IRVING (105.3 THE FAN) – The weeks remaining in the NFL season? Four. The Dallas Cowboys’ magic number? Four.
And, as coach Jason Garrett noted Tuesday, “It’s great that we control our own destiny.’’
But if you think the numbers are all as neatly tied together as a Christmas-package bow … you first need to peek inside the gift box.
The math is correct: For the Cowboys to secure their first playoff appearance since 2009, they need a combination of Dallas wins and Philly losses that adds up to four.
This week: The 7-5 Eagles will play host to the 7-5 Lions on Sunday. The Eagles have not established that they are good at home. But they are favored by three points here…. Against a Detroit team that can play a track-meet game and stay with them.
If Detroit wins, Dallas – while sitting in its Chicagoland hotel room – will see its magic number shrink down to three.
The Cowboys, also 7-5, will fully know the results of that Sunday game when they kick it off Monday in Chicago against the 6-6 Bears. The Bears are coming off an overtime loss to the supposedly bad Vikings (who play a central role in all this). That same Minnesota team gave Dallas problems a few weeks ago in an eventual Cowboys win and the Vikings pop up on the Eagles’ schedule next week.
But first things first: Who will start at QB for the Bears? Will Jay Cutler (injured in a contract year) return to action? Or will capable backup Josh McCown keep the job? Maybe that’s one of the reasons this is a pick-‘em game, though if Culter plays can’t you figure Chicago as a slight favorite here?
A Cowboys win and an Eagles loss and the magic numberof four is cut in half. That’s the ideal. But the oddsmakers might say the results go the other way around, with an Eagles win and a Dallas loss and the Cowboys dropping out of first place.
In Week 15, the Eagles are at the Vikings and will be favored. Meanwhile, Dallas is at home with the Packers in. Word out of Green Bay is that there is now talk of sitting QB Aaron Rodgers for the remainder of the season if the Packers find themselves essentially eliminated from contention.
Based on the odds? Both teams win in Week 15. That would mean Dallas is 8-6 (again, based on what the oddsmakers might predict), but trailing 9-5 Philly by a game.
In Week 16, the Eagles will be at home to host the Bears. Depending on those previous weeks, this could be a Philly elimination game, or … not.
Philly has a distinct chance of winning at home vs. Detroit, winning at Minnesota, and winning at home over the Bears to sit at 10-5. … and the Cowboys will meanwhile be challenged to stay within a game.
Dallas’ Week 16 test is at Washington, a team out of contention. Do the Redskins fold, or jump up to try to bite their archrival?
And finally will come Week 17. The Eagles at AT&T Stadium in what at this point Dallas might have to hope – even as it enters the final month with “destiny control’’ — becomes the de facto NFC East Championship Game. If it plays out this way, it’ll mean coach Jason Garrett’s Cowboys will have appeared in three consecutive such games, in 2011 at New York (a loss) and in 2012 at Washington (a loss).
“This will be a good test for us,’’ Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says of December. “If we can come through this thing and somehow get (wins) and have some success and maybe have a chance for the playoffs, we’ll have run a good gauntlet that gets us ready.”
It will help immensely to be at home should the Week 17 head-to-head meeting serve as the Dallas-vs.-Philly tiebreaker. But when you examine and attempt to forecast the final month of the two teams’ season, you have reason to wonder if the Cowboys’ magic number will ever be reached.
Dallas needs to spend the next three weeks at least staying within a game of Philly.
And then, in Week 17, can come the realization of “magic’’ and the opening of packages.
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