Over the last few weeks, the Eagles' playoff scenarios required a fair amount of explaining. This week, it's about as cut and dry as you can get. If the Eagles beat or tie the Cowboys in Dallas next Sunday night, they're in. If they lose, they're out. In that regard, it is pretty much a playoff game. For the rest of this week, let's go ahead and call it the NFC East Championship Game.
The Eagles can only have one playoff slot. It's 3 seed or bust. The current 2 seed is the Carolina Panthers, who are 11-4. At 9-6, the Eagles cannot catch them. The current 4 seed is the Bears, who sit atop the NFC North at 8-7. If the Bears were to win and the Eagles were to lose, the Eagles would hold the tiebreaker. However, a loss would keep the Eagles out of the playoffs, as noted above, which makes the NFC North irrelevant to Philly.
While the Eagles shouldn't be looking past Dallas, it's OK for the fans to take a quick peek at what lies ahead. With the 3 seed, the Eagles would face the 6 seed, which could be one of four possible opponents, in order of likelihood: Saints, 49ers, Panthers, Cardinals. Here are quick profiles of each of those four teams, with the percentages that they'll land the 6 seed via Football Outsiders.
The Saints are thought of as an explosive offense, and they certainly are on occasion, but they have struggled recently. In their last 5 games, they have averaged 16.5 points per game. By comparison, the Eagles have averaged 33.2.
The Saints have also struggled on the road recently. They have dropped 5 of their last 6 away from the Superdome.
The reason for their struggles is an offensive line that can no longer give Drew Brees adequate protection. This is not only the team most likely to face the Eagles in the first round, it also may be the most ideal scenario.
The Niners have been streaky this season. At times they've looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Other times, they've looked over-matched.
The Niners of course are all about defense. They're 4th in the NFL in pass D, 5th in run D, and 2nd overall. Chip Kelly's offense against the Niners' defense would be a tremendous matchup.
On the offensive side of the ball, Colin Kaepernick has not been as good this season as he was when he broke out in 2012. Kaepernick throws for less than 200 yards per game, and the Niners have struggled to move the ball through the air all season. That should improve with Michael Crabtree coming back from injury.
However, they do run the ball well. The Niners average 137.1 rushing yards per game, which is 5th in the NFL. Conversely, the Eagles do a better job stopping the run than they do stopping the pass, making the 49ers' offense a decent matchup for Philly's D.
The stats would indicate that the Panthers should be an average team, but they've continued to hammer out wins. For example, the Panthers average 5.1 yards per play on offense. They allow 5.0 yards per play on defense. That differential of 0.1 is barely above average. By comparison, the Eagles gain 6.4 yards per play on offense, and allow 5.4 yards per play on defense.
The Panthers do a tremendous job of getting to the QB with their front 4 on defense. Only the Rams have a DE duo with more sacks than the Panthers' unheralded tandem of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. They also have a great turnover differential of +12, which is 3rd in the NFL.
The Panthers, like the Niners, have a great defense (3rd in the NFL), but an inconsistent offense (24th). Also just like the Niners, they do a far better job running the ball (11th in the NFL) than they do throwing it (28th), which could make for yet another decent matchup for the Philly D.
The Eagles already beat the Cardinals this season. By homer fan logic, that means the Eagles have a 138% chance of beating the Cardinals every time they play for the next 10 years.
Of course, that wasn't true in 2008, when the Eagles hammered the Cards on Thanksgiving, but later lost to them in the NFC Championship Game, but let's not let the facts get in the way of optimism.
We already know what the Cardinals are: A speedy defensive team with a mistake-prone QB, two excellent big-body receivers, no running game, and a coach who likes to cry about the officials.