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December 28, 2017

Ranking the Eagles' playoff matchups, from most to least desirable

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While four of the six NFC playoff teams are duking it out in the wild-card round, the Eagles will have the opportunity to sit back and wait for the lowest remaining seed in the NFC to come to Philadelphia. 

Let's take a look at the six other contenders in the NFC, and rank each matchup from the Eagles' perspective, from most to least desirable.

6) Carolina Panthers

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.

5) Atlanta Falcons

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.

4) Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks own the Eagles. Wilson is 3-0 in his career against the Eagles (all since 2014) with no INTs and a passer rating of 104.9. He has also rushed for a TD against Philly and even caught a TD pass as well. Defensively, the Seahawks have shut the Eagles down, never allowing more than 15 points in those last three matchups. On that basis, the Eagles should want no part of Seattle.

On the other hand, this team is extremely banged up and as vulnerable as the Eagles. That is why they're likely not even going to make the postseason this year in the first place. If the Eagles can't take care of business at home against a Seattle team that is missing Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, and a bunch of starting offensive linemen, who exactly are they going to beat?

3) Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have a very talented offense led by running back Todd Gurley, who has gotten some recent MVP hype. On the season, Gurley has 2,093 yards from scrimmage (1,305 rushing, 788 receiving), in something of a Marshall Faulk type of role.

Jared Goff has also had a great season, as he has thrown for 3,804 yards, and 28 TDs vs. just 7 INTs. However, the next game he plays in freezing temperatures in the NFL will be his first. Playing on the road in the cold in Philadelphia in January is not an easy task for a second-year quarterback.

The Rams' defense is, eh, OK. They have a star in Aaron Donald and some other nice players, but there are still plenty of holes to attack on that defense, most notably in the run game.

2) Minnesota Vikings

While I would certainly take Goff over Case Keenum in any scenario, what sets the Vikings apart is their defense. The Vikings are best in the NFL in yards allowed (280.9), and points per game allowed (16.1). The prospect of Nick Foles going up against that defense is not encouraging.

Offensively, Minny does enough to put points on the board with what is a very good, and highly underrated receiving duo in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, as well as a competent rushing attack led by Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. 

The Vikings all but have a first-round bye locked up, so the Eagles will see them in the NFC Championship Game, at the earliest.

1) New Orleans Saints

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:

 SaintsPoints per game allowed 
 201719.7 
 201628.4 
 201529.8 
 201426.5 


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.


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