January 01, 2018
The Philadelphia Eagles clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Oakland Raiders Week 16, and with the 2017 NFL regular season now complete, we know how the rest of NFC playoff qualifiers are seeded.
There are no easy outs. The 70 combined wins of the NFC's playoff participants are tied for third-most in the NFC since the NFL went to a 12 playoff team format in 1990:
Here's what we said about each of the Eagles' possible playoff opponents last week, when we ranked them from most favorable matchup, to least favorable:
While I have a healthy respect for the Carolina Panthers, by the time they play the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs, should they make it there, it will be their third straight road game, assuming the Saints win the NFC South. Teams playing in their third straight road game are at a severe disadvantage.
According to this post from NinersNation.com, teams playing a third straight road game are 13-23 over the last three years, 20-33 over the last five years, and 35-69 over the last 10 years. That's not just some trendy stat. That is hard evidence that playing in the third of three straight road games is not easy.
The Falcons didn't just get hot during the playoffs last year. They were really good all season long and rode their success to a near Super Bowl win. Matt Ryan was the NFL's MVP in 2016, and the Falcons had outstanding skill position players around him in Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. That set of triplets is still there, and this remains a dangerous team with big-time weapons.
However, when comparing this year's team to last year's, for whatever reason, the Falcons have not been as potent offensively. In 2016, they led the NFL with 540 points scored. In 2017, they have 331 points scored with one game to play. That's 10th in the NFC, behind the Redskins. That is a drastic difference.
Update: The Falcons ended up scoring 353 points on the season, which was good for ninth in the NFC.
The Saints are probably the best team in the NFC at the moment, with their only four losses on the season coming to the Vikings, Patriots, Falcons, and Rams. They've also beaten good teams, as they swept the Panthers, and beat the Falcons Week 16.
The Saints, of course, have Drew Brees, a very experienced playoff quarterback who is still also a near-elite player. He's surrounded by an outstanding rushing attack led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, as well as an improved defense that is allowing less than 20 points per game. Here's how that compares with previous seasons:
With the Eagles missing Carson Wentz, the title of 'most complete team in the NFC' probably now goes to the Saints.
If there's maybe one reason to doubt them, it would be on a potential cold, windy day in Philadelphia in January, since Brees isn't known for having a rocket arm. Then again, that theory is probably negated, since we already know what the Eagles' current quarterback looks like in those conditions as well.
Update: After allowing 31 points in a loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Saints finished with 20.4 points per game allowed on the season.
The Eagles' first playoff game is scheduled for Saturday, January 13th, at 4:35 p.m.
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