December 29, 2021
The Philadelphia Eagles have some work to do to claim a spot in the playoffs, but does that mean we can’t look ahead to their potential opponents in the first round? Nope. Let’s go ahead and rank their ideal playoff opponents, from most to least desirable.
The Cardinals got out to a 10-2 start this season, and appeared likely to earn the 1 seed in the NFC. After Week 13, they held a two-game lead over the Rams, and had already banked a head-to-head win over L.A. Three weeks – and three losses – later, the Cardinals have relinquished control of the NFC West to the Rams, and many are questioning Kliff Kingsbury’s competency after late-season collapses in consecutive years.
This is a team that is sputtering toward the finish line, and ripe for a quick elimination in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the Cardinals are probably the least likely Eagles first-round opponent on this list.
While the Packers have the best record in the NFL, they have their share of rather unimpressive wins. In each of the last two weeks, the Packers have eked out wins over a pair of COVID-devastated teams in the Ravens and Browns, and needed some questionable officiating along the way.
The Packers have a point differential of +59 so far this season. Over the last 15 years, the 1 seed in the NFC hasn’t had a point differential lower than +115. This is not a dominant team.
But they played a first-place schedule, right? Yes, but when you consider that the three other division winners in 2020 were the Saints, Seahawks, and Washington Football Team, getting a first-place schedule was actually a benefit in 2021. According to Tankathon.com, using the full 17-game schedule, the Packers have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL, with an opposing combined winning percentage of 0.465.
But beyond the idea that the Packers just aren’t that scary, there are also favorable matchups for the Eagles, most notably with the Eagles’ No. 1 rushing attack against the Packers’ shaky run defense. The Packers have the second-worst run defense DVOA ranking in the NFL. They allow 4.82 yards per carry (also second-worst in the NFL) and 31 percent of running plays against their defense have resulted in a first down (worst in the NFL).
The Packers are likely to secure the 1 seed in the NFC, as their remaining two opponents are the Vikings at home, and the Lions on the road. If they do earn the 1 seed and the the first-round bye that comes with it, they would very likely face the Eagles in the divisional round, should the Eagles find a way to get that far. The Eagles would be heavy underdogs on the road against the Packers, but that is a team they can beat.
Matthew Stafford’s first eight games vs. his last seven games:
|Matthew Stafford||Comp/Att (Comp %)||Yards (YPA)||TD-INT||QB Rating|
|First 8 games||188/273 (68.9%)||2477 (9.1)||22-4||118.0|
|Last 7 games||169/261 (64.8%)||1862 (7.1)||14-9||89.3|
Playing against a quarterback who has never won a playoff game would be appealing.
However, the Rams have the No. 6 defense in the NFL according to DVOA, and the No. 4 run defense, with solid players across the board, and a bunch of stars – Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Von Miller – littered throughout.
Also, the four teams the Rams lost to this season have a combined record of 40-20. They’ve handled middling teams like the Eagles all season long.
Nick Sirianni probably had his worst game plan of the season in the Eagles’ first matchup against the Cowboys, which ended up being a 41-21 loss. Eagles running backs carried the ball a grand total of three times in that game, as Sirianni admitted during his postgame press conference that he thought the defense would struggle stopping the Cowboys offense, and thus they needed to essentially try to get into a shootout to stay in the game. Sirianni has since become a better head coach.
Dallas has the No. 1 pass defense in DVOA, and the No. 1 defense overall. They are 19th in run defense DVOA. They are fast, and they make big plays, leading the NFL with 33 takeaways.
However, they are also light upfront, as in literally, they have skinny-ish players playing along their defensive line (Randy Gregory, for example), and smaller, speedy guys at linebacker, like Micah Parsons and Keanu Neal. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ offensive line averages 330.4 pounds per man.
But beyond that pure size advantage, the Eagles only have 15 giveaways this season. Only four teams have fewer. If the Eagles can control the ball and avoid turnovers, they would negate a lot of what has made Dallas successful this season.
Ultimately, however, the defense would have to be far better against Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense, which is beginning to find its stride once again.
To begin, let’s take a look at the playoff records for each quarterback among the five teams here:
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.
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