Playoff picture courtesy Cowboys website
IRVING, Texas - Things can change pretty quickly in the NFL.
One moment, Dez Bryant is dancing in the end zone as the Cowboys have grabbed a two-touchdown lead on the Giants and it not only looks like Dallas will have a victory over their bitter rivals, but a two-game lead in the NFC East with three to play.
In the next, thanks to Eli Manning and the Giants' resiliency down the stretch, coupled with the Cowboys failing to simply seize the moment and put away a New York team that had lost four straight, now the division race is all tied. Technically, the Giants hold the advantage over the Cowboys with the head-to-head win, but the two teams will meet again on Jan. 1 to end the season.
And with that loss, the Cowboys find themselves a game out of the playoff picture altogether. At 7-6, they are currently behind both 8-5 teams - Detroit and Atlanta for the two wild card spots. Of course, the Cowboys would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lions, who rallied from 24 down to beat Dallas back on Oct. 2.
The Cowboys are one of two teams at 7-6 in the NFC along with the Bears. And the surging Cardinals (6-7) have won three straight, including a win over the Cowboys to get themselves back in the picture as well.
But let's focus back on winning the NFC East, which seems to be the most clear-cut way for the Cowboys to get into the playoffs.
Obviously, it would've been much easier had Dallas put away the Giants on Sunday night. Had that occurred, the Cowboys would've needed just one win over the next three games, or one loss by the Giants to clinch the division title for the second time in three years.
Now the road gets tougher. The Cowboys do face a struggling Tampa Bay team this Saturday night on the road. The Bucs (4-9) have lost seven straight games after a 4-2 start. Meanwhile, the Giants will play host to the Redskins, who beat them in Week 1. Division games are typically close so this one won't be easy for the Giants, regardless of the situation.
In Week 16, the Cowboys return home for another Saturday game against the Eagles on Christmas Eve. The Giants are technically the road team for a game with the Jets.
Now that matchup could be very pivotal in terms of tiebreakers. If the Cowboys were to beat the Giants at the end of the season, but remain tied in the standings, it would of course head to tiebreakers to settle the division.
With head-to-head being tied since they both split, it would then go to Win-Loss record within the division. Both teams are 4-2 with two more NFC East games to play. To be tied at the end, it's likely they would have to be tied in the division as well.
So that goes to record vs. common opponents. If the division teams would be tied, it goes to the eight games they played against the NFC West and AFC East. Currently, the Giants are 5-2, losing to Seattle and San Francisco. The Cowboys are 5-3 with losses to the Patriots, Cardinals and Jets. And that's where the Jets-Giants game becomes big.
If the Giants were to beat the Jets, it would give them an edge in the common-opponents record.
Still, with just three weeks to play, there are plenty of scenarios to follow. For the Cowboys, they just need to get on the winning track again and facing a Tampa Bay team might just do the trick.
Then again, nothing is a given anymore, especially at this time of year.