The Washington Redskins’ playoff chances improved significantly Monday night. And for the second straight week, the Dallas Cowboys are the catalyst for Washington’s good fortune.
Dallas defeated the Detroit Lions, 42-21, to give Washington a clear path to clinching the NFC playoff’s sixth seed on Sunday. Washington’s chances of making the postseason increased on both FiveThirtyEight, from 51 to 58 percent, and Upshot, from 47 to 56 percent, following the result; Lions (9-6) could have clinched a berth with a victory but now find themselves one of four teams in the hunt for the final spot in the playoff picture.
If the Redskins (8-6-1) beat the New York Giants at FedEx Field, they will receive the sixth seed as long as the Lions’ home game against the Green Packers (9-6) on Sunday night doesn’t end in a tie. In this scenario, the winner of Sunday night’s Packers-Lions game will clinch the NFC North division title, while the loser will be a half-game behind Washington for the second wild-card spot and will be eliminated as a result.
The Redskins must root against a tie because of tiebreaker implications. If the Redskins, Packers and Lions all finish at 9-6-1, the Packers would win the NFC North because of a better head-to-head record against the Lions. Meanwhile, Detroit would clinch the sixth seed because of its head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington. The Lions defeated the Redskins, 20-17, in Week 7 at Ford Field.
The NFL has never had a season with three regular season ties since overtime was instituted in 1974. There have already been two draws this season, matching the 1986 and 1997 seasons for the most since regular season overtime rules were adopted. Along with Washington’s tie with the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8, the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals recorded a tie in Week 7.
The Cowboys defeated the Buccaneers in Week 15; that would’ve allowed the Redskins to take control of the sixth seed last week, but they lost to the Carolina Panthers to remain half-game behind both the Packers and Bucs. Washington received every break it needed in Week 16 to set up essentially a win-and-in situation.
The New Orleans Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7), who now sit a half-game behind Washington following the loss, and the Cowboys beat the Lions despite already clinching the NFC East division title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Washington now sits in position to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season heading into the final week of the season.