The Eagles’ playoff chances rest on their chances of winning the NFC East, and their chances of winning the NFC East rest on their chances of beating the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16.
Well. Kind of.
The most conclusive thing that we can say is that this is a big weekend for Bird watchers, even though the Eagles themselves are on their bye. Six of the eight teams that are ahead of them in the NFC playoff standings will square off against one another in Week 10, with the Panthers facing the Packers, the Cowboys hosting the Vikings, and the 49ers hosting the Seahawks.
In fact, of the 61 games remaining on the schedules of those eight teams, a whopping 28 of them will come against one of the others. Barring a tie, that’s 28 losses automatically built into a group that enters Week 10 with a combined record of 50-17. Another six games will feature an AFC opponent that enters Week 10 with a record of at least 5-3.
The Eagles, on the other hand, will play four of their remaining seven games against teams that are a combined 4-22. All three of the other games are at home, although each is eminently losable. The Patriots need no introduction, while the Seahawks are 6-1 in East Coast games over the last three seasons, and the Cowboys are 2-1 at Lincoln Financial Field in Doug Pederson’s tenure as head coach.
Of particular import this weekend are the games between the Vikings and Cowboys, and 49ers and Seahawks.
First, though, let’s take a look at the remaining schedules and make some assumptions.
1) The road to Miami will run through New Orleans
The standings say that the 49ers are the leader of the pack, but that means about as much as it does at Belmont. San Francisco has spent the first half of the season feasting on more cake than an alleycat on Fat Tuesday. Their eight wins have come against teams with a combined record of 22-43-1, with half coming against teams with two or fewer wins.
They have a couple of “gimmes” remaining against the Cardinals and Falcons, both at home. But their six other opponents have a combined record of 39-12: home against Seattle, home against Green Bay, at Baltimore, at New Orleans, home against the Rams, and at Seattle. We’re going to find out a lot about the Niners in the near future.
Conversely, the Saints still have two games against the Falcons and a home game against the Panthers. History suggests that road games in Tampa, Tennessee, and Carolina aren’t automatic wins. But the Saints are already 3-1 on the road this season with wins in Seattle, Chicago, and Jacksonville.
Their two biggest games remaining are both at home: against the Niners in Week 14 and the Colts in Week 15. If you project them to beat the Niners, you’d project them with 11 wins before taking into account the home game against the Colts and road games against the Bucs, Titans, and Panthers.
Me? I’ve got them at 13-3 and either tied with or finishing a game ahead of the 13-3 or 12-4 Niners (losses at Baltimore, at New Orleans, at Seattle, and perhaps one other). A tie is a win for the Saints, given the head-to-head result.
2) The Packers and Niners will likely be playing for the second seed in the playoffs when they meet in San Francisco in Week 12.
It’s hard to see Aaron Rodgers losing at home to Kyle Allen or Mitch Trubisky or anywhere to Pat Shurmur and a Giants defense that can’t seem to stay in the same TV frame as opposing receivers. The Redskins aren’t even worth mentioning as a potential loss, which would give the Packers 11 wins even before we even consider the outcomes of their final trio of road games.
Green Bay will be coming off a bye before its game in San Francisco. A win would go a long way toward a playoff game at Lambeau.
I’ve got the Vikings’ over-under at 10.5 wins, with victories over the Broncos, Bears, and Lions. Minnesota has beat up on teams at home but is 2-3 on the road, and games at Dallas, Seattle, and the Chargers are all potential losses.
3) The Rams’ end-of-season schedule increases the likelihood that it is division-or-bust for the Eagles.
They might not look like the wood-chipper they were a year ago, but the Rams are 5-3 with games remaining against the Steelers (road), Bears (home), Cardinals (road), and Cardinals (home). If all four of those are wins, their path to 11-5 leaves them needing to take two of the following 50-50 games: Baltimore (home), Seattle (home), Dallas (road), San Francisco (road).
4) You should be rooting for the Vikings against the Cowboys on Sunday night, but a Dallas win would enhance the Eagles’ wild-card chances. And, whatever happens, all mayhem could break loose in Week 17.
Let’s say the Vikings lose to the Cowboys this week and in Seattle in Week 13. And let’s say the Eagles beat the Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 12. And let’s say the Seahawks also lose this week in San Francisco and in Week 14 on the road against the Rams.
That would leave both Minnesota and Seattle with five losses, with the following games yet to be accounted for: Vikings vs. Packers, Vikings at Chargers, Seahawks at Panthers, Seahawks vs. Niners. That eminently plausible scenario would raise the possibility of the Eagles, Vikings, and Seahawks all finishing at 10-6, with a round-robin of head-to-head wins, and each team owning a 7-5 conference record.
That would leave us with a wild-card tiebreaker of record against common opponents, except the rules stipulate that the teams must have a minimum of four common games. The Eagles and Seahawks have only three. That would move the tiebreaker to strength of victory and well beyond the mental capabilities of yours truly.
The division picture could be just as convoluted. If the Eagles and Cowboys both lose to the Patriots, and the Eagles beat the Cowboys, and both teams win the remainder of their games, they would be tied at 11-5 overall, and 5-1 in the division, and 5-3 against common opponents (Eagles losses: Lions, Vikings, Patriots; Cowboys losses: Jets, Packers, Patriots).
In that scenario, the Cowboys would win the division based on a 9-3 conference record compared with the Eagles’ 8-4. A Cowboys loss to the Vikings, Lions, Bills or Bears (along with the Patriots) would dramatically change that calculus. In that event, the Eagles could lose to the Patriots and Seahawks, beat the Cowboys, finish tied with Dallas at 10-6, and win the tiebreaker based on a superior record against common opponents (the Cowboys do not play the Seahawks).
If Dallas loses to the Patriots, Rams, and Eagles and the Eagles lose to the Patriots and Seahawks, the Cowboys win the 10-6 tiebreaker by virtue of conference record.
In short, we’ll know a lot more about the Eagles’ road after the Seahawks-Niners and Cowboys-Vikings this weekend. And we still won’t know much at all.