Skip to main content

As the NFL winds down the regular season, fans’ thoughts turn to the playoffs. With a 17th game for the first time, more teams are in the hunt later in the season than ever, it seems. For the “America’s Team,” the playoffs are a given this season, but the question remains, how can the Dallas Cowboys clinch the NFC East in Week 16?

The Dallas Cowboys clinched a playoff spot Thursday night

A Dallas Cowboys clinch of a playoff spot was quite likely this weekend. The ‘Boys would be playoff-bound if the New Orleans Saints tied or lost to the Miami Dolphins. Or if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat (or tied) the Carolina Panthers.

One more scenario, though, would also get Dallas to the postseason. That was a loss by the (then) 8-6 San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football.

After the 49ers scored on their first drive and jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead, it looked like the Cowboys would have to wait for the Buccaneers or Dolphins to help them out. However, the Tennessee Titans suddenly turned into every Cowboys fan’s second-favorite team in the second half.

With Ryan Tannehill pumping the ball to his finally healthy star receiver, A.J. Brown (11 catches, 145 yards, one touchdown), the Titans outscored the 49ers 20-7 in the second half and pulled out the win on a field goal with just seconds left to play.

The win was huge for Tennessee. It guarantees them at least a full-game lead on the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South race with two games to play. It was massive for Dallas as well.

Now, the Cowboys will officially return to the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2018, and, on Sunday, they have a chance to pull off a double Dallas Cowboys clinch and wrap up the NFC East as well.

How the Dallas Cowboys Clinch the NFC East in Week 16

The first goal of almost every NFL team each season is to win their division. It is what the fans want, and it is the easiest way a team can guarantee itself a spot in the postseason.

While a Dallas Cowboys clinch of the NFC East was almost inevitable in the early to mid-1990s, that hasn’t been the case lately. The Cowboys last won the NFC East in 2018 and have only clinched the division three times in the last decade (’18, ’16,’ 14).

In Week 16, the Cowboys have three overarching ways they can clinch, although way No. 3 involves a lot of moving parts.

The simplest way the Dallas Cowboys clinch is if they beat the Washington Football Team on Sunday Night Football. It’s as easy as that: win, and they’re in (as NFC East champs).

The Philadelphia Eagles are behind Dallas in the East standings at 7-7. Regardless of the Cowboys’ result, if the Eagles lose to the New York Giants, the division race is over as well, and the Cowboys prevail.

Finally, there is a somewhat convoluted — but highly probable — scenario where, if 1.5 (read: two) of the following teams win, the Cowboys will also get in.

These teams are the Las Vegas Raiders (vs. Denver Broncos), Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. New York Jets), Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Houston Texans), Minnesota Vikings (vs. Los Angeles Rams), or Atlanta Falcons (vs. Detroit Lions).

Long story short, unless the Ghosts of Christmas Past conspire to keep the “America’s Team” out, a Dallas Cowboys clinch of the NFC East is almost guaranteed.

Can ‘America’s Team’ win the NFC and get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs?

Leighton Vander Esch and Jayron Kearse of the Dallas Cowboys react after a defensive stop during the third quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on December 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Dallas Cowboys clinch the NFC East with a win in Week 16.
Leighton Vander Esch and Jayron Kearse of the Dallas Cowboys | Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

The ‘Boys now have a playoff spot. They are on the verge of taking the NFC East crown. Now, the only thing that could be better in Big D is a Dallas Cowboys clinch of the entire NFC.

Since the playoffs expanded in 2020 to include a third Wild Card team, only the No. 1 seed in each conference gets a bye, as opposed to the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the past. This means that finishing first in the AFC or NFC is a huge advantage for whichever team does.

So, can the Dallas Cowboys clinch the NFC?

Yes and no.

The team is still firmly in the mix for the top spot in the conference. They are a game behind the Green Bay Packers (11-3), tied for second at 1-4 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals.

The Cowboys can absolutely get the No. 1 seed, but they need some help from the Green Bay Packers. Or, more specifically, from the Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, or Detroit Lions.

Right now, Dallas holds the first tiebreaker (after best record), which defines as “Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.” They are 4-0-0 in the NFC East while Tampa Bay is 2-2-0 in the NFC South, Arizona is 4-1-0 in the NFC West, and Green Bay is 3-1-0 in the NFC North.

If Dak Prescott and company can win out and the Packers lose a game, the result would be a Dallas Cowboys clinch in the NFC, regardless of what the Bucs or Cards do.

It’s not the most likely of scenarios with the way the Packers are playing and the relatively easy schedule they have left. But it is possible that Dallas could earn a bye during Wild Card weekend.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference


Former NFL GM Mike Tannenbaum Makes a Fool of Himself Comparing the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Golden State Warriors