Cowboys have outside shot at playoffs with Elliott's return

Dallas Cowboys have an outside shot at making the playoffs There’s still hope for the Dallas Cowboys on their three-game winning streak, but not much of it. The return of running back Ezekiel Elliott from a six-game suspension restores Dallas’ offense to full strength, but they have a mountain to climb in the final two weeks of the regular season. In order to secure a wild card berth, the Cowboys will need to win out and get more than a little help with some of the teams in front of them.

Dallas is locked in a three-way tie on the outside of the NFC playoff picture. Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks will untangle part of that knot, but the Cowboys can’t do anything to alter the fate of the Detroit Lions, who must lose one of their final two games to open a path for Dallas. Detroit finishes its season against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals and a Green Bay Packers team without Aaron Rodgers, making a loss seem fairly unlikely, although stranger things have happened to the notoriously hard-luck Lions.

The Seahawks were a mess in last Sunday’s blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and their once-feared defense looks ripe for Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott to exploit. Dallas averages the third-most rushing yards in the NFL behind its vaunted offensive line, and the Seahawks are fresh off allowing Rams running back Todd Gurley to rush for 152 yards. If the Cowboys defeat Seattle, they will have much more to play for than their opponent in the final week of the season—the Philadelphia Eagles, who already clinched a first-round bye and won’t want to risk more injuries after losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz.

But no matter what Dallas does over the next two Sundays, its fate will rest in the hands of the NFC South, the division with three teams sitting in playoff spots: the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints, and the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons, who are a game back at 9-5, will face New Orleans and Carolina to end their season, while the Saints and the Panthers both have games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—the only NFC South team with a losing record. One of the Falcons, the Saints, or the Panthers will have to lose their final two games for the Cowboys to stand any chance of salvaging their season.