Cowboys vs Lions Week 17: What Detroit Loss, Dallas Win Mean for NFL Playoff Race
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AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth
Was Taylor Decker eligible?
It will forever be one of life’s great unsolved mysteries, along with why Easter Island has giant stone heads all over the place, who framed Roger Rabbit and why in the year 2023 we still can’t invent cereal that stays crispy in milk.
But Decker’s controversial two-point conversion that was wiped out by penalty handed the Dallas Cowboys a one-point win Saturday night and had a significant impact on the playoff picture in the NFC.
Whether you agree with the call or not (not—it looks like a bad call, although Lions head coach Dan Campbell should have played for overtime after the five-yard penalty, so my sympathies are limited), the game is over. Both teams are 11-5 and in the playoffs. And we’re that much closer to knowing what this year’s postseason brackets will look like.
So, let’s all take a breath (especially Dan Campbell) and examine both what this game means for the Lions and Cowboys and what the playoff situation looks like headed into what should be a wild Sunday slate.
The Lions Lost a Game They Could Have Won, But All Is Not Lost
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For the Detroit Lions, Saturday’s loss was a gut-punch. Not only did the Lions drive the field for a late touchdown that could have tied the game, but when offensive tackle Taylor Decker caught a two-point conversion, it appeared that the Lions were going to end the Cowboys’ home winning streak and keep their chances of being the NFC’s No. 1 seed alive.
But Decker didn’t report and was flagged for illegal touching. Rather than kick an extra point and go to overtime, Lions head coach Dan Campbell went for two again…and then again after Cowboys edge-rusher Micah Parsons was caught offside.
The third time wasn’t the charm, though, and it now appears the Lions will have to hope the third seed in the NFC is. Barring some serious weirdness this week and next, that’s the position the NFC North champions will be in as they head into the postseason.
The game was the Lions’ season in a nutshell—for better or worse. Detroit ran the ball well behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. Jared Goff was great on the final drive but inconsistent overall, throwing a pair of bad interceptions. Campbell’s aggressiveness was both a blessing and curse for Detroit.
If you’re looking for a Honolulu Blue and silver lining, Detroit’s defense allowed just 20 points to a Dallas offense that has been a juggernaut at home despite allowing a career day to Dallas wideout CeeDee Lamb.
And Detroit’s postseason hopes hinge largely on how well that sometimes shaky defense holds up.
The Cowboys Keep Clinging to Hope of a Home Playoff Game
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To be clear, the odds of the Dallas Cowboys winning the NFC East and hosting a playoff game aren’t good. Dallas has to both win next week and hope that the Philadelphia Eagles fall to either the Arizona Cardinals (no) or New York Giants (probably also no).
But keeping at least the possibility alive is massive, because Dallas is a completely different team at AT&T Stadium.
The Detroit Lions actually deserve a lot of credit. Outside of CeeDee Lamb’s gonzo game, the Lions contained the Dallas offense as well as anyone has in that building this season. Dallas scored about half as many points Saturday as it usually does at home.
But after squeaking past Detroit, the Cowboys have posted the third undefeated home season in franchise history. On the road this year, Dallas is 3-5. The splits are striking in many more categories than not. Just as an example, Dak Prescott’s passer rating at home is well north of 110. On the road, it’s less than 90.
And here’s the cold, hard truth—the Cowboys will be hitting the road in the playoffs. This is shaping up to be 2022 all over again. Dallas will travel and beat an overmatched NFC South champion in the Wild Card Round. Then the Cowboys will go to San Francisco or Philadelphia and lose.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Sorry, Cowboys Nation.
NFC Playoff Race
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Had the Lions won Saturday (that Taylor Decker play will be discussed for a while), it would have shaken up the NFC playoff picture more than the Dallas win did. But here’s where the NFC stands as Week 17 gets underway in earnest.
1. San Francisco 49ers (11-4): The edict for the 49ers is simple—finish with the same (or better) record than the Eagles and Cowboys (both of whom the Niners beat head-to-head), and San Francisco will claim the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (11-4): The Eagles need a 49ers loss to claim the conference’s top seed, but provided they win out, they will claim the NFC East. Given their opponents (Arizona and at the New York Giants), that seems a likely scenario.
3. Detroit Lions (11-5): If the Eagles, 49ers and Cowboys all lose their remaining games, Dan Campbell becomes a pacifist and Detroit beats the Vikings in Week 18, the Lions could still be the NFC’s No. 1 seed. But the reality is the NFC North champions are probably locked into the third seed.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7): If the Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, it’s game over—Tampa wins the division. A tie and an Atlanta loss would also do it. If the Saints win, however, things get interesting in the league’s muddiest division.
5. Dallas Cowboys (11-5): The Cowboys still have a chance to win the NFC East if the Eagles lose one of their last two games. They could theoretically still be the NFC’s No. 1 seed if 38 things happen. But reality check time—this is where Dallas stays.
6. Los Angeles Rams (8-7): The most important thing for the Rams to do right now is win. But the team could potentially avoid a must-win Week 18 clash with the 49ers if they defeat the Giants on Sunday and the Seahawks lose to Pittsburgh.
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-7): Again, it rather goes without saying that beating the Steelers on Sunday is Seattle’s biggest priority. But even a win won’t guarantee a second straight trip to the postseason unless the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings tie in Week 17.
IN THE HUNT
8. Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
9. Green Bay Packers (7-8)
10. New Orleans Saints (7-8)
AFC Playoff Race
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Lamar JacksonLoren Elliott/Getty Images
Saturday night’s game didn’t have any impact on the AFC playoff picture. But while we’re here, we might as well update folks of how that conference looks headed into the last two weeks of the season.
1. Baltimore Ravens (12-3): Cleveland’s win over the New York Jets on Thursday puts some pressure on the Ravens in the NFC North. But with a win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Ravens lock up both the division and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
2. Miami Dolphins (11-4): A win over the Ravens would give the Dolphins both the AFC East and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Ravens for the AFC top seed. A loss could set up a winner-take-all Week 18 meeting with the Buffalo Bills for the division title.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-6): With a victory over Cincinnati, the Chiefs can secure their eighth consecutive AFC West title. The Chiefs can also win the division in Week 17 with losses by the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7): The Jaguars are reeling, but a combination of a victory over the two-win Carolina Panthers and losses by the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts would hand the Jags an AFC South title.
5. Cleveland Browns (11-5): After downing the Jets on Thursday, the Browns have more wins than any Cleveland team since they re-entered the league in 1999. The Browns still have an outside shot at the AFC North and even the AFC’s No. 1 seed. But Cleveland is likely locked into the fifth seed.
6. Buffalo Bills (9-6): Even if the Bills win Sunday against the hapless New England Patriots, the team still needs help to clinch a postseason berth in Week 17. But if Miami loses and Buffalo wins, their Week 18 showdown will determine the AFC East.
7. Indianapolis Colts (8-7): When the Colts take the field Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, it will be with precious little margin for error. There is an actually a scenario (Jacksonville wins out, Buffalo wins out, Cincinnati wins out, Pittsburgh loses at least one game) where the Colts could win out and still miss the playoffs.
IN THE HUNT
8. Houston Texans (8-7)
9. Cincinnati Bengals (8-7)
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7)