The Dallas Cowboys edged the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football, securing a 17-15 win and improving to 11-1. The Vikings gave them a tough time, with Dallas never getting ahead more than eight points, and falling behind twice. But a Dak Prescott touchdown pass to Dez Bryant followed by a Dan Bailey field goal gave them a 17-9 lead and just barely enough breathing room. Sam Bradford found Jerick McKinnon for a score with 25 seconds left, but the Vikings were unable to convert the two-point conversion.
It is a dramatic turnaround for the Cowboys, who went 4-12 last season. They hit huge on first round pick Ezekiel Elliott, and fourth round pick Dak Prescott, and their defense has shown some life. And suddenly, with four games left in their season, they are on the verge of securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
First off, the Cowboys can clinch a playoff spot this week with a loss by either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Washington on Sunday. Additionally, with the win they move to three games ahead of the 7-3-1 Seattle Seahawks atop the NFC and 2.5 games ahead of the New York Giants in the NFC East. The Giants travel to face the Steelers in Week 13, while the Seahawks are home against the Carolina Panthers.
The Steelers are a six-point favorite over the Giants. If the Steelers win that game and the Giants fall to three games back of the Cowboys, Week 14 presents a divisional clinching scenario for Dallas. Sunday Night Football next week features the Cowboys vs. the Giants at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The Giants beat the Cowboys to open the season, and considering the subsequent win streak, it makes that game hugely interesting.
The Seahawks are a touchdown favorite over Carolina. If Seattle loses (along with the Giants losing), the Cowboys could clinch home field in Week 14 with a win over the Giants and a Seahawks loss at Green Bay. I don’t think Seattle loses to Carolina, but it certainly would make things that much more interesting if they did. Dallas could conceivably rest their starters for significant stretches in each of the final three games. I don’t think they would bench everybody, but they might rotate more guys in if they have home field locked up. You can keep your players fresh, while still getting them reps.
Meanwhile, the Vikings are now a game and a half back of the Detroit Lions, and Detroit holds the season sweep on them. Detroit is in the driver’s seat at this point. They are in New Orleans this weekend in what should be a shootout. The Lions close out their season with a home game against the Bears, road games against the Giants and Cowboys, and a home game against the Packers. Green Bay is two back of the Lions and have a win over them already, so they could still potentially leap over the Vikings and make things interesting for the Lions.
Here’s how the NFC playoff picture looks heading into the weekend
1. Dallas Cowboys (11-1)
2. Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1)
3. Detroit Lions (7-4)
4. Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
5. New York Giants (8-3)
6. Washington (6-4-1)
In the hunt: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5), Minnesota Vikings (6-6), New Orleans Saints (5-6), Green Bay Packers (5-6), Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)