The NFL season is far enough along to take a realistic look at how the postseason might play out.
A disclaimer: It might not happen exactly this way … despite me hitting the 17-16 Eagles score exactly vs. Indianapolis.
Much like you, I’ve been amazed at what the Eagles have accomplished this season. I’ve watched and waited for something to fall apart or at least show some wear and tear.
That hadn’t happened until the last two weeks — last Monday’s strange loss to Washington, and when they were lucky to get out of Indianapolis with a victory.
The Eagles are within sight of earning home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
Another disclaimer: I’m not a fanboy. I couldn’t write it that way and you wouldn’t want it that way. Eagles fans want and know real.
My playoff predictions are based on a mix of analysis, analytics, smell test, what I actually see and a dash of gut feeling.
I can’t ignore what I see. The Eagles’ offense is ranked fifth and the defense is ranked second. But you also can’t ignore the weakness of the run defense — ranked 19th.
Special teams remain a concern, an inconvenient truth.
The Eagles still lead the league in turnover differential at plus-12 — perhaps the sport’s best indicator of win-loss success.
HURTS IS THE DIFFERENCE
I see a quarterback who is a top three contender for the NFL’s MVP award. Jalen Hurts hasn’t just exceeded expectations, he is playing at a level no one around the league thought possible in August.
I heard a former NFL player say the other day that the way to beat Hurts is to hit him every play. Theoretically, that’s fine.
Hurts gets rid of the ball quickly, makes many correct decisions and has a top-six running attack at his disposal.
He’s playing behind an offensive line that isn’t allowing many hits, much less one every play.
The offensive line takes great pride in keeping Hurts clean. When you listen to linemen talking about Hurts, it is evident how much they respect his talent and his leadership.
Hurts isn’t perfect, but he’s playing quarterback as well as anyone.
BEST IN NFC?
The Eagles, who had been blessed with relatively good health, are facing injury issues.
Superb tight end Dallas Goedert is on injured reserve. Nickel back Avonte Maddox in on the IR, as are defensive tackles Jordan Davis and Marlon Tuipulotu.
Despite the health crises, and the potential overreaction to the Commanders loss, I believe the Eagles are the best team in the NFC. I also think it’s a down year for the NFC — the Packers, Rams and Cardinals were thought to be better. Tom Brady and the Bucs are 5-5.
Dallas blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter to a 4-7 Packers team, but looked unbeatable in destroying the 8-2 Vikings on the road. The Seahawks, Giants and Commanders are better than expected. Can they win the NFC? Not likely.
I think the 49ers are the greatest threat to the Eagles but they’re not perfect, either. The Niners are 6-4, tied for first place in the West and are playing a guy at quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, they wanted to trade all offseason. The Niners’ defense is top-notch and their pass rush could cause problems for Hurts.
The Niners’ most troubling aspect? Road losses to Chicago, Denver and Atlanta.
NFC division winners:
- East: Eagles
- North: Vikings
- South: Buccaneers
- West: 49ers
Wild card teams:
Unless the Eagles pull a ’64 Phillies collapse, they should finish with the best record in the NFC, giving them a bye and playoff home-field. I could see the Commanders grabbing one of the wild card spots — maybe over the Seahawks.
Here is how the playoffs might go down:
- Wild card: Vikings over Seahawks
- Wild card: 49ers over Giants
- Wild card: Cowboys over Buccaneers
- Divisional: Eagles over Cowboys
- Divisional: 49ers over Vikings
- NFC Championship Game: Eagles over 49ers
Remember the AFC West was going to be the super division, the only losses among themselves?
Andy Reid’s Chiefs have the conference’s best record at 8-2. The Chargers are a puzzling 5-5, the Broncos and Raiders are 3-7.
Nine teams have legitimate playoffs chances for the seven spots — the seven I pick below, plus the Patriots and Jets. The Patriots don’t have enough firepower to make the playoffs in a tough division. The Chargers always seem to find a way to maim themselves but should get in.
AFC division winners:
- East: Dolphins
- North: Bengals
- South: Titans
- West: Chiefs
Wild card teams:
Here is how the playoffs might go down, with Kansas City earning the bye for having the best conference record:
- Wild card: Bengals over Chargers
- Wild card: Ravens over Titans
- Wild card: Dolphins over Bills
- Divisional: Chiefs over Ravens
- Divisional: Dolphins over Bengals
- AFC Championship Game: Dolphins over Chiefs
The Super Bowl champion? It’s too early to make that pick. I have the Eagles beating the Cowboys and Niners to make the Super Bowl. That’s quite the test, even at the Linc.
An Eagles-Dolphins game or Eagles-Chiefs game would be outstanding. Eagles against Andy Reid? Hurts vs. Tua? Sign us up.