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Cowboys' playoff chances alive, but they have no margin for error

It won't be easy, but Jason Garrett and the Cowboys are still alive in the NFC postseason race. AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

FRISCO, Texas -- So, how do the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs?

Oh, how Jason Garrett would hate this question. He’s just worried about his team having a great Monday, never mind a great four Sundays to close the season. He wants his team to live in the now, not in the what-could-be.

Last Thursday’s victory over the Washington Redskins ended the Cowboys’ three-game losing streak, got them back to .500 and kept them in the chase. Without that win, this story would have been about 2018 draft position, playing for pride or the job security of Garrett and the coaching staff.

All of those might be in play before the Cowboys end the season Dec. 31 at the Philadelphia Eagles, but as the Cowboys begin to think about this week’s foe, the New York Giants, they can continue to dream.

For the Cowboys to make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in a decade (Bill Parcells’ final year in 2006 and Wade Phillips’ first in 2007), they almost certainly have to win out. In Garrett-speak, they need four one-game winning streaks.

Last year, the Cowboys won 11 in a row, but these Cowboys in 2017 have not won more than three in a row, which is why they find themselves on the path toward a fourth 8-8 record in Garrett’s seven seasons.

The Cowboys can get to 7-6 with a win over the 2-10 Giants, who may or may not have a new coach if Ben McAdoo is relieved of his duties and have Geno Smith at quarterback. Then they play the 6-6 Oakland Raiders on the road, which will be a difficult if not impossible contest. Imagine if the Cowboys got to 8-6 with Ezekiel Elliott returning from a six-game suspension on Christmas Eve against the Seattle Seahawks. Ending the season at Philadelphia will be rough, but will the Eagles be playing for anything in Week 17? They might be like the Cowboys last year, just looking to get out of the regular season without any key injuries with home-field advantage in the playoffs.

So 10-6 doesn’t seem that impossible, right?

The Cowboys have never missed the playoffs when winning 10 games. Unfortunately, 10 wins might not be enough to get to the playoffs. They will likely need some help to get to the postseason.

The Cowboys are 10th in the NFC with four games to go and two games out of a wild-card spot. Sunday wasn’t an altogether bad day for the Cowboys’ wild-card hopes, but it could have been better.

The Detroit Lions lost to the Baltimore Ravens, and quarterback Matthew Stafford hurt his hand. The Atlanta Falcons lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings. The Carolina Panthers lost to the New Orleans Saints.

It is in the Cowboys’ best interest that the Saints pull away in the NFC South and sweep the Falcons, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cowboys. The Panthers (8-4) play the Vikings next week and then could see Aaron Rodgers’ return to the Green Bay Packers’ lineup on Dec. 17.

The Cowboys’ Sunday would have been a lot better had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Rodgers-less Packers since Green Bay owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Sunday ended badly for the Cowboys, too, thanks to the Eagles.

The Cowboys were rooting hard for the Eagles against the Seahawks, and since that might be some sort of sacrilege, it’s no wonder their NFC East rivals could not come through for them.

Yeah, Philadelphia’s loss prevented the Eagles from clinching the division, but it pushed the Seahawks further ahead in the wild-card chase. Now the Cowboys almost have to see Seattle lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams before they travel to AT&T Stadium on Dec. 24. That’s not impossible, but the Seahawks’ confidence should skyrocket after beating the best team in the NFC.

With four games to play, the Cowboys are still alive, maybe barely, but they are still alive.