With three weeks left in the regular season, the Philadelphia Eagles have all but locked up the top seed in the NFC, needing just one win or a loss from both the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers in order to secure home-field advantage through the NFC Championship and a first-round bye. With that in mind, the Eagles need to start thinking about their schedule after the regular season, or more accurately, their divisional opponents’ schedules in the postseason.
Nobody wants to face a divisional foe in the playoffs. Those teams know you better than anyone else, and that’s where fluke losses happen most often. The Eagles’ lone loss this year? To none other than the last-place Washington Commanders. The 49ers have beaten the Rams eight straight times in the regular season. Who won in the postseason last year though? That’s right, the Rams. Divisional matchups are so hard to predict because these teams play each other so often, they know every trick up their opponent’s sleeves. They’ve become familiar with how each other operates. Therefore, it stands to reason that if the Eagles had their way, they wouldn’t have to face the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, or Commanders at all in the playoffs.
That could be tough considering all three teams are in the running for a playoff spot still, but it is possible. The most obvious solutions would be:
1) The Cowboys, Giants, and Commanders not making the playoffs in the first place,
2) All of them losing in the first round, or
3) Ensuring the 7-seed is not an NFC East team and wins its first-round matchup.
That first option is pretty much impossible. At least one other team from the NFC East is going to make the playoffs. It’s very likely two do. Option two is only slightly less likely. Yes, all three NFC East teams, should they make it, would have to play on the road, and while the Niners, Vikings, and Bucs — or whoever ends up winning the dogshit NFC South — could all win, the odds of those three coming out victorious are low. That leaves option three.
The NFL playoffs don’t have a fixed bracket system, meaning the Eagles, as the 1-seed, will play the lowest remaining seed in the NFC playoff bracket after the Wild Card Round. The best way to ensure that Philly won’t have to play a divisional opponent in the Divisional Round would be to ensure the 7-seed wins their first matchup of the playoffs. That would ensure that the 5-seed Cowboys and 6-seed Giants or Commanders wouldn’t be able to play Philadelphia in Round 2. This, of course, hinges on the fact that no NFC East team can wind up the 7-seed.
What’s the solution? Lose to the Cowboys this weekend, securing them the 5-seed, and then in Week 18 — when the Eagles face the Giants for the second time — rest your starters, let the Giants win, and secure the 6-seed. As long as the Commanders lose one of their final three games, that one win for New York would be enough to secure them the 6-seed.
That would leave the 7-seed down to the Commanders, Detroit Lions, and Seattle Seahawks. Although the Commanders have a half-game lead for that position, they still have to face the 49ers and Cowboys this year, meanwhile, the Lions’ three remaining games are all against teams under .500, two of which they’ve already beaten this year.
Of course, the Eagles would be treading a fine line with this method. For one, losing two games on purpose would mean the Eagles would either have to win their only other game — Week 17 vs. New Orleans — or they’d have to put their faith in the 49ers and Vikings to lose one game each. Obviously, when given the opportunity, you always want the chance to control your own destiny, but you also don’t want to bank an entire plan on winning one particular game. “Any given Sunday” is a saying for a reason, and while the Eagles should wipe the floor with the Saints, anything can happen.
Okay, so assuming the Eagles’ plan comes together perfectly, they would still need the 7-seed to beat the 2-seed Minnesota Vikings. Well, the Detroit Lions have beaten them once already this year and were even leading by 10 going into the fourth quarter in their first matchup. The Lions have gotten better as the season has worn on, and there’s a good chance they could beat Minnesota in the opening round if given the opportunity to play them again.
Even if Detroit doesn’t win though, pinning Dallas against Tampa Tom, and New York against arguably the most talented all-around roster in the NFL in San Francisco, is still a reliable method to ensure Philly won’t have to play any of its divisional opponents in the postseason. Several people believe the Vikings are the worst team of the division leaders in the NFC. Minnesota haters love to point out the Vikes’ embarrassing losses to the Eagles and Cowboys earlier this year, as well as DVOA and point differential, as reasons to believe the Vikings are frauds. If the Eagles believe those sentiments as well, then forcing their divisional opponents to play the other two division winners would be their smartest course of action.
I’m not saying the Eagles are going to lose against the Cowboys and Giants. No team likes losing, and doing it on purpose feels counterproductive in the locker room, but based on the situation, losing those games might be the team’s best option. I’m not saying it’s pretty, but it would be pretty damn smart. And the Eagles are a very smart team.