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Remaining strength of schedule for Eagles, Cowboys, 49ers and Vikings

The race for the top spot in the NFC comes down to the final five games.

Tennessee Titans v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If, after the Eagles’ 35-10 shellacking of the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans yesterday, it seems as if the Super Bowl seas are parting for the Birds, you’re not imagining things.

An 11-1 record puts the team in a pretty good position in and of itself, with a two-game lead on the 10-2 Vikings thanks to the tie-breaker earned in their 24-7 spanking of Minnesota in Week 2, and an actual two-game lead over the 9-3 Cowboys. Both those teams won on Sunday, with the Vikes running their record in one-possession games to a ridiculous 9-0 thanks to their escape against the New York Jets, as well as the Cowboys throttling of the Colts at home.

But the team many considered the biggest threat to Philadelphia was the 49ers, who suffered a devastating blow in their win over the Dolphins Sunday, losing QB Jimmy Garoppolo for the season to a broken ankle. At 8-4, they hold the No. 3 seed in the NFC, but are now suddenly vulnerable to the 7-5 Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

With only one bye past the wild card round of the playoffs up for grabs in each conference, landing that No. 1 seed is bigly important. As of now, the Eagles have a 75% chance of holding onto it, according to the NY Times’ playoff picture simulator, with the Cowboys and Vikings both at 12%. San Francisco is the only other team with any kind of chance, at a meager 2%.

With five weeks to go in the season, every game still matters for all four teams, but who has the edge, schedule-wise? According to Tankathon, here’s how things stand in the NFC.

Philadelphia Eagles (.508 SOS)

  • Sunday, 12/11: @ NY Giants (7-4-1) 1PM
  • Sunday, 12/18: @ Chicago (3-10) 1PM
  • Saturday, 12/24: @ Dallas (9-3) 4:25PM
  • Sunday, 1/1: vs. New Orleans (4-8) 1PM
  • Sunday, 1/8: vs. NY Giants (7-4-1) TBD

The remaining combined winning percentage of the Eagles’ five remaining opponents is .508, with three games left against winning teams, in New York, in Dallas and home against the Giants in Week 18. The Birds’ next three games are all on the road, which is not ideal, with two of them against divisional opponents fighting for their playoff lives.

The Eagles have not faced the Giants yet this season and appear to be catching them at a good time. After an uninspiring 20-20 tie with the Commanders yesterday, New York is 1-3-1 in their last five games and, on the season, has a negative point differential of -7. The Bears are a bit better with the shackles taken off Justin Fields’ legs, although the Eagles will still be heavy favorites in that one.

After their Christmas Eve matchup against Dallas, the Birds finish with an easy home game against the Saints, and another tilt against New York that may or may not matter for one or both teams. You’d like to think they can run the table, but if they go 4-1, they’d finish 15-2 and finish with the best record in the NFC. A 3-2 finish and 14-3, well, it gets dicey.

Dallas Cowboy (.508 SOS)

  • Sunday, 12/11: vs. Houston Texans (1-10-1) 1PM
  • Sunday, 12/18: @ Jacksonville (4-8) 1PM
  • Saturday, 12/24: vs. Philadelphia (11-1) 4:25PM
  • Thursday, 12/29: @ Tennessee (7-5) 8:15PM
  • Sunday, 1/8: @ Washington (7-5-1) TBD

Like the Eagles, Dallas’ remaining strength of schedule is .508, with a cakewalk in front of them next week, but some challenges lying ahead afterwards.

Playing the Jaguars in Jacksonville will not be easy, at least as difficult as the Birds’ having to go into Chicago that same week against the Bears. They host the Eagles in that key Christmas Eve game, then must go into Tennessee and take on the Titans on a short-week, Thursday night match-up. If ever there was a let-down game scenario for the Cowboys, it is in Nashville in Week 17. They then would have to travel to Washington to take on a Commanders team that always plays them tough and may need a victory in the final week to earn a playoff berth.

That’s a bit more difficult than the strength of schedule might indicate, specifically that short week against a Titans team that is better than what they showed in Philadelphia yesterday.

There’s no doubt the Eagles are in a position where, if they go to Dallas and beat the Cowboys on December 24, they will win the division, eliminating the Cowboys from the No. 1 seed conversation. A loss to Dallas would be a different story.

In other words, the Eagles would have to make sure they lose no more games other than Christmas Eve in order to avoid a major disappointment.

San Francisco 49ers (.475 SOS)

  • Sunday, 12/11: vs. Tampa Bay (5-6) 4:25PM
  • Thursday, 12/15: @ Seattle (7-5) 8:15PM
  • Saturday, 12/24: vs. Washington (7-5-1) 4:05PM
  • Sunday, 1/1: @ Las Vegas (5-7) 4:05PM
  • Sunday, 1/8: vs. Arizona (4-8) TBD

Everything is going to be more challenging with third stringer Brock Purdy, who Niners fans are hoping goes on an A.J. Feely-like run over the final month-plus of 2022. But it’s unlikely, even with a slightly better schedule down the stretch than the Eagles or Cowboys.

With Tom Brady and the Bucs fighting for their lives, they’ll be motivated hosting the Niners next week. It’s just impossible to know how San Francisco is going to come out against a Tampa team that has struggled all season long but still has Brady under center. Then, on a short week, they have to play their arch-nemesis, the Seahawks, on the road, in a game that will likely decide the NFC West. That’s a brutally tough ask for a third-string QB with no experience. Then they host the Commanders on Christmas Eve. Washington’s defense is no joke and could make life miserable for Purdy.

If there’s anything left of San Francisco after this three-game stretch, they should be able to pile up a couple easy wins against the Raiders and Cardinals. You’d have to think a 3-2 stretch here would be an absolute victory for the Niners, 2-3 is perhaps more likely.

Feeling like a wild card for San Fran.

Minnesota Vikings (.397 SOS)

  • Sunday, 12/11: @ Detroit (5-7) 1PM
  • Sunday, 12/18: vs. Indianapolis (4-8-1) TBD
  • Saturday, 12/24: vs. New York Giants (7-4-1) 1PM
  • Sunday, 1/1: @ Green Bay (5-8) 4:25PM
  • Sunday, 1/8: @ Chicago (3-10) TBD

It’s a good thing the Birds beat the Vikings in Week 2, because according to opponents’ winning percentage, Minnesota has the easiest schedule in the NFC the rest of the way, and the 2nd-easiest in the NFL.

There’s a great chance the two worst defenses in the NFL will turn next week’s match-up between Minny and the Lions into an anybody-can-win shootout, with the odds better than not the Vikings win this week. They’ll also likely handle the Colts at home and the Giants in Minnesota on Christmas Eve. They’ll then have to hit the road in their final two games of the season, but playing a dead Packers team in Green Bay and an even deader Bears team in Chicago should pose no real threat.

It’s entirely possible they could finish the season 5-0 and end up with a 15-2 record, meaning the Eagles could afford to lose no more than one of their final five games and maintain the No. 1 seed in the NFC. You may not believe Minnesota is

At the end of the day, we have a three-team race for the No. 1 seed over the last five weeks of the 2022 season.

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