The Dallas Cowboys shocked the football world last night by shutting the door on the league’s most explosive offence and stunning the New Orleans Saints 13-10 in Arlington. They won by virtue of two things the Eagles’ haven’t had in 2018: a powerful running game and good secondary play. When outlining the Eagles’ prospective route to the playoffs, few had counted on the Cowboys being victorious against the former number one seed. The upset certainly makes the path muddier for the defending champs.
Dallas now sits pretty atop the NFC East with a long break in hand and a relatively easy remaining schedule. Their next game, when they welcome the Eagles, will likely seal the fate of both teams. The team then has match ups with the underrated Indianapolis Colts, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has tumbled back to earth after a hot start, and a floundering New York Giants team.
Following painful losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers, chances of the Eagles snagging the final wild-card spot are next-to-zilch. There is a slim chance, but both the Vikings and Panthers would have to suffer some improbable losses. One of the wild-card spots has been all but locked up by the Seattle Seahawks following an important win against the Panthers last week. They will face the struggling San Francisco 49ers twice, and while NFC West wins are more difficult than most, the safe bet is with the Seahawks.
Carolina, while having to face the Saints twice before the season is over, have two seemingly easy games coming up against the Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns, followed by a date with the Atlanta Falcons. The Vikings, on the other hand, have two rough contests against the Patriots and Seattle (a game which will more than likely decide their season), and finish the season against the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and the division leading Chicago Bears. Essentially, the Eagles would have to count on both the Vikings and Panthers losing four out of their five remaining games to secure a wild card spot, something that is just not that plausible. Therefore, the Birds’ best route to the playoffs is to win the division. A task that begins with a face off against the Redskins this Sunday.
Stealing a win from Washington will be significantly easier now that Colt McCoy is steering the ship, but it is far from guaranteed. The McCoy-led offence was still able to put up 23 points against a Dallas defence that nullified a much more potent Saints attack. The Redskins are also blessed with one of the easier remaining schedules in the league based on opponents’ records. This perhaps overlooks potentially difficult matches against stifling defences in Tennessee and Jacksonville. These games are book-ended by a game against the Giants and a second match against the Eagles’ to finish the season. This is a must win match up for the Eagles. If they lose to the Redskins this Sunday, they can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
A must-win game against the Redskins is then proceeded by an even more significant game against the Cowboys in Texas. Again, if the Eagles fail to win, it will mark the end of their playoff chances. The path is clear-cut for at least the next two weeks. After week 14 is where the track to the NFC East title becomes rife with what-ifs. There are still pretty plausible scenarios in which Washington would represent the division. Nevertheless, if Philadelphia is to be the first repeat winner of the NFCE since 2004, even the most likely synopsis is dependant on Dallas losing at least one of their remaining non-division games — even if Philadelphia beat the Cowboys in week 14. Seeing the fall of Tampa Bay transpire, along with the stellar play of the Cowboys defence, it is unlikely that loss happens against the Bucs.
This leaves the Cowboys’ week 15 contest against the Indianapolis Colts as the crux of the equation. Albeit, this reasoning is all for naught if the Eagles are able to upset the Rams in Los Angeles. In all honesty, even the most optimistic fans aren’t comfortable placing their playoff hopes on that happening. Instead, Philly fans will have to don their blue and white horseshoe gear when Indy welcomes the Cowboys. The Indianapolis offence has been humming under the tutelage of former-Eagles’ Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich, thanks to a post-injury resurgence from Andrew Luck. Despite their youth, the defence has been surreptitiously impressive as well. It is not a fool’s errand to cross one’s fingers in hopes the Colts will pull one out at home against the Cowboys.
If that is the case, the Eagles will have to win against the Houston Texans in week 16 and the Redskins in week 17. Any other scenario — apart from the Eagles unseating the Rams — would mean golf for the Birds come January. Even if Philly is to steal one from the Rams, they will still have to win both contests with the Redskins to win the division. The most plausible scenario for a playoff birth is straightforward:
Week 13: WAS @ PHI (W)
Week 14: PHI (W) @ DAL
Week 15: DAL @ IND (W)
Week 16: HOU @ PHI (W)
Week 17: PHI (W) @ WAS
All playoff calculations were done using the ESPN NFL Playoff Machine.
Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports