Warning: the following is for only the most optimistic Eagles fans. If you are a realist, pessimist, or struggle getting over heartbreak after getting your hopes up, this article will do you more harm than good.
The Philadelphia Eagles suffered an absolutely agonising overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys this past Sunday. For a game with playoff implications on the line, it definitely had the requisite back-and-forth, if not the execution or skill-full game-play. Cornerback Rasul Douglas played his heart out all game and made plenty of plays — leading the team in tackles and forcing an interception on a fantastic individual effort — but could not make the last one despite doing everything right on Amari Cooper’s game sealing touchdown. Wentz looked off, and even if the Eagles were able to eke out a win, there is a lot to fix if the team is to make a convincing playoff push. For a full breakdown, you can check out Liam Jenkins’ instant analysis below:
In his immediate reactions, Liam is correct in many facets. This is including the fact that the Eagles still have a chance to make the playoffs. Statistically improbable? Sure, but there is a chance. In fact, there’s still a possibility they win the division. Since it is the least likely of the scenarios, we’ll begin with a breakdown of what it will take for Philly to capture the NFC East title.
It’s quite simple really: the Eagles need to win all their games and hope that Dallas loses all of theirs. The Dallas Cowboys’ remaining games are as follows:
Week 15: @ Indianapolis Colts
Week 16: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 17: @ New York Giants
It is highly unlikely the Cowboys lose all of these games. It’s more probable that they don’t lose any of them. The Colts are coming off a gutty win against the AFC South leading Houston Texans, but struggled mightily against a reeling Jacksonville Jaguars team just a week prior. They will give the Cowboys the best challenge of the three teams. This is not ruling out the possibility that the Buccaneers could run away with an upset in Arlington. We know first hand that their offence can be incredibly explosive and a much-improved defensive line could muster up enough pressure on Dak Prescott to force him to make mistakes as the Eagles did. Still, it’s a safe bet that the Cowboys will win their final home game. Lastly, they head to New York to take on the Giants. The Giants will be in a race of their own to secure a top draft pick and are unlikely to put up much of a fight in the final game of the year. However, there is no telling what the magical Saquon Barkley might pull out of his hat. Again, improbable, but not impossible.
Nevertheless, this is only half the equation to mounting a green flag at the top of the NFC East. Philadelphia would also have to win all of their remaining games, which will a difficult challenge to say the least. Their remaining games are:
Week 15: @ Los Angeles Rams
Week 16: vs. Houston Texans
Week 17: @ Washington Redskins
The tallest of tasks begins with an almost insurmountable climb to top the 2nd place LA Rams. The Rams have shown cracks in their armour, especially in Sunday’s game against the Bears in which the offence sputtered. Some of this might have been due to the California-native Jared Goff travelling to the blistering cold Soldier Field to play a dominant defence with one of the best defensive players in the league. The Eagles also house one of the league’s best defenders, but they will travel to the sunny LA and will not have the benefit of cold weather. Either way, the Rams will continue to be one of the teams to beat for the remainder of the season and the Eagles would have to put forth a near perfect effort to pull off the upset. Most likely, this is where the dream to seize the NFC East ends. The team will then face a tough Houston team with weapons all over the offence and a nasty defensive front that has been terrorising quarterbacks all season. It will be easier to beat the Texans at home than the Rams in LA, but this will by no means be an easy game. Finally, they will have to repeat their performance against a hurting Washington team that they beat — more narrowly than most would have imagined — just last week. The first test will be beating the Rams. If the Birds are able to beat down Goff and Gurley in the sunshine state and Frank Reich and Andrew Luck’s Colts stun the ‘Boys, there will be some semblance of hope.
The more plausible scenario in which the world watches the Eagles in January is by capturing the final Wild Card spot in the NFC. I mentioned in an article last week that this task was made exponentially more difficult by close loses to the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers earlier in the season. These two teams are now the only thing standing in the way of playoff redemption for Doug Pederson. With surprising losses to the Buccaneers and Browns, the Panthers have made life difficult for themselves. This bodes well for the Eagles. Cam Newton’s confidence is down, the defence hasn’t been making stops and they have an incredibly tough remaining schedule:
Week 15: vs. New Orleans Saints
Week 16: vs. Atlanta Falcons
Week 17: @ New Orleans Saints
All the Eagles need is for the Panthers to lose both games to the Saints. The Falcons game is relatively irrelevant, but a loss would further cement the Eagles in the running. The worry is that the Saints may rest some starters in week 17 to gear up for the playoffs. With the Rams breathing down their necks, New Orleans should still be in the fight for a number one seed and it’s doubtful Head Coach Sean Payton overlooks the opportunity to bury a division opponent. This piece to the puzzle is actually quite likely. Optimists rejoice!
The second stepping stone is surpassing the Minnesota Vikings, who still have a Week 14 Monday Night Football showdown with the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are one spot above the Vikings in the Wild Card running and will be desperately clinging to that spot as the division is all but out of their reach. It should be a clash for the ages, but if Eagles fans want to sneak into the playoffs, they’ll have to don their highlighter green and navy blue for a night. Including said game, the Vikings remaining schedule is:
Week 14: @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 15: vs. Miami Dolphins
Week 16: @ Detroit Lions
Week 17: vs. Chicago Bears
The Eagles’ playoff hopes are dependant on Seattle beating the Vikings due to the strength of their remaining schedules. As the Seahawks have a slightly better record than the Vikings, they would have to lose to both the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals for Philadelphia to take their Wild Card spot. If the Seahawks are able to win at home against the Vikings, the Eagles will have to rely on Minnesota losing two of their three remaining games. It it likely they will lose to the Bears. Although it is Week 17, Chicago just beat the Rams and ought to have high hopes they might be able to capture home field advantage by winning out. Thus, they should play their starters. Therefore, the Philly fans have to hope that either the Dolphins or the Lions can upset the Vikings. Miami is coming off a crazy last-second win over the New England Patriots and are right in the midst of a playoff race in the AFC. They will not take the game laying down. The Lions are a bit more of a pushover, but division games are never guaranteed and Matt Stafford is capable of showing up against good teams.
In this scenario, the Eagles can afford to lose only one of their three games in tow. It is more likely than not that this loss will come in Los Angeles, which will mean the Houston game will be a must-win. The Eagles were able to squeeze past the Colts, who, in turn, have beaten the Texans. If the competitive Philadelphia Eagles show up — more fourth quarter versus Dallas than first half — this will be a tough, but winnable match up. All hope is not lost. The Eagles would then most likely face either the LA Rams or Chicago Bears in the first round of the playoffs — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports