Eagles Playoff Outlook: Ranking each of the 4 possible Divisional Round opponents
After clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC last week, the Philadelphia Eagles will have the luxury of watching wildcard weekend from their couches.
Being the antsy fanbase that we are, it’s hard not to look ahead and speculate who the Eagles may face in the divisional round. Heading into this weekend’s slate of games, there are four possible outcomes.
Teams the Eagles could theoretically face in the divisional round
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4th seed)
- Dallas Cowboys (5th)
- New York Giants (6th)
- Seattle Seahawks (7th)
In all likelihood, the Eagles will be favored over any of these four possible opponents in the second round. But which matchup is the most favorable for Philadelphia?
Let’s take a look at each and rank them from most to least favorable.
4. New York Giants (9-8)
I get it. It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season, the Giants have been in this spot before, blah blah blah.
The bottom line here is this, New York barely has any postseason experience. That matters. It’ll be Daniel Jones first postseason start, Brian Daboll’s first head coaching appearance in the postseason, and the list goes on.
Talent-wise, New York may be the worst overall team in this year’s postseason bracket. Outside of Saquon Barkley, there isn’t a single player on New York’s offense that a defense will lose sleep over. Barkley’s production has also tapered off dramatically during the latter half of the year. He hasn’t recorded a 100-yard rushing performance since Week 10. Since then, he’s averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and has found the end zone four times.
When Barkley faced the Eagles in Week 14, he managed just 28 yards on nine attempts.
I understand that the Eagles offense looked uninterested in their Week 18 matchup with New York. I just think it’s silly to put much stock into that game at all. Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen made a concerted effort to run a vanilla offense. Jalen Hurts barely ran with the ball. It was just simple RPOs and taking shots down field to see what happened.
The Giants have gained a lot of momentum as of late, winning must-win games to punch their ticket to the postseason. If they upset Minnesota in the wildcard round, their confidence will grow even more. Nevertheless, the Eagles are the better team. They’ll prove that if these teams face off during divisional weekend.
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3. Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
If the Eagles face Seattle in round two, that means the Seahawks will have defeated San Francisco. A team several outlets have labeled as the most complete team in this year’s postseason bracket. That alone is a reason to be a little worrisome if this matchup comes to be.
Seattle is at their best when they move the ball through the air. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are one of five wide receiving duos to both eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this year. QB Geno Smith has also been fantastic in 2022, racking up 30 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions while completing a league-best 69.8 percent of his passes.
Unfortunately for Seattle, the Eagles have the best pass defense in the league – both in DVOA and yards per game allowed (179.8). Darius Slay and James Bradberry have been stout throughout the year. They both rank inside the top-25 in terms of PFF defensive grades for the position. If Avonte Maddox returns from injury in time for the divisional round, Gannon’s secondary will be at full strength and ready to roll.
Although Seattle can toss it all over the yard, their offensive line is still a question mark. Per PFF, they rank 20th in team pass blocking grade for the season at 63.6. They’ve given up 46 sacks on the year, the ninth-most of any team in the league.
In case you were unaware, the Eagles are pretty good at rushing the passer.
Philadelphia’s sack production was almost unbelievable this season. They finished the year with 70 sacks, the most in the NFL by 15 (!). Since Week 13, they’ve accumulated 35 sacks, more than four teams have had all season. Four of their defensive lineman have at least 10 sacks and their 88.6 PFF team pass rushing grade ranks first in the NFL.
Forcing Smith into quick decisions by applying pressure is the key to victory in this one, and the Eagles are more than equipped to do just that.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)
It would be somewhat poetic for this potential divisional round matchup to come to fruition. As we all remember, the Bucs dismantled the Eagles in the wildcard round last year. They opened up the game with a 31-0 lead before winning 31-15 when the clock hit triple zeroes.
Of course, both teams are in completely different spots entering the postseason this time around. Tampa Bay has a new head coach, former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and QB Tom Brady hasn’t been nearly as prolific this year as we’re accustomed to. He’s still very good – make no mistake about it. But his offensive line is a huge question mark.
As I laid out earlier, the Eagles are the best team in the league at applying pressure on the quarterback.
While Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries throughout the year, they’ve only surrendered 22 sacks on Brady, the fewest of any team in football. It’s mostly due to Brady’s ability to get the ball out of his hand quicker than any other QB playing today. On average, it took Brady just 2.29 seconds to get rid of the football this season.
They run a dink and dunk offense. Brady averaged just 6.4 yards per passing attempt in 2022. And while they ran more offensive plays than any other team in the league this year, they only averaged 18.4 points per game. They’re not particularly good at running the football, so they use the checkdown game as an extension of it – utilizing quick hitting passes to methodically move down the field.
Jonathan Gannon’s defense has never been great at stopping this offensive approach. More often than not, they’ll allow an offense to move the ball this way. Philly’s defense thrives when they get a big lead and are able to tee off on opposing quarterbacks. If Tampa manages to keep this thing close, they won’t be forced to take shots down field, which plays right into their strength as an offense.
Although Tampa’s offensive approach is geared towards moving the ball against Gannon’s defense, their defense isn’t what it once was. Their defensive DVOA ranks 13th and they’ve struggled to stop some of the best offenses in the league this year. Their rush defense, in particular, is subpar. They rank 15th un run defense, allowing an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
The Eagles can run the ball at will when they want to. I’d have to imagine that’ll be the approach entering this matchup if Tampa defeats Dallas on Monday night.
Just looking at this matchup on paper, the Eagles should be able to handle business. Brady is still an effective quarterback and all, but Nick Sirianni’s offense should be able to put up points against Bowles’ defense.
1. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
Yeah, this is it. This is the one.
I’d love to see these teams face each other in the NFC Championship, but this is the more likely scenario. It’s for all the marbles. Bragging rights might not mean a whole lot to the players, but it means a lot to me god dammit!
Though these teams have split the season series this year, neither team was at full strength for either matchup. In the first one, Cooper Rush was under center for Dallas. On Christmas Eve, it was Gardner Minshew operating the Eagles offense. This time (fingers crossed) both starting quarterbacks will be healthy and ready to go.
It’s hard to accurately predict this game because we simply don’t know which version of the Dallas Cowboys will show up. Will the Christmas Eve iteration that put up 40 points against Gannon’s defense be present, or will it be the team that got manhandled in Week 18 by the Washington Commanders’ backups? No one knows, not even the Cowboys.
If both teams bring their A-game, the Eagles will have the advantage. They have the better quarterback, the better head coach, the better pass rushing unit, the better pass defense, and the better offensive line.
If anything, losing to Dallas in the final seconds on Christmas Eve with Minshew at the helm should give Eagles fans even more confidence for a potential round three. Especially since the game will be at home.
It may the “toughest” matchup for the Eagles on paper, but in reality, Philadelphia should be able to defeat any of their potential divisional round opponents.
Listen to the most recent episode of Grease the Poles
Eagles Clinch One Seed After Defeating New York, Looking Ahead to Wildcard Weekend, Best/Worst Matchups, Wildcard Wishlist – Grease the Poles
Mandatory Credit: AP