The No. 2 seed in the NFC and the playoff bye that comes with it look even more important Tuesday morning as the Eagles prepare for a compressed final week of the regular season.
With games on Tuesday night and Sunday, the Eagles would have a third within 12 or 13 days if they finish as the NFC's third seed and play in the wild-card round on either Jan. 8 or 9.
And while the Minnesota Vikings (Tuesday) and Dallas Cowboys (Sunday) are soft opponents, the Eagles would meet stiffer competition in the first round a week after facing this compressed schedule.
"We've had Monday games, Sunday night games, we had a Thursday game, so we've been through a lot of this already, and that will help us," head coach Andy Reid told a pool reporter Sunday. "We'll be fine."
Of course, the Eagles don't have control over whether they can get a bye beyond the first round. To get the second seed, they have to win both their remaining games and hope the Bears lose to the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday.
Reid wasn't available to reporters Monday, but he does have recent experience with short weeks. Between a Monday night game Nov. 15 and a Thursday nighter Dec. 2, the Eagles played four games in 18 days, and emerged 3-1.
That rugged slate, though, was set from the start of the season and Reid was able to plan ahead. With a Thursday game against the Texans, coaches scouted Houston in advance so that some of the work was done before the short week arrived.
Despite this unexpected short work week, there are several factors helping the Eagles. Most significantly, they don't have to travel this week and will stay home if they have to play in the wild-card round. That saves game-planning time and wear-and-tear on the players.
Then there is the competition. The Vikings and Cowboys are both out of contention and have lost their starting quarterbacks. On Tuesday, the Eagles are almost certain to face the Vikings' third-string quarterback, Joe Webb, a rookie who has never started a game. On Sunday, they might face another third-string, first-time starter, Stephen McGee, because Cowboys backup Jon Kitna is dealing with an injured oblique and starter Tony Romo was lost to injury long ago.
And while the Eagles won't have the normal time to prepare for Dallas, they should be familiar with the Cowboys, having played them Dec. 12.
One final scheduling quirk: The Eagles and Bears games were both moved to 4:15 p.m. Sunday. That means that if the Eagles beat the Vikings, they'll have no way of knowing if their game against the Cowboys has huge implications - in case the Bears lose - or none at all, because a Chicago win would almost certainly lock the Birds into the No. 3 seed. Reid will have to play his starters, rather than having the possibility of resting them, just in case the Bears fall and open the door to a playoff bye.
Potential Wild-Card Opponents
If the Eagles finish as the No. 3 seed, there are three teams they might face in the first round. Here's a ranking of the potential matchups, from most threatening to least:
Green Bay already beat the Eagles once this year and the Packers have looked formidable when quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy.
The Bucs are a nice story, but they have been inconsistent recently. Josh Freeman has played well, but he's a second-year quarterback with no playoff experience.
A week ago, New York seemed like a dangerous playoff foe. After all, could the Eagles beat the same team three times in a year, after two nail-biting wins? But the Giants looked completely lost Sunday in a game they had to have.
- Jonathan TamariEndText