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December 13, 2022

Ranking the Eagles' potential playoff opponents, from easiest to hardest

Eagles NFL
121322FredWarner Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

Fred Warner (54) and the Niners are a more dangerous matchup for the Eagles than Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.

Ask any team in the NFC who they would least want to have to face in the playoffs, and if they're being honest, the answer would be the Philadelphia Eagles, because, well, the Eagles seem to be the best football team in the world right now. To be determined if that distinction remains true in two months.

If you're the Eagles, however, the answer to that question isn't quite as cut and dried. Since the Birds have now clinched a playoff berth, let's rank each of their potential playoff opponents from easiest to hardest. 

Using FiveThirtyEight's playoff predictor, we'll include all teams with at least a 15 percent chance of making the playoffs.

9) Carolina Panthers: It's amazing that this team is even still alive, given that they fired their head coach and cut their Week 1 starting quarterback. The Panthers have one of the worst rosters in the NFL, but they have the advantage of playing in the worst division in the NFL. If the Panthers somehow got into the playoffs, that would be a gift to whoever got to face them.

8) New York Giants: We all saw this team on Sunday, right? There isn't a single thing that this team does better than the Eagles on either side of the ball.

7) Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks were looking frisky for a while getting out to a 6-3 start, but they have lost three of their last four games, with each loss coming against teams with losing records. The Eagles' defensive line would be a bad matchup for this very inexperienced Seattle offensive line.

6) Washington Commanders: Yes, the Commanders beat the Eagles earlier this season, but that was obviously a very weird game in which a whole lot of breaks went Washington's way. But this is a very flawed team, and the Eagles have since seemingly fixed their run defense.

5) Minnesota Vikings: If you can slow down Justin Jefferson the Vikings aren't very threatening, and the Eagles are certainly capable of doing just that, as they did Week 2 with one of the best — if not the best — set of cornerbacks in the NFL.

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers can't run the ball to save their lives and their defense isn't what it once was. They only remain this high, because, you know, they have Tom Brady, even if he looks nothing like the Brady of old. That the Bucs are this high speaks to the lack of legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.

3) Detroit Lions: The Lions are one of the hottest teams in football, having won five of their last six games after starting 1-6. They'll probably have to run the table to make the playoffs, but if they're able to do that they will have won nine of 10 games and would have to be viewed as significant threats. It's probably also worth noting that they were a rare team that was able to score consistently on the Eagles this season way back in Week 1.

2) Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys have their share of reasons why they can be dangerous in January. Offensively, they have a good one-two punch at running back with Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott, and CeeDee Lamb has taken a step forward as a legit No. 1 alpha receiver. Defensively, they have playmakers in Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, and DeMarcus Lawrence.

They also have their share of concerns. The offensive line has question marks, the non-Lamb receivers have not produced many big plays, the run defense has been problematic at times, and they're thin at cornerback. Also, what version of Dak Prescott is going to show up from game-to-game? Prescott is viewed by many as a top 10 type of quarterback, but he has not often played that way this season. Only six quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions, even though he missed five games.

1) San Francisco 49ers: The Niners pose potential matchup issues for the Eagles that the other teams in the NFC do not. Offensively, they have a set of skill position players in Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey who are all very good at breaking tackles after the catch. While the Eagles' tackling has improved this season, there have been some games in which it was an issue. The Niners also have a run-based offense that could theoretically succeed in shortening the game, much like the Commanders did in the Eagles' only defeat this season.

Defensively, the Niners have elite linebackers in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, who theoretically could (a) limit Jalen Hurts' ability to make plays with his legs, and (b) help neutralize Dallas Goedert over the middle. They also have the NFL's sack leader in Nick Bosa, a very good cornerback in Charvarius Ward, and a playmaker in Talanoa Hufanga roaming the back end.

In his limited action as the Niners' new starting quarterback, Brock Purdy has actually looked like an upgrade so far on Jimmy Garoppolo. Time will tell if exploitable flaws in his game will be exposed down the back stretch of the season. Until such time, this team is the Eagles' biggest postseason threat.

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