The Philadelphia Eagles have dominated the NFC over the first three months of the season en route to a league-best 10-1 start. Besides the game against Washington a couple of weeks ago, Philly has found a way to slither out with a win every time. They’ve already beaten two of the top three teams chasing them in the conference.
Sure, the Eagles are good, and reaching 10 wins before any other team is something to celebrate, but there’s something about Philly that isn’t worth trusting. Well, that could be plenty of things, but on the field, these Eagles bring to mind the Pittsburgh Steelers of 2020. Those Steelers also got off to a great start, winning their first 11 games before losing three of their last four games to close the season. They were also eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs by the Cleveland Browns of all teams.
This Eagles squad feels like it’s headed for early disappointment in the postseason. But it’ll all depend on matchups, and in the NFC, there aren’t many teams who seem to match up well with Philadelphia right now. Strength of schedule aside, the Eagles have shown through 12 weeks of the season that they are contenders, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to win it all. Teams who can run the ball effectively to eat the clock, play tight defense, or have a top-10 quarterback are best suited to knock these birds off their perch. In the NFC, very few teams possess enough of these attributes to seriously challenge the Eagles.
Philly took the first meeting with the Cowboys this season, minus Dak Prescott. The division rivals play again on Christmas Eve in Dallas, and depending on how the next four weeks round out, it could go a long way in deciding the division. With Prescott on the field, Dallas has what’s needed to keep up with the Eagles. They’ve got a playmaking QB like the Eagles, they can run the ball when focused on it, and the Cowboys’ defense is pretty good at getting to the QB.
One area that will be most vital for the Cowboys against the Eagles is stopping the run. Philly is fourth in the league rushing the ball, while Dallas ranks in the lower third against the run. But as we’ve seen this year, when Dallas decides to play ball control, they are at their best. But, of course, these are the Cowboys. Expecting them to come through, especially in the playoffs, is like expecting Daniel Snyder to do the right thing in Washington.
San Francisco 49ers
I said it a month ago, and I’ll stand by it for the rest of the season. The 49ers have the formula to be the most dangerous team in the NFC and the best chance of beating the Eagles in the playoffs. Since losing to the Chiefs last month, the Niners have reeled off four wins and have held opponents to 14, 16, 10, and 0 points, respectively. This defense allows the fewest points in the NFL at 15.7 per game. They’re No. 1 in total yards and rush yards allowed.
On the other side of the ball, San Francisco has an explosive offense with plenty of weapons to counteract those in Philly. And unlike the Cowboys coaching staff, Kyle Shanahan will run the ball as much as it takes to get the job done. All the Niners need to continue doing is limiting the potential for Jimmy Garoppolo to make mistakes. If the 49ers can continue along this path, they’ll be in the NFC championship game again, possibly against Philly. If it comes to that, take the Niners.
Ok, I know what you’re saying. The Eagles handled the Vikings in Week 2, 24-7, behind 333 passing yards from Jalen Hurts. But that was Week 2, and Minnesota is a different team now. Following that loss to Philly, Minnesota went on a seven-game winning streak, in which they beat the Dolphins and Bills on the road.
By the time the Vikings face the Eagles again, if they do, they’ll be battle tested. The Vikings aren’t at the top of the league statistically, yet they’ve found ways to play winning football. After seeing the Eagles once and learning from their mistakes (hopefully), Kevin O’Connell’s staff will likely develop a much better game plan the second time around.
For Minnesota, it comes down to Kirk Cousins not making big mistakes. He threw three interceptions in the Week 2 loss to Philadelphia. The Eagles struggle against the run, so a heavy dose early and often is the key. Let the running game set up some downfield attempts for Cousins to Justin Jefferson. But you can’t force anything. The Vikings would need to get out ahead of the Eagles because it’s too hard chasing them when you’re down more than seven.