By Connor Thomas

 

The Philadelphia Eagles have officially clinched a playoff spot, and now it’s time to start evaluating their potential opponents for the NFC Wild Card round. The way the records break out, there are 4 possible teams that the Eagles could face in their first round matchup, and each of those come with their own set of pros and cons. Here’s a list of the percentage chances to play each team heading into Week 18 as well as the rankings of which team the Eagles should want to play:

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 44% Chance To Play

    Unfortunately, the team that the Eagles are most likely to play is the team that I believe would be the one they would most like to avoid if possible. The Bucs are the large favorite to match up with the birds, and while a trip to Tampa won’t be the worst option weather-wise, it’ll be a very difficult matchup for Philly. Tampa Bay does a lot of things well, they’re returning largely every starter from the team that won the Super Bowl last year, and oh yeah, they still have that Brady guy playing QB. Despite the Eagles coming out on top in Super Bowl 52 against Tom Brady and the Patriots, (41-33, suck it New England) it was the textbook example of how dangerous playoff Brady can be. Shockingly, he only has a 2-2 record in wild card games in his career, but that shows just how rare it is for Brady-led teams to play in the wild card round. That being said, if you just look at Brady’s first round (wild card or divisional) record, it’s much more daunting: 15-3. He’s the undisputed greatest QB of all time, and he has a great team and great coach at his disposal. If I could pick, I would avoid the Bucs at all costs.

  • Los Angeles Rams – 22% Chance To Play

    The Eagles have almost a 1 in 4 chance to travel out West and meet up with Sean McVay and the Rams in the first round, and it’s a matchup that is not totally unfavorable for Philly. The first place to look at any playoff matchup is the QB play, and Matt Stafford has regressed greatly over the past couple weeks. In his last 3 games, Stafford has thrown 5 TDs to 6 INTs including a bad pick 6 in Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, the matchup is bigger than just Stafford vs the Eagles defense. The Rams have the 6th best run defense in the NFL by yardage, which does not bode well for the birds’ run centric offense. LA is somewhat susceptible to the pass, allowing the 13th most passing yards in the NFL so far this season, but even that isn’t exactly a clear weakness. They’re simply a solid football team that finds ways to win week in and week out. Really, the only reason they’re a more preferable option than Tampa is because Stafford is not as great as Tom Brady.

  • Arizona Cardinals – 11%

    It’s not nearly as likely as a matchup with the Bucs or the Rams, but the Eagles do have a slight chance to travel to Arizona to pay a visit to Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals. There was a point in the season where the Cardinals seemed like the kings of the NFC, but then Kyler Murray missed some time with injury, DeAndre Hopkins went down for what seems to be the year, and Arizona went through a cold stretch. At 11-5, though, the Cardinals are not a pushover, and their defense has been a bright spot even despite their team struggles at times. The enticing thing about facing Arizona would be that they have the least experienced QB-Head Coach duo of the possible playoff matchups for the Eagles. Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are talented, but when you compare them to Brady-Arians, Stafford-McVay, or the Prescott-McCarthy matchup that we’ll talk about in a second, they’re clearly the greenest. That’s not a guarantee for success, but if I’m the Eagles and I can play a team that lost to the Detroit Lions by 18, then that’s near the top of playoff matchups I would wish for. Their defense also is more susceptible to the run than it is the pass, playing into the birds’ offensive scheme. I’ll take the Cards as the 2nd most desirable option.

  • Dallas Cowboys – 11%

    This would be the Eagles’ dream playoff matchup in my mind. It’s just as likely (or unlikely) as a matchup with the Cardinals, but I would absolutely prefer to go down to Dallas and see Dak Prescott and company. The Cowboys have looked like an elite football team at times this year, and there were also times where they looked lost. They have some great wins (43-3 over the Falcons, an OT win over the Patriots, 56-14 over Washington) and some head scratching losses (30-16 at home to the Broncos, OT loss at home to the Raiders). Dallas is the most susceptible to the run of any of the potential first round matchups for the birds, and that should also weigh heavily into the desire to play them. And yet, the biggest reason the Eagles should want Dallas can’t be found on a stat sheet. Philly is playing with house money. They may only have 1 bullet left in the gun, if that. The Eagles are going to be dogs in every single one of these matchups, so which of these teams would be most satisfying to get a chance to send home? It would absolutely be the hated Cowboys. Could you imagine the satisfaction of ending the season of a Dallas team that many have heralded as Super Bowl contenders? If there’s a prize short of the Super Bowl that the Eagles can win, that would be it. It’s a small chance, but I’m crossing my fingers that the birds are heading to Dallas in two weeks.