unceremoniously. When the Dallas Cowboys lost a nailbiter to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9 at Lincoln Financial Field, they were all but written off as having a chance of winning the NFC East.
That was especially after many saw the Eagles go on to narrowly defeat the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.
Their luck ran out against the San Francisco 49ers, however, and that matters a great deal when considering how the Cowboys are currently riding a four-game win streak after winning a barnburner against the Seattle Seahawks.
Better still is that the Cowboys' opponents during that stretch were all teams in the NFC and two in the NFC East, and that could matter if that particular tiebreaker comes into play.
A tiebreaker for what, you ask?
Well, with the Eagles losing to the 49ers and scheduled for a rematch with the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium — where Dallas is on a white-hot 14-game win streak — there's still a solid chance that if the Cowboys can hand the Eagles their second loss in a row (the first of the season for Philly) that the division crown, and possibly the No. 1 seed in the conference, could end up in the hands of Mike McCarthy.
The Cowboys can move into first place in the division with a win over the Eagles in Week 14 by virtue of what would be a better record in the NFC East.
It appears the 49ers just provided the Cowboys with the poison to pour into Joffrey's wine next week, and the Cowboys simply need to drop the poison in it.
The top seed in the conference, of course, comes equipped with home field advantage throughout the playoffs and that's a gargantuan deal when factoring in the Cowboys' aforementioned streak at home and their overall dominance contained therein.
As it stands, the 49ers (9-3) now own the head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Cowboys (9-3) and the Eagles (10-2) , and the Eagles own the head-to-head over the Cowboys — something that can be readily deleted in Week 14, if McCarthy's bunch protects their home field once again on Dec. 10.
And before anyone goes about crowning the 49ers, be mindful their next opponent is a desperate Seahawks team that just suffered a gut-wrenching loss, their third loss in a row, and who have no choice but to avenge a Nov. 23 loss to the 49ers to end their slide and avoid potentially moving out of the playoff bracket and over to the "in the hunt" category.
Kyle Shanahan also has the Baltimore Ravens to contend with two weeks later.
McCarthy and Co. are up against a gauntlet to come and each game weighs a ton in relation to how their postseason will shape up, with a Week 17 clash against the Detroit Lions standing as yet another glaringly heavy NFC battle that could send shockwaves throughout the conference.
Neither the 49ers nor the Eagles will face the Lions during this regular season.
It's still too early to start mapping out playoff scenarios and paths to the No. 1 seed for the Cowboys, but it's not difficult to ascertain what needs to happen going forward in order for them to do what many deemed unthinkable as early as Week 5 and as recently as Week 9.
They'll need to own the month of December as they did November, following the loss to the Eagles while also avenging themselves versus Philadelphia in Arlington.
That could launch the Cowboys to an all-out horse race with the Eagles, as well as the 49ers and Lions, for the right to force the road to Super Bowl 58 through their own stadium.
It's time to see who's for real atop the NFC, and who's been pretending before now.
The Battle for Blackwater Bay has arrived.