The Falcons' loss Sunday might open the playoff door for ... yes, the Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t play on Sunday, and they had a wonderful day.

The Atlanta Falcons’ 14-9 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings gives the Cowboys a lot more hope for a playoff spot than they had just a few days ago. The Cowboys, who looked totally finished after three straight blowout losses, beat the Washington Redskins on Thursday night. Then the Cowboys got even better news as they watched games Sunday.

The Cowboys aren’t in the driver’s seat for a wild-card spot at 6-6, but their chances look a lot better. They were looking at being two games and the tiebreaker (due to a head-to-head loss) down to the Falcons with four weeks to go, had Atlanta won at home against Minnesota. That would have been a practically impossible task. Instead, the 7-5 Falcons are just a game ahead of Dallas after Sunday. The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers also entered Sunday’s games each at 8-3, three games in the loss column ahead of Dallas. The loser of the Saints-Panthers game Sunday would still be the NFL’s top wild-card team after Week 13.

But the Falcons’ stumble gives the Cowboys a lot more hope. Even though Atlanta still has the lead, the Falcons also have a very tough remaining schedule. They still have to play the Saints twice, at the Buccaneers and host the Panthers in Week 17. It won’t be easy for a Falcons team that struggled to move the ball against the Vikings to run the table against that schedule. Meanwhile the Cowboys play at the Eli Manning-less New York Giants and at the disappointing Oakland Raiders, then get Ezekiel Elliott back off suspension for games against the banged-up Seattle Seahawks at home and then play in Week 17 at a Philadelphia Eagles team that could have the NFC’s top seed wrapped up.

With one Vikings win, the Cowboys’ path to the playoffs went from a long shot to a tough but possible challenge.

It would be quite a disappointment if the Falcons don’t make the playoffs, but with that remaining schedule it’s looking like a stronger possibility. Atlanta spent the first half of the season dealing with a Super Bowl hangover, but seemed to be emerging from it during a three-game winning streak. The problem, however, was their 4-4 start eliminated most of their margin for error. They can’t afford many more stumbles, and have a brutal remaining schedule.

The Falcons and Cowboys were the top two seeds in the NFC last season. With four weeks left this season, it looks like those two teams could be fighting for the final playoff spot in the conference.

Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (L) runs past Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones (R) during Minnesota’s win Sunday. (AP)
Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (L) runs past Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones (R) during Minnesota’s win Sunday. (AP)

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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