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NFC East Notebook: Playoff chances for Dallas, Washington and Philly as COVID-19 outbreak impacts schedule

Here are the major headlines from around the division from this past week

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While the top spot in the division is more or less secured by the 9-4 Dallas Cowboys, there is still a race in the NFC East.

With four games left to play, the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles are tied at 6-7.

Entering Week 15, there are seven teams in the league that have the chance to clinch a playoff spot and the Cowboys are one of them. Let’s take a closer look at the playoff chances of all three teams. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) indicates each team’s percentage chance to make the postseason.

Dallas Cowboys (9-4)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.9 percent

FPI chances to win division: 97.6 percent

Remaining games: at Giants, vs. Washington, vs. Cardinals, at Eagles

Dallas clinches NFC East division title with:

  1. Cowboys win AND Eagles/Washington tie OR
  2. Cowboys win AND Washington loss AND Cowboys clinch the strength-of-victory tiebreaker over Eagles

Dallas clinches playoff berth with:

  1. Cowboys win AND Saints loss or tie OR
  2. Cowboys win AND 49ers loss OR
  3. Cowboys tie AND Vikings loss or tie AND Saints loss or tie AND Falcons loss or tie OR
  4. Vikings loss AND Falcons loss AND Saints loss AND Eagles/Washington tie OR
  5. Vikings loss AND Falcons loss AND Saints loss AND Cowboys clinch strength-of-victory tiebreaker over Eagles

Entering the 2021 season, the Cowboys’ offense was set to be a clear strength, while the hope was for the defense to play well enough to keep the team competitive. In recent weeks though, the offense has fallen short and the defense has proved to be the difference-maker.

Last week against the Washington Football Team, Dak Prescott had all three of his top targets available for the first time in a long time and yet, he finished 22 of 39 for 211 yards and two interceptions.

Over the first six weeks of the season, Dallas’ offense recorded over 460 yards per game. In the past six weeks, the offense did not top 350 yards on three separate occasions. Against Washington, Dallas had 323 offensive yards and finished 1 of 6 in the red zone.

Meanwhile, the defense had five sacks and forced four turnovers for the second straight game.

If the Cowboys’ offense can get back to its first-half of season form, then Dallas would be on the precipice of being balanced on both sides of the ball - a feat that seemed nearly impossible just one year ago when the Cowboys defense was one of the worst in the league. That balance could be what drives the Cowboys not only to the division crown but deeper into the playoffs.

Washington Football Team (6-7)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 24.2 percent

FPI chances to win division: 1.6 percent

COVID-19 has seemingly taken over the NFL this week and the Football Team is no exception. The NFL reached a single-day high of 37 positive tests among players on Monday. As of Tuesday, the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list has expanded to include almost 100 players.

Entering Friday, the Washington Football Team had at least 21 players on the reserve/COVID-19. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke was one of the latest additions. Of the 21 players, 11 were possible starters.

The NFL has moved Washington’s game against the Eagles to Tuesday at 7 p.m.

In addition to the players who will be out because of COVID-19 positive tests, Washington has 13 players on injured reserve (two are on both lists). These are certainly not the circumstances in which Washington wants to find itself heading into a crucial game against the Eagles. On the defensive line alone, the Football Team’s biggest strength, five of six linemen are on the COVID-19 list.

On the offensive side of the ball, Washington has only two healthy tight ends on the roster: Ricky Seals-Jones and John Bates. Other key offensive players, Terry McLaurin and J.D. McKissic are in the concussion protocol.

Head coach Ron Rivera, who battled cancer last year, said that he has received his booster and wears a mask in a crowd or around other people.

“Nobody expected this [Omicron] variant,” Rivera said. “Because it’s spreading so quickly around the league right now, that almost feels like a matter of time. I don’t think anybody expected it to be like this. Our thought might be that guys that hadn’t gotten vaccinated might have come down with it at some point or another, not that it would be a crossover.”

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 32.9 percent (best among NFC’s 6-7 teams)

While moving Sunday’s game benefits Washington, it hurts the Eagles. Washington has 21 players out due to COVID-19 while as of Friday, the Eagles had only one player from their 53-man roster on the reserve/COVID-19 list - wide receiver Quez Watkins.

In fact, through the first 14 weeks of the regular season, the Eagles had only two players miss time due to COVID-19: backup guard Sua Opeta missed two games and tight end Dallas Goedert missed one.

While Washington is not guaranteed to play better on Tuesday than it would have on Sunday, the chances are certainly higher as players will have more time to get healthy and hopefully get back on the field.

Not only will this moved game throw off the Eagles’ schedule for this week, but it will force them to play a crucial (for them) game against the Giants on a much shorter week in Week 16.

Eagles’ players are not happy about the schedule change.

But, on the other hand, starting QB Jalen Hurts has been nursing an ankle injury and was expected to be a game-time decision for Sunday. Pushing the game back to Tuesday gives Hurts more time to heal. And as far as the short week, the Giants’ 4-9 record is hardly something to worry about it.

All four of the Eagles’ remaining games are against division opponents. As Philly battles with Washington for a wild card spot, every game has postseason implications.