The Dallas Cowboys entered Week 15 as the 4th seed in the NFC. In shocking fashion, they will finish it with the 2nd seed in the conference and a 10-4 record. While the win against the New York Giants was expected, it was the other results in the conference that made it possible.

How did we get here? And more importantly, will the Cowboys be able to stick to that position? Oddly enough, they might be doomed to cost themselves the number two seed. Let’s break it down.

Cowboys, Bucs, and the need for a third-wheel

The Arizona Cardinals weren’t supposed to lose to the Detroit Lions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t supposed to lose to the New Orleans Saints, let alone go scoreless against them. Yet both did, and suddenly, this is how the Top 4 looks like in the NFC:

  1. GB Packers (11-3)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)
  4. Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

The first question popping into many fans’ minds right now is “Wait, but didn’t the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Bucs? If so, shouldn’t Tampa Bay rank higher?”

Well, this is where things get interesting. As long as there’s a triple tie in the conference, the head-to-head will not matter for the Cowboys and Bucs. Instead, it will be about the conference record. The Cowboys are 8-1 vs the conference so far and have a strong lead on the Bucs and the Cardinals.

Unfortunately, the Dallas Cowboys are set to play the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17. Even if they win out, they could be their own undoing by breaking the triple tie with Arizona. Even by winning, it’s likely the Cowboys drop one spot in the NFC.

What should Dallas Cowboys fans be rooting for beyond their own team winning?

Basically, what the Cowboys want to avoid is a two-team tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team needs a “third-wheel” in order to force the conference record to be the tie-breaker and hold the edge. 

Since we’re discussing how the Dallas Cowboys can hold on to the 2nd seed of the NFC, let’s assume they get their job done and win out. Otherwise, it’d be close to impossible to finish at such a spot.

How can that triple tie happen? There are plenty of combinations, but let’s discuss some of the most likely.

Tampa Bay’s next three games are at Panthers, vs Jets, vs Panthers. By now we should acknowledge anything can happen in the NFL, but it’s fair to favor them in all of those three games. Chances are, the Bucs finish 13-4.

If the Cowboys win out, the Cardinals would at best be a 13-5, ruling them out of a potential triple tie if the Bucs also win out.

This brings us to the Green Bay Packers! Could they force a 13-4 triple tie? Or even better, could they be the key to the Cowboys getting 1st seed in the NFC?

How a Packers loss could get the Cowboys the #1 seed in the NFC

If the Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win out, they’d be tied at 13-4. If the Green Bay Packers win out, they’d be #1 at 14-3. But a loss would put them at 13-4 and the Cowboys would have the best conference record, giving them the #1 seed in the conference!

The Packers still have some tough games, even though they should be favored in all of them. But they’re set to host the Cleveland Browns (playing in a short week), then they get the Minnesota Vikings at home, before traveling to face the Detroit Lions.

It’s likely the Vikings, a team that seems to have the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows could have the best shot at beating the Packers in that stretch.

Could the Rams end up helping out?

Finally, I wanted to take a look at the L.A. Rams because they play an interesting role in all of this. If the Rams manage to settle in and be the same team they were at the beginning of the season, they’re a legit threat in the NFC. They still have four tough opponents ahead of them, since they haven’t played their Week 15 game.

They still have games vs Seahawks, at Vikings, at Ravens, vs 49ers.

Oof. It will be tough, but if the Rams manage to win out, the Dallas Cowboys could benefit from them going 13-4 because it could be yet another triple-tie in the conference. And as you already know, triple-ties are good for the Cowboys thanks to their NFC-best conference record.

Featured image via Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com/USA TODAY NETWORK