There are quite a few playoff questions, theories and scenarios floating around as we look ahead to Week 16, so I wanted to take a moment to provide some clarity.
If you have questions that I did not answer here, e-mail me, and I'll try to answer them.
Q: What do the Eagles need to do to clinch the NFC East?
A: This one's easy, and I mentioned it right after Sunday's game, but it bears repeating. The magic number is one. One Eagles win or one Giants loss in the final two weeks gives the Eagles the division. The Giants play the Packers in Green Bay at 4:15 Sunday, meaning the Birds could have the division locked up by the time they take the field at the Linc against the Vikings at 8:20. In Week 17, the Birds host the Cowboys, and the Giants travel to D.C. to take on the Redskins.
Q: Can the Eagles still earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC?
A: The answer is yes, but it's about as likely as Mike Patterson beating DeSean Jackson in the 40-yard dash. Three things would need to happen. The Eagles would need to win out. The Falcons would need to lose out. And the Saints would have to lose to the Bucs in Week 17. That would put the Eagles and Falcons at 12-4, and the Birds own the tiebreak. If the Bears also finished 12-4, it would create a three-way tie, and the Eagles would still get the one-seed on account of the tiebreak.
Now would be a good time to mention that the Falcons play the 2-12 Panthers in Week 17. In other words, Atlanta's not losing that game, and the Eagles are not getting the one-seed (I know, I know... any given Sunday).
Q: How can the Eagles earn the No. 2 seed?
A: This is the important one because it would give the Eagles a bye in the first round, and they wouldn't have to play on the road until a potential NFC championship.
The Birds have the same record as the Bears (10-4) after Chicago's win last night against the Vikings. But the Bears own the tiebreak since they beat the Eagles earlier this season.
That means the Eagles have to pick up a game on Chicago in the final two weeks to earn the two-seed. The Bears host the Jets at 1 p.m. Sunday. If they lose that game, the Eagles would be in a situation where they'd control their own destiny in terms of earning a bye. They'd have to beat the Vikings Sunday night and beat the Cowboys in Week 17.
The Bears travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers in Week 17.
So, to keep it simple, the Eagles need to do one of two things to edge out the Bears:
1. Finish 2-0 and have the Bears finish 1-1 or 0-2.
2. Finish 1-1 and have the Bears finish 0-2.
In either of those two scenarios, the Eagles get the two-seed and a first-round bye. In all other scenarios, the Bears have the edge.
There's also a scenario in which the Eagles AND the Bears could earn byes. That's the one listed in the previous answer where all three teams (including the Falcons) finish 12-4. Again, highly unlikely that it plays out that way.
Q: Is it possible that the Eagles could face the Giants for a third time?
A: Oh yes. The most likely scenario which would pit the two teams against each other is if the Eagles are the three-seed, and the Giants are the six-seed. If the Birds win the NFC East, but can't overtake the Bears for the two-seed, they'll be No. 3.
And if the Giants get into the playoffs, it will almost definitely be as the No. 6 seed. That would set up a meeting at the Linc in the wild-card round.
As Twitter followe @JSiano pointed out to me (and as commenter Random39 pointed out), if the Eagles are the No. 2 seed, they would not be able to face the Giants until the NFC championship. If New York earns the six-seed and wins on the road in the wild-card round, it would travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in the divisional round. The winner of the Saints-NFC West game would come to the Linc.
Q: Do we know anything for sure at this point?
A: Yes. We know the Bears are NFC North champs and will be either the 1-, 2-, or 3-seed.
And we know the Falcons have clinched a playoff berth.
But that's about it.
With the disclaimer that anything can happen on any given Sunday, I'd guess that the following things are very likely:
* The Falcons will earn the No. 1 seed.
* The Eagles will win the NFC East.
* The Saints will earn a wild-card berth and the No. 5 seed.
If those three things happen, what still has to be decided? The Eagles and Bears have to battle for the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. And the Giants, Packers and Bucs have to fight it out for the second wild-card spot (the six-seed).
The Giants are in with a win next week at Green Bay. The Packers are in if they win out in the final two weeks. It's amazing, but both teams control their own destinies.
Oh, and the NFC West still has to be decided. We could very easily see a 7-9 team hosting the 12-4 (and defending Super Bowl champ) Saints in the wild-card round.
There's still quite a bit to be decided in the final two weeks, but that's where things stand right now.
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