Ever since the Atlanta Falcons squared off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Monday night, this particular photo has become relevant for any Cowboys fan:
It is either that or draft boards become relevant in three weeks. Realizing the scenarios that have to pan out, how likely is it that it falls into Dallas favor? According to FiveThirtyEight, the Cowboys are at a five percent chance to make it to the playoffs and would bump up to 29 if they win out. In addition to Detroit losing one of its last two games, the Cowboys also need the Saints or Panthers to be unable to secure another victory as well. A miracle is required for Dallas, consider the fact that if they reach ten wins and still miss the playoffs, it will be a first in franchise history.
By virtue of Tampa Bay failing to beat the Falcons last Monday Night, it knocked the Green Bay Packers out of the hunt for the playoff race. This then led to Green Bay placing Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve, as there is no incentive to play him anymore. Now as the Lions control their own destiny, they have to face off against a 5-8 Cincinnati Bengals and a Hundley-led unmotivated Packers team. Once again, Dallas needs a miracle.
For the Bengals, who have dropped their last three to the Bears, Vikings, and Steelers, they come in as a unit that has lost faith in their head coach and season weeks ago. Though the Bears have one of the more surprising defenses on the season, the Bengals still only managed to score seven points. A performance that motivated Marvin Lewis to bring AJ Macarron in for Andy Dalton late in the game. In addition, Cincinnati boasts the 19th ranked defense, that has allowed 30+ points two times in a row to the eighth-ranked Vikings and 30th ranked Bears. A Bengals defense that could easily be exposed on every level, they now have to face the gunslinger Mathew Stafford. The Lions offense that averages 25.6 points a game without their middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Oh, and the Bengals have the worst rated offense in the league and yes, it is even more of a struggle to watch than the Colts.
When the Lions take on the Packers in week 17, the door could be shut for Dallas at this point. Without Rodgers, Green Bay advanced to a 4-5 record on the season and lost to Detroit 17-30 in that time. Hundley threw for 245 yards, completing 26 of his 38 passes, but never accounted for any points on the board. Meanwhile, Stafford had his day with two touchdowns and 361 yards, plus a QB rating of 132.4. Since that game, the Lions have gone on to win four of their last six games, losing to only the Ravens and Vikings. On the season, the Lions fare well against opponents with a .500 or less record, going 7-0 against teams as such.
While three teams in the NFC South holds a stake in the Cowboys playoff chances, the Falcons are the favorite among the three to be left out if so. Currently, the sixth seed in the NFC standings, the 9-5 Atlanta Falcons possibly have the most difficult remaining schedule out of anyone. Two division-rival games against the Saints and Panthers. A division that has high-powered offenses and defensive playmakers everywhere, holds the title for the NFL best in the 2017 season. With a combined 3-1 record on the season in their division and three of the games being decided by three points, it should be an interesting ending for fans everywhere.
Just two weeks ago, part one of the Falcons-Saints duel took place in Atlanta. As controversial calls surfaced throughout the game, an amazing interception by Falcons outside linebacker Deion Jones would triumph a three-interception outing by Matt Ryan for their eighth win of the season.
A team that usually dominates opponents on the ground with the duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, struggled to a combined 50 yards on 15 carries. The loss of Saints middle linebacker AJ Klein took its effect as well, as the Falcons would do the polar opposite and run for 132 yards with a touchdown. Although Atlanta sits on a three-game winning streak against New Orleans, the Saints are a well-balanced, division-rival that is 5-1 at home, while the Falcons are 4-2 on the road, making this the one to watch over the weekend.
The final week of the season, that could tell the tale for the NFC wildcard, Cam Newton and company head to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. For Dallas fans, week 16 for Carolina means a lot for this one. If the Panthers were to win over the weekend, they secure a playoff spot leaving questions as to if they play their key players or not against Atlanta. With no certainty as of now, the Panthers are a 10-4 team that has won six of its last seven games, beating Atlanta 20-17 during that stretch. Losing its last two on the road to the Saints and the Bears, they have also come out winless the past two times in Atlanta. Imposing the run game on the Falcons the last time they played for a win, similar success will be needed to keep a talented offense off the field. Also, do not expect Julio to drop this one again:
Prepare Yourself, Cowboys Fans
As the focus is shifted onto what has to be done with other teams for the Cowboys, do not expect these last two to be easy for Dallas. Russell Wilson is still a game-changer. The Eagles are still a division rival. No matter who is playing or what drama is circulating, they are not pushovers. Seahawks are in the same position as Dallas hoping to play in January as well. The losses to the Packers and the Rams might have closed the book on Dallas this season, but there might still be a light waiting for what seems like a lost cause.
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