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January 03, 2022

Eagles clinch playoff berth: Who is their likely first-round opponent, and should they rest starters in Week 18?

Eagles NFL
122221NickSirianni Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Nick Sirianni has an easy decision to rest starters Week 18.

Because they beat the Washington Football Team on Sunday while also getting some help from the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers (explanation here, if you're playing catchup), the Philadelphia Eagles are headed back to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. Yes, they have clinched a playoff berth. 

You probably already know that by now. So great, what's next?

Well, the Eagles still have one regular season game left, at home against the Dallas Cowboys, and then they're on to the playoffs.

In an attempt to figure out the Eagles' likely first-round playoff opponent, I entered in every possible outcome involving the five games that will affect seeding in the NFC playoff race into ESPN's playoff machine. Those five games are:

  1. Cowboys at Eagles
  2. Saints at Falcons
  3. Panthers at Buccaneers
  4. Seahawks at Cardinals
  5. 49ers at Rams

If the Eagles beat the Cowboys Week 18, they will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wildcard round of the playoffs, unless both of the following two things occur: 

  1. The Panthers beat the Buccaneers, AND...
  2. The 49ers beat the Rams.

If the Panthers and Niners both win, the Eagles will face the Cardinals if the Cardinals beat the Seahawks. They would face the Rams if the Seahawks beat the Cardinals.


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But again, if the Eagles beat Dallas Week 18, they would be highly likely to face Tom Brady in Tampa two weekends from now. For the sake of being thorough, here are the 16 possible scenarios involving the teams whose playoff seeding is yet to be determined:

  1. Saints-Buccaneers-Cardinals-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  2. Saints-Buccaneers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  3. Saints-Buccaneers-Seahawks-Rams = (6) Eagles at (6) Buccaneers
  4. Saints-Buccaneers-Seahawks- 49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  5. Saints-Panthers-Cardinals-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  6. Saints-Panthers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Cardinals
  7. Saints-Panthers-Seahawks-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  8. Saints-Panthers-Seahawks-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Rams
  9. Falcons-Buccaneers-Cardinals-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  10. Falcons-Buccaneers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  11. Falcons-Buccaneers-Seahawks-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  12. Falcons-Buccaneers-Seahawks-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  13. Falcons-Panthers-Cardinals-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  14. Falcons-Panthers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  15. Falcons-Panthers-Seahawks-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  16. Falcons-Panthers-Seahawks-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers

As I said, almost all scenarios (14 of 16, to be exact) lead to the Eagles playing the Bucs.

Got that so far? That's the easy part.

Someone smarter than me can probably simplify this, but there are 16 different scenarios if the Cowboys beat the Eagles, and while the Buccaneers would remain the most likely opponent, the options are a little more diverse:

  1. Saints-Buccaneers-Cardinals-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  2. Saints-Buccaneers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  3. Saints-Buccaneers-Seahawks-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  4. Saints-Buccaneers-Seahawks-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  5. Saints-Panthers-Cardinals-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  6. Saints-Panthers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Cardinals
  7. Saints-Panthers-Seahawks-Rams = (6) Eagles at (3) Buccaneers
  8. Saints-Panthers-Seahawks-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Cowboys
  9. Falcons-Buccaneers-Cardinals-Rams = (7) Eagles at (2) Rams
  10. Falcons-Buccaneers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  11. Falcons-Buccaneers-Seahawks-Rams = (7) Eagles at (2) Rams
  12. Falcons-Buccaneers-Seahawks-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Buccaneers
  13. Falcons-Panthers-Cardinals-Rams = (7) Eagles at (2) Rams
  14. Falcons-Panthers-Cardinals-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Cardinals
  15. Falcons-Panthers-Seahawks-Rams = (7) Eagles at (2) Rams
  16. Falcons-Panthers-Seahawks-49ers = (7) Eagles at (2) Cowboys

Again, the Buccaneers (8 of 16 scenarios) remain the most likely opponent, with the Rams (4 of 16 scenarios) being the second most likely. The Eagles would face the Rams if the Falcons beat the Saints and the Rams beat the 49ers.

Here's a handy summarized visual of all of the above, in pretty chart form: 

So that brings us to the next question...

Should the Eagles rest their starters Week 18?

Hell yes they should. To begin, the Buccaneers, while going through some drama at the moment with Antonio Brown's expulsion from the team, remain the Eagles' worst first-round matchup, as explained in our "ideal Eagles playoff opponent" primer:

To begin, let’s take a look at the playoff records for each quarterback among the five teams here:

  1. Tom Brady: 34-11
  2. Aaron Rodgers: 11-9
  3. Dak Prescott: 1-2
  4. Matthew Stafford: 0-3
  5. Kyler Murray: 0-0

This is Rodgers’ 17th season. He’s a three-time MVP, he’s been voted to 10 Pro Bowls, and he owns the best career touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history by an extremely wide margin. And yet, if you tripled his playoff wins, he wouldn’t have as many as Brady.

Brady also happens to be a matchup nightmare for a team like the Eagles, who have done a better job throughout the season disguising coverages, but aren’t likely to fool Brady, who also by the way gets the ball out quickly behind a great offensive line, to dangerous weapons in the passing game. That’s pretty much good enough for me to rank the Bucs as the least desirable first-round opponent. 

But also, the Bucs had the No. 1 run defense in the NFL in 2020, and the No. 3 run defense so far in 2021. Their main objective defensively every week is to stop the run, so it’s also just not a good matchup for the Birds on that side of the ball, either.

If the Eagles beat Dallas Week 18, as laid out above, they are highly likely to face the Buccaneers in the first round. If they lose to Dallas, they will still probably get the Bucs, but the door is open for them to face (theoretically) more beatable opponents, like the Rams, Cowboys or Cardinals. 

Oh, and they can rest starters and steer clear of getting important players hurt? Uh, that's a no-brainer.


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