Each week, ESPN Stats & Information breaks down and sends us the updated NFL playoff picture. From this week's update, we learn that no NFC East team can clinch a playoff spot in Week 16. We already knew that any of the three currently tied for first place -- the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants -- can still win the division, and we talked a lot last night on Twitter about wild-card possibilities.
Basically, any of those three teams that wins its final two games will make the playoffs. Because the Redskins and the Cowboys play each other in Week 17, they cannot both go 2-0 from here out. But if one of them does, it will be the NFC East champion, regardless of what the Giants do. If the Giants go 2-0 the rest of the way, they will reach the playoffs, either as the wild-card team or, if the Cowboys and Redskins each go 1-1, as the division champ.
If the Giants lose to the Ravens next week, that makes the Dec. 30 game between the Cowboys and Redskins in Landover, Md., the NFC East title game (and likely that week's prime-time "flex" game).
There are scenarios under which the Redskins and Cowboys could be wild-card teams, and under which the Giants could be a wild-card team even if they go 1-1. There's even a scenario in which all three teams reach the playoffs -- if all three win next week, the Cowboys and Giants win in Week 17, the Seahawks go 0-2 the rest of the way and neither the Bears nor the Vikings go 2-0. There are still many scenarios, and you can play out any number of them with the ESPN Playoff Machine.
But here are the basics, in terms of the division race only, per that early Monday morning ESPN Stats & Information update:
Redskins win the NFC East if:
-Redskins win their last two games OR
-Redskins beat Cowboys in Week 17 and Giants lose in Week 16 or 17.
Cowboys win the NFC East if:
-Cowboys win their last two games OR
-Cowboys beat Redskins in Week 17 and Giants lose in Week 16 or 17.
Giants win the NFC East if:
-Giants win their last two games AND
-The team that wins the Week 17 Redskins-Cowboys game loses in Week 16
So the Giants, who won the division last year on their way to a Super Bowl title and who had three more wins than anyone else in the division on Nov. 1, are the team that needs help to win it this year. The other two control their own destinies.
I hope that helps, and I'm sure we'll discuss this much more in the coming days and weeks.