How the Dallas Cowboys could lose their way to the playoffs

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It’s still possible one of the three NFC East teams tied for first place at 5-7 will get hot down the stretch and finish with a winning record, rendering moot all the current jokes about how stinky the division is.

It’s also possible, on the other hand, that all four teams in the NFC East could finish tied at 6-10. This wouldn’t be ideal for Redskins fans, but it would be kind of amazing for the culture at large.

And when you do the math, you’ll find that this isn’t some far-fetched internet fantasy that would require several giant leaps of imagination, if you’ll pardon the pun. This is all cold, harsh, black-and-white realism. This could happen. This could be our future.

Take a quick look (all references to point spreads taken from Wednesday’s lines):

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Week 14

Washington loses at Chicago

New York loses at Miami

Philadelphia loses to Buffalo at home

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Dallas loses at Green Bay

Realism: Medium-high. The Redskins are 0-5 on the road this season and will be underdogs by about a field goal against the Bears. Dallas will be large underdogs at Lambeau. Philadelphia is actually a slight underdog at home and has a tendency to follow excellence with misery. Only the Giants result would require an upset, and they’re favored by less than a field goal at Miami on Monday night. Plus, the Giants have lost three straight and appear to be reeling. I’m not saying all four NFC East teams will lose this week, but it certainly wouldn’t be a shock. And it would leave a three-way tie for first at 5-8, with Dallas still a game behind.

Week 15

Washington beats Buffalo at home

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New York loses to Carolina at home

Philadelphia loses to Arizona at home

Dallas beats the Jets at home

Realism: Medium. The Redskins are 5-2 at home; there’s no reason they can’t beat the Bills in Landover. I’d actually expect either New York or Philadelphia to win, but they’re facing the NFC’s two best teams, which are a combined 12-1 on the road. As long as Cam Newton and Carson Palmer are playing, both teams should be favored. Who knows what’s going on with Dallas, but a Cowboys home win over the Jets wouldn’t be among the 20 most surprising results of this season. These results would leave Washington 6-8, and the other three teams tied at 5-9.

Week 16

Washington loses at Philadelphia

New York loses at Minnesota

Dallas loses at Buffalo

Realism: High. If I asked you to predict these three games at this moment, these would probably be your predictions. Washington has been dreadful on the road. The Vikings have been consistently better than the Giants. And Matt Cassel visiting Buffalo in late December doesn’t sound super promising. Plus we now only need three games to go the right way instead of four. These results would have Washington and Philadelphia tied at 6-9, and New York and Dallas tied at 5-10.

Week 17

Washington loses at Dallas

Philadelphia loses at New York

Realism: High. Again, nothing that we think will happen in the NFL actually happens, but if you had to predict these two games right this minute, you’d be sorely tempted to take the two home teams, despite New York’s blowout loss in Philly earlier this year. And the two home teams winning in the season’s final week would make Washington 6-10, Philadelphia 6-10, New York 6-10 and Dallas 6-10. The perfect storm of garbage. The sitting-standings. The immaculate recession. Or whatever.

According to ESPN’s playoff machine, such a four-way tie would be won by Dallas based on head-to-head win percentage. But really, we would all be winners. Or losers.