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Making Sense Of NFC Playoff Scenarios After Cowboys' Division-Clinching Win

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys are assured a playoff berth regardless of what happens in Week 17 – a welcome change from the team's past three Decembers.

With the NFC East championship in hand, the Cowboys are guaranteed at least one home playoff game, despite the results of another full slate of NFL games next weekend.

"This team works as hard as any team that I've ever been associated with, in football or in anything else," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "They've gotten what they deserve. Now, fans have finally gotten what they deserve, and that is a shot at the big prize."

The Cowboys' first winning record and first postseason trip since 2009 is plenty cause for celebration, as evidenced by the happy scenes in their locker room Sunday night. That said, not all is 100 percent decided when it comes to their playoff fortunes.

With a win by Seattle on Sunday night – the Seahawks defeated Arizona, 35-6 – the Cowboys' slim hopes of securing a first-round playoff bye will carry over into Week 17.

As it stands right now, there are five teams in the NFC with 11-4 record – Arizona, Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay and Seattle. In a three-team tie with the Lions and Seahawks, the Cowboys come out in third by virtue of a lesser NFC record – the Cowboys hold a 7-4 conference record, while the Lions and Seahawks are both 9-2.

That means they're currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC, behind Seattle and Detroit. Arizona and Green Bay are the conference's current wild cards, by virtue of losing tiebreakers to their divisional rivals.

"There are a lot of scenarios, or maybe there are not. I don't really know," Tony Romo said. "We are going to have a home game, so somebody is going to have to come here to play."

Romo is right about that much. The very likely scenario is that the Cowboys will host the loser of Sunday's NFC North championship game between Detroit and Green Bay.

That said, the Cowboys can potentially secure a No. 2 seed and a bye week given two upsets. If the 7-8 San Francisco 49ers upset the visiting Cardinals next week, and the 6-9 St. Louis Rams upset the Seahawks at the same time, then Dallas would slip into the No. 2 seed, behind the NFC North champion.

It sounds like a steep challenge. The Cowboys would need to be the beneficiary of not just one, but two improbable results. Having said that, if both the Cardinals and Seahawks lose next week, Dallas won't even need a win in Washington to secure a first-round bye.

Even if it is a longshot, it's cause enough for the final week of the season to mean something – even if it isn't the winner-take-all scenario of seasons past.

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