There are varying schools of thought as to whether the Eagles should play their starters or sit them for their season-ending matchup against Dallas. Regardless of how they approach this situation, the biggest development from Week 18 from the Eagles’ perspective is that it will clarify whom they are going to face in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.
According to the site NFL Playoff Scenarios, there are 32 ways the NFC playoff picture could develop (assuming no tie games occur), but from the Eagles perspective it goes like this.
If the Eagles win and Tampa Bay triumphs at home over Carolina, a 5-11 team that has lost six straight, including a 32-6 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 16, it’s an Eagles-Buccaneers Round 1 matchup no matter what else happens this weekend.
If Dallas wins and Tampa Bay wins, it’s still overwhelmingly likely that the Eagles will face the Buccaneers, as only a Rams win over San Francisco and an Atlanta upset win over New Orleans would force an Eagles-Rams matchup.
If the Eagles win and Carolina pulls off the upset, the Eagles will still face Tampa Bay if the Rams defeat San Francisco. If the 49ers win that matchup, then the Eagles will face either the Rams (if Seattle beats Arizona) or Arizona (if the Cardinals defeat the Seahawks).
If Dallas wins and Carolina gets the upset, then things really get mixed up, as the eight remaining scenarios would be evenly divided between matchups against the Rams, Buccaneers, Cowboys, or Cardinals.
Since getting the right matchup can make all the difference between going far in the playoffs or going home early, which of these potential opponents should Eagles fans be hoping for? Let’s take a closer look at these possible opening-round foes to find out, starting with the most likely opponent (Tampa Bay) and moving down the list according to the likelihood of facing that team.
(Note: The power score uses a variety of metric measurements to weigh how well a team is playing at this moment on a 1-100 scale, with 100 being the best. The ranking is how the team places leaguewide in this category.)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Power score/ranking: 86, 9th
Is the opponent in 20 out of the 32 possible opening-round scenarios
The Buccaneers had the best rush defense in the league in 2020, but that hasn’t been the case this season, as Tampa Bay has allowed 120-plus rushing yards in five of the last 10 games. The problem for the Eagles with this potential matchup is the Buccaneers are very good in shootouts, as they are 5-2 in games when each team scores 24 or more points. Tampa Bay also nearly made it 6-2 in shootouts in a 28-22 win over the Eagles in Week 6. This is an issue for Nick Sirianni’s club because the Eagles are 1-2 in shootouts this season and 0-3 in near shootouts (games when one team scored 24-plus points and the other team scored between 20-23 points). The Buccaneers secondary is getting healthier, but Tampa Bay has posted only four takeaways in the last five games, so the ball hawking has yet to return to this group.
Los Angeles Rams
Power score/ranking: 90, 6th
Is the opponent in six of the 32 possible opening-round scenarios
The Rams are trending upward, as they have won five straight contests after a midseason three-game losing streak. Los Angeles is 2-1 in shootouts and 3-0 in near shootouts, so the Eagles would again face the issue of getting into a type of high-scoring matchup that they don’t fare well in. The Rams rush defense allowed 100-plus rushing yards in three of its first four games but has allowed only 100-plus yards four times since then. A saving grace could be that Matthew Stafford frequently take too many risks, which is why the Rams have posted three giveaways in each of the last two games and 2-plus giveaways in five of the last eight contests.
Power score/ranking: 55, 21st
Is the opponent in four of the 32 possible opening-round scenarios
Arizona started the season 7-0 but has gone 4-5 since then and is 1-3 in its last four. Part of the problem is a lack of takeaways, as the Cardinals have posted only two takeaways in those last four contests. Arizona’s offense hasn’t been anywhere its impactful early season form, as the Cardinals have scored 16 or fewer points in three of their last seven games and outside of a 33-point outburst in against a COVID-depleted Chicago squad in Week 13, Arizona hasn’t scored more than 25 points in that time frame. The Cardinals are 1-0 in shootouts this season and 3-2 in near shootouts, so this matchup would give the Eagles a foe that dislikes high-scoring games. Arizona has allowed 112 or more rushing yards in nine games this year, including three of the last five, so the Eagles ground game might be able to get up to full speed in this matchup.
Power score/ranking: 97, 3rd
Is the opponent in two of the 32 possible opening-round scenarios
The Cowboys are 2-2 in shootouts this season and 3-1 in near shootouts, so that would not bode well for the Eagles. Dallas has allowed 100+ rushing yards in 10 of the last 11 games, so the Eagles’ ground game would have favorable conditions. The Cowboys are boom or bust in takeaways, as they have posted 12 games with two or more takeaways and four games with zero. That factor weighs heavily on if Dallas wins or loses, as the Cowboys are 1-3 in the games with zero takeaways and 10-2 in the contests with 2-plus takeaways.
