John Smallwood: Eagles' win over Texans keeps all the options open

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LeSean McCoy scored 2 touchdowns to help the Eagles to a win over the Texans Thursday night. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)

IF YOU HAVE ever watched one of those World Series of Poker television events, you would have noticed that after each drawn card the announcers calculate the odds of each player winning the hand.

The website www. makeNFL playoffs.com uses a computer software program to do something similar, simulating the remaining games a million times and including the NFL tiebreaking procedures.

So how significant did the Eagles help their playoff chances with last night's 34-24 victory over the Houston Texans at Lincoln Financial Field?

Well, if you like to play the odds, makeNFLplayoffs.com says the Eagles increased their chances to get into the postseason from 60.2 percent to 68.9 percent and their chance of winning the NFC East from 50.8 percent to 59.8 percent.

That doesn't guarantee a thing, but with four games left, it helps to have as many things going for you as possible.

The game against Houston wasn't about where the Birds had just come from - although the lingering sting of last Sunday's loss in Chicago certainly acted as motivation.

This short-week, gut-check victory was about going forward, about setting the stage for a stretch run that could turn a season that has been surprising in so many ways into something special.

With Michael Vick rallying the Eagles from a 24-20 deficit in the fourth quarter with a touchdown run and a touchdown pass to fullback Owen Schmitt, the Eagles improved to 8-4, which is considerably better than being 7-5.

With the win, the Eagles still control their own fate in the NFC playoff race.

They have a half-game lead over the New York Giants, who play the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

If they win out, they win the NFC East and are no worse than the third seed in the NFC playoffs.

With the win, the Eagles take positive momentum into what virtually equates to a mini-bye week before they travel to Dallas for a Sunday night game on Dec. 12.

This is one of those situations