The Eagles experienced just about the best bye week possible, witnessing losses from all three of their division opponents — their closest rival losing in especially dismal fashion. Now three games clear of those same Cowboys, it’s natural to check out some of the NFC opponents that could prove most dangerous to the Eagles come playoff time. Let’s check out the top five:
Saints (7-2, NFC South Leaders)
After their stomping of the Bills Sunday, the Saints are tied with the Eagles for the longest winning streak in the NFL. Since losing their opening two games, including an embarrassing rout by the Vikings in the first Monday Night Football of the season, the Saints have won seven straight. Exactly one of those seven wins has been a one-score game, a 20-12 victory over the Bears. The average score during their win streak? 33-14.
Relieved of the burden of finding a role for Adrian Peterson, their rushing attack has come alive behind veteran Mark Ingram (672 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns) and rookie Alvin Kamara (790 total yards and 6 scores). Their offense is top five in scoring, passing, and rushing, and that might not surprise anyone familiar with the last decade of Saints football. The defense is another story. After beginning the season by providing Sam Bradford with a season’s worth of highlight reels the defense, led by Cameron Jordan (7 sacks) and their first round draft pick Marshon Lattimore (2 interceptions) has molded itself into the fifth ranked scoring defense in the league.
The Eagles have some personal history with the Saints as well. They’ve ended two of the Birds’ five most recent trips to the post-season, including the most recent, a 26-24 nail biter in the Wild Card Round at Lincoln Financial Field that ended Nick Foles magical 2014 season. The majority of New Orleans remaining games are in their division, where they have four left to play, including two against the Falcons. They’ve beaten their closest competitors Carolina 34-13 already this season, and will have a rematch with the Panthers December 3rd.
Vikings (7-2, NFC North Leaders)
The Eagles’ recent history with the Vikings is better. They’re 3-0 against Minnesota in the playoffs, and the last two times they dispatched the Vikings in Round 1, they went on to a Conference Championship appearance and a Super Bowl.
This season, the Vikings started off winning behind inspired play by former Eagle Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook. They’ve since lost both for the season but kept winning with backup quarterback Case Keenum and outstanding defense. Perhaps most of all their season is owed to improved offensive line play. Even after losing Peterson this off-season and Cook, they rank 10th in the league in rushing.
Their path to the playoffs looks even clearer than the Saints at the moment, though the stiffest challenge they’re likely to face, the Lions, have beaten them once already this season. The Packers also sit two games back, but a title challenge absent Aaron Rodgers looks unlikely.
Seahawks (6-3, 2nd Place, NFC West)
Were the Eagles to run into Seattle in the playoffs, it would be the franchises’ first meeting there. It’s not too surprising, since the Seahawks began their existence in the AFC. The two franchises have seen their fair share of regular season matchups in recent seasons, and they’ll share another Dec. 3rd for Sunday Night Football.
This season the Seahawks have relied more than ever on Russell Wilson to supply their offense. He quarterbacks the second ranked passing offense in the league, and is the team’s leading rusher through a season beset by injuries and ineffectiveness at the running back position. The Legion of Boom will need to be re-envisioned without Richard Sherman for the remainder of this season following the corners Achilles tear this past Thursday night.
The Seahawks feature higher than their division leading counterpart on this list because they’ve beaten the Rams head to head this season and they’re playoff veterans with a well-known (though lately questioned) home-field advantage. Another win against the Rams would put them in the NFC West drivers seat, but a loss would remove much chance of seeing that home-field in the playoffs.
Rams (7-2, NFC West Leaders)
And now for the team a game up on the Seahawks in the West, the Rams. One of the league’s biggest surprises, the Rams have gone from 4-12 and the league’s lowest scoring offense in 2016 to contenders and the highest scoring team in 2017. The Eagles are familiar with the architect of this turnaround: former Washington Offensive Coordinator and 31-year old rookie Head Coach Sean McVay.
The development McVay provided Kirk Cousins is now turned on Jared Goff, and the first overall pick a year ago is finally taking some of the attention back from Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions after posting five and seven respectively as a rookie. If he and the Rams can beat the Seahawks in their Dec. 17th rematch, the division should be theirs.
Sure, the Eagles lost to the St. Louis Rams in the 2001 NFC Championship Game, kicking off a string of three consecutive Championship game defeats. But the last time they faced the Los Angeles Rams in a playoff game they won the 1949 NFL Championship against their horned opponents. The Rams quarterback in that game? Norm Van Brocklin.
Any potential playoff matchup will be previewed when the Eagles travel to Los Angeles Dec. 10th.
Cowboys (5-4, 2nd Place, NFC East)
The biggest threat in the Eagles own division looked a lot less threatening against the Falcons Sunday afternoon. They carried a three game win streak into their first weekend without Ezekiel Elliott, but it didn’t go well. With starting left tackle Tyron Smith also missing the game, the Cowboys allowed eight sacks and lost 27-7 in Atlanta.
They’ll have to fix that pass blocking quickly, with the Eagles fearsome pass rush visiting Dallas this week for the first of two matchups yet to come this season. Later this year, the season finale between the two could be another division settling game for the ages, or, with the Eagles threatening to move four games ahead of the Cowboys this weekend, it could end up simply meaningless.