After looking these over, it seems that the Cardinals would likely be the most favorable matchup for the Eagles in Round 1, but the Buccaneers’ recent struggles and slew of offensive injuries and departures may make Tampa Bay the second-best matchup among this quartet.
Here is this week’s gambling 10-pack, a section that reviews some of the top gambling, fantasy, and DFS plays for NFL games in Week 18 (odds per BetMGM).
1. Steve Jobs once said that motivations matter a lot in determining success, as negative motivations can drive the wrong type of behaviors. That’s a good thing to keep in mind in the world of Week 18 football wagers, as some teams remain strongly motivated to play well regardless of circumstances, while others seem more interested in going home as soon as possible. Do not consider placing a bet on a team that even suggests of an inkling of wanting to mail it in.
2. Most fantasy leagues have their title games in Week 17, but if you are in a fantasy championship in Week 18, there is a change of philosophy compared to earlier playoff weeks. It’s usually a good idea to try to play as many high-ceiling players as you can in the fantasy playoffs because of the inherent strength of playoff foes, but the potential downside of limited playing time or a lack of strong motivation means that this a week to aim for high floors as much as possible.
3. It might seem daunting to pick the Colts to cover at -15.5 over the Jaguars since Indianapolis hasn’t won in Jacksonville since 2014, but this Jaguars club is easily the worst in the league, as they have been at the bottom of the power rankings for each of the six weeks that those rankings have been compiled. The Colts also need this win to secure a playoff berth and thus won’t take their foot off the gas even if they get out to a lead, so go with them despite the more than two touchdown spread.
4. Why aren’t the Buccaneers more highly favored over Carolina this week? A -7.5 line just doesn’t seem to be enough given how bad the Panthers are. Tampa Bay has defeated Carolina by 14+ points in three straight games and there is little reason to think that trend stops on Sunday, so go with the Buccaneers at -7.5.
5. The Packers are a risky wager at +175 to win the NFC. Green Bay lost to Minnesota in Week 11, barely defeated a banged-up Baltimore team by a single point in Week 15, and only topped Cleveland by two points in Week 16. The Packers also gave up 499 rushing yards in Weeks 14-16, a streak that only stopped because they face a Vikings offense with Sean Mannion under center. It would only take two wins for Green Bay to be victorious in that bet, but the Packers have every bit the look of a flawed No. 1 seed. The Buccaneers (+320), Rams (+450), or Cowboys (+600) look to have much better risk/reward built in for that conference winning wager.
6. A good specials best is the +180 mark for the single season sack record to be broken this weekend. T.J. Watt currently has 21.5 sacks and needs 1.5 sacks to break the record of 22.5 held by Michael Strahan. The Ravens rank last in the league in sacks allowed and just gave up five sacks last week, so Watt has an excellent chance of setting a new record.
7. The Broncos have scored 13 or fewer points in every game since Week 13 sans the Week 14 matchup against a COVID-ravaged Detroit defense. Kansas City has given up 28 or more points in two of the past three weeks, but those occurred against the Chargers and Bengals powerhouse offenses. Take those contests out and the Chiefs have allowed 10 or fewer points in four straight games. Merge those trends and this has the look of a shutdown day for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, so take Kansas City at -10 in a game they need to win to have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
8. The Jets have scored 74 points over the past three weeks and 24+ points in each of those games. They have done this despite two of those matchups being against teams with quality defenses (Miami and Tampa Bay). Buffalo has allowed 14+ points in five straight games and seven of their last eight, so it’s not tough to project the Jets to score at least 20 points. If they do that, the Bills will have to score 37 points to cover the -16.5-point spread. They did that against the Jets in Week 10, but that’s the only time Buffalo has scored that many points since Week 5 and it took a season-high five giveaways by the Jets to push Buffalo to that level. The Jets have posted one or zero giveaways in every game since then, so that scenario isn’t likely to play out again, which means it’s a good idea to take them +16.5 in this one.
9. Russell Wilson racked up 27.84 points in DraftKings leagues last week while destroying an overmatched Detroit secondary. The Cardinals have been awful against deep passes of late, allowing five touchdowns in the past four games on aerials at that route depth level, so look for Wilson to once again be a relative bargain upside play at his $6,300 salary.
10. The Chargers are on an offensive roll right now, as they have racked up 28+ points in five straight games. The Raiders defense looks better of late at first glance, but those numbers have been posted against subpar offenses (Washington, Cleveland, and Denver). That trend should stop in this matchup and since Las Vegas has posted 17 or fewer points seven of the past nine games and scored more than 23 points only once in that span, the Chargers are a good play at -3.