Week 14 served as a reminder of something that we already knew; the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles are not very good football teams. The Cowboys picked up their third straight loss of the season to fall to 6-7, this time losing to the Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears. The Eagles needed overtime, at home, to overcome a lowly New York Giants team that was starting Eli Manning for the injured Daniel Jones at quarterback to improve to 6-7.
Thanks to the NFL’s rule that every division title winner advances into the postseason, one of these two teams is going to not only be playing in the playoffs next month, but will actually be hosting a wild card team in the first round. Meanwhile, at least one more deserving team is going to be left out of the playoff picture entirely.
Dallas and Philadelphia are heading for a Week 16 showdown
The Dallas Cowboys host the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday. Given that the Rams have won five of their last seven games and the Cowboys have lost three straight and six of their last nine, this won’t be an easy matchup for Dallas, who is in danger of falling to 6-8. The Philadelphia Eagles have a much easier opponent on the road against the Washington Redskins, but even that isn’t a gimme for a team that is 1-3 in its last four games on the road including a loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Regardless of how next week plays out, the winner of Week 16’s showdown between the Cowboys and the Eagles in Philadelphia will likely determine the winner of the NFC East. A Dallas win would give the Cowboys a season sweep over the Eagles and the tiebreaker over them in the standings, while a Philadelphia win would put the Eagles on top of the division with only a road game against the Giants remaining on the schedule.
Even if one of these two teams wins out, that NFC East champion will still finish with only a 9-7 record, which will likely be behind the final team that gets left out of the postseason in the NFC. And that’s the best-case scenario; an 8-8 or 7-9 champion is still possible, too.
Minnesota and Los Angeles are more deserving
The only reason that two teams that are 6-7 are in a position to potentially win their division is that their other two division rivals, the Washington Redskins (3-10) and the New York Giants (2-11) are so bad. Dallas is 4-0 against division rivals this season, meaning they are a paltry 2-7 against the rest of the NFL. Philadelphia is 2-1 against divisional foes and 4-6 against the rest of the league.
Contrast this against the Minnesota Vikings (9-4) and the Los Angeles Rams (8-5), who are fighting for the final wild card spot in the NFC behind the Seattle Seahawks (10-3). The Vikings share a division with the 10-3 Green Bay Packers and the 7-6 Chicago Bears, and even the Detroit Lions have shown more fight than Washington or New York in 2019. The Rams are battling it out with two of the NFC’s best teams in the 11-2 San Francisco 49ers and the 10-3 Seahawks.
So in addition to having clearly superior records than the Cowboys and Eagles, the Vikings and Rams are doing it against tougher competition, too. But one of them is going to be left on the outside of the playoff picture.
This won’t be the first time this has happened
In many ways, having the division champion earn an automatic bid into the postseason is great for the NFL. It makes the regular season and division rivalry games more meaningful.
But it’s far from a perfect system. There have been a handful of division winners with 8-8 and 9-7 records since division realignment in 2003, and even two with losing records in 2010 and 2014.
Interestingly enough, both of the teams that won their division with losing records went on to win their first postseason game. So even if Dallas or Philadelphia isn’t deserving of its eventual playoff spot, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the team won’t make the most of it.