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Draft position, Spags and playoffs

I've received many of the same Eagles-related questions in the past couple weeks via e-mail, Twitter and the comments section.

So, rather than respond to each individually, I thought I'd run through them in this space.

With the Giants and Cowboys losses, is it still possible for the Birds to win the NFC East? And who should Eagles fans be rooting for when the Giants play the Cowboys, if we want to help the Eagles chances?

It's pretty simple. Three things need to happen for the Eagles to win the NFC East:

1. The Eagles need to finish 4-0. They are at the Dolphins, home against the Jets, at the Cowboys and home against the Redskins.

2. The Giants need to finish 2-2 (or worse), and one of their wins need to be against the Cowboys. In between those matchups (Weeks 14 and 17), the Giants host the Redskins and face the Jets.

3. The Cowboys need to go 1-3 (or worse). Aside from the two games against the Giants, Dallas travels to Tampa and hosts the Eagles in its other two games.

Unlikely? Absolutely. Impossible? No. But keep in mind that the Eagles have won back-to-back games just once all season, and they'd have to win four straight in this scenario.

If you're wondering about the wild card, it's not going to happen. The Eagles would need to leap all but one of the following teams: the Giants (6-6), Bears (7-5), Lions (7-5), Falcons (7-5), Seahawks (5-7) and Cardinals (5-7). The Panthers (4-8), Bucs (4-8) and Redskin (4-8) have the same record as the Birds.

What pick are the Eagles looking at in the first round? Which positions are priorities?

If the season ended today, the Eagles would have the sixth pick in the first round and three picks in the top 47 (6, 37 and 47). Remember, in addition to their own picks, the Eagles get the Cardinals' second-rounder from the Kevin Kolb deal.

Currently, only four teams - the Colts (0-12), Vikings (2-10), Rams (2-10) and Jaguars (3-9) - have worse records than the Eagles (4-8). The Birds are tied with five other teams - the Dolphins, Browns, Redskins, Panthers and Bucs. The tiebreak is strength of schedule. In other words, the team with the weakest strength of schedule gets the higher pick.

While it's important to see how the final four games play out, the Eagles are going to have a lot of options with their early picks. If they like one of the top quarterbacks on the board - USC's Matt Barkley, Baylor's Robert Griffin III - they could go that route. Yes, they just signed Michael Vick to an extension, but they could cut ties with him after 2012 or 2013, giving the new quarterback time to learn behind him.

Of course, considering how well Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have played this year, maybe waiting isn't as necessary as it was in the past.

Wide receiver would also be an option if DeSean Jackson doesn't return. The top prospects on the board include Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.

Or they could settle on the best defensive player. Linebacker is the most glaring hole, although history tells us they're unlikely to go that route in the first round. Cornerback or safety could be options; defensive line too.

Really, the only positions to rule out are running back and tight end. They are in good shape along the offensive line, although if Evan Mathis doesn't return, that would potentially open up a spot at left guard. Given how well Mathis has played the season, it makes sense for the Eagles to try and re-sign him.

If they fire Juan Castillo, would the Eagles target Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator?

The first question that needs to be answered is: Will the Eagles fire Castillo? I have a hard time seeing how Castillo and Andy Reid could both return in their same roles next season. If Reid stays, my guess is Castillo is gone. But again, we have to see how the final four games play out.

The second question is: Are the Rams going to fire Spagnuolo? St. Louis went 1-15 in his first season, but looked like a team on the rise after finishing 7-9 in 2010. However, they are just 2-10 so far this year.

Here's what Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about the Rams' coaching staff after their 26-0 loss to the 49ers last week:

The Rams never had a chance in this game. Their defense showed some pride while keeping the game close for a while, but their offense was totally overmatched. This staff has no tactical or motivational answers at this point in an exasperating season. The 2-10 Rams are circling the drain and their coaches can't stop the downward spiral.

So, while nothing is set in stone, Spagnuolo is 10-34 in three seasons, and no one would be surprised if he were let go.

I think it would make sense for the Eagles to take a serious look at Spagnuolo if the opportunity presented itself. He spent eight years here as a defensive assistant and has defensive coordinator experience from two seasons with the Giants. Reid needs someone he can just hand the defense over to and not have to worry about it.

But it'd be interesting to see how Spagnulo's defensive philosophy fit with defensive line coach Jim Washburn. The Rams have been a heavy zone-blitzing team with Spagnuolo. Under Washburn, the defensive linemen are rarely asked to drop back into coverage. In 2009, Spagnulo's last year with the Giants, they were a heavy blitzing team. The Eagles, of course, have tended to rely on getting pressure from their front four this season.

I'm not saying it wouldn't work, but the Eagles need to have a firm defensive philosophy in place before deciding what personnel changes to make this offseason. Hopefully they learned that this year, implementing the wide-nine without upgrading at linebacker.

And keep in mind, while Spagnuolo has not had a great run as the Rams head coach, if he's fired, he'll likely have many options to choose from before deciding where to take his career next.

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