After beating the Chicago Bears in Week 15, the Philadelphia Eagles were in a spot where they needed just one more win from their final three games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture.
One win. Three games to do it.
Of course, beating the New York Giants in Week 18 isn’t their only path to clinch. It’s the simplest and most desirable, yes, but all of the avenues are still worth noting here. So, that’s what we’ll do.
Scenario 1: Eagles beat the Giants
The Eagles should be able to beat the Giants.
Jalen Hurts is reportedly expected to be available for the regular season finale in Philly. Hurts is unquestionably significantly better than Gardner Minshew. Minshew played well enough to give the Eagles a chance to win in Dallas ... but he stunk against the Saints.
We don’t know if Hurts will pick up right where he left off as he returns from a shoulder sprain. It’s reasonable to think he might not be in MVP form while potentially playing at less than 100%.
Hurts was really good against the Giants in Week 14, when he posted three total touchdowns (one rushing) and a 109.2 passer rating. So, there’s that.
There’s also the consideration that the Giants might not even go all out to win this Week 18 game. By beating the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17, the G-Men locked up the No. 6 seed. They have nothing to gain nor lose by playing their starters against the Eagles. It would make sense for Brian Daboll to give his players a quasi-bye by resting at least some of them.
One could argue that the Giants should be playing for pride and not allowing the Eagles to clinch the top spot against them. The problem with that is they’d just potentially be opening a path for the Dallas Cowboys to win the No. 1 seed instead. How is that preferable to Philly winning?
Whether the Giants play their starters or not, the Eagles need to find a way to win. Failing to secure home field advantage at this point would be downright pathetic.
Scenario 2: Eagles tie the Giants
Ties are unlikely. And no team has ever tied twice in a season. So, the Giants would be the first if they did it with the Eagles.
But we’ll still mention that it’s possible. Hey, if the Eagles go into overtime against the Giants and it’s late in the game ... the Birds can opt to just run the clock out instead of trying to desperately score.
Scenario 3: Eagles lose ... and get some unlikely help
If the Eagles can’t beat the Giants (especially if they’re resting players), they do not deserve the No. 1 seed.
The Cowboys will certainly be trying to beat Washington since their win combined with an Eagles loss and a 49ers loss would give them the No. 1 seed. The Commanders, meanwhile, don’t have much to play for after being officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 17.
The Cardinals are super banged up and have nothing to play for while the 49ers are riding a five-game winning streak.
The NFL is weird. It’s possible that either the Cowboys OR the 49ers lose ... but it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll both lose. So, again, the Eagles can’t rely on this path.
What if the Eagles don’t get the No. 1 seed?
If none of the preceding three scenarios come to fruition, well, that would be ... not good!
If the Eagles lose and the Cowboys win, Philly will drop to the No. 5 seed and have to play a road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild card round for the second straight year. And then depending on how the rest of the playoffs shake out, they might need two more road wins just to make it to the Super Bowl.
That as opposed to getting a first-round bye and then needing just two home wins to make it to the big game.
There is a scenario where the Eagles can be the No. 2 seed if they lose and the Cowboys lose and the 49ers win. No. 2 is certainly better than No. 5, but, c’mon. Still a big drop-off from No. 1.
It’s reasonable for one to be worried about the Eagles blowing their conference lead after losing two straight games. The pressure is on to avoid an epic collapse.
NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
1 - Philadelphia Eagles: 13-3 (clinched playoff berth)
2 - San Francisco 49ers: 12-4 (clinched NFC West)
3 - Minnesota Vikings: 12-4 (clinched NFC North)
4 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-8 (clinched NFC South)
WILD CARD TEAMS
5 - Dallas Cowboys: 12-4 (clinched playoff berth)
6 - New York Giants: 9-6-1 (clinched playoff berth)
7 - Seattle Seahawks: 8-8
IN THE HUNT
8 - Detroit Lions: 8-8
9 - Green Bay Packers: 8-8