After a 38-27 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles are the most likely odd team out in the NFC playoff picture.
Philly is one of six good NFC teams that are on pace to win 10 or more games. But because the winner of the dismal NFC South division automatically makes the playoffs, one of those six teams is going to get screwed out of the postseason.
Considering how the tiebreakers work out, it looks like the Eagles will be that team, even if they go 11-5.
The current NFC playoff standings:
1. Arizona Cardinals, 11-3 (NFC West champ)
2. Detroit Lions, 10-4 (NFC North champ)
3. Dallas Cowboys, 10-4 (NFC East champ)
4. Carolina Panthers, 5-8-1 (NFC South champ)
5. Seattle Seahawks, 10-4 (wild card)
6. Green Bay Packers, 10-4 (wild card)
OUT: Philadelphia Eagles, 9-5
The problem here is that the Eagles are effectively two games back of those other teams in the wild card race because they lose all the tiebreakers.
If Philly finishes in a tie with Green Bay, Seattle, or Arizona for the final wild card spot, they lose the tiebreaker because they lost to those teams head-to-head. If they finish in a tie with the Lions, they lose the tiebreaker because they will have a worse record against the conference.
If the Eagles win out and go 11-5, here are the only ways they get a wild card:
- Seattle loses its last two games (at Arizona, St. Louis) OR…
- Detroit loses its last two games (at Chicago, at Green Bay) OR…
- Green Bay loses its last two games (at Tampa Bay, Detroit)
None of those scenarios are particularly likely. Seattle has the toughest schedule, but they’re the hottest team in the NFL.
So the simplest, most likely path to the playoffs for Philly is to win the NFC East. To do that, Dallas would have to lose one of its last two games (Indianapolis, at Washington), and the Eagles would have to win out. Both teams would finish 11-5, and Philly would win the tiebreaker with a better divisional record. In that scenario, the 11-5 Cowboys would probably be the odd team out of the playoff picture.
It’s likely that the Eagles are going to finish 11-5, one game better than they finished last year. It’s also likely that they’re going to miss the playoffs.
Because of the league’s irrational devotion to divisions, it’s possible that a 6-10 team is going to make the playoffs over a 11-5 team. The NFC South is an absolute mess. Every team has eight losses with two weeks to go. Unless 5-8 New Orleans wins its last three games, a team with a losing record is going to win the division.
Using ESPN’s playoff machine, it’s not hard to conjure plausible scenarios where the 6-10 Atlanta Falcons host a playoff game against the 12-4 Arizona Cardinals:
In 2013 the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals missed the playoffs in a similar scenario, but at least the division champion that took their spot (the Packers) had a winning record at 8-7-1.
Before Week 15, Nate Silver’s model predicted the NFC South champion would have 6.7 wins.
Only two 11-5 teams have ever missed the playoffs. This year could be No. 3.
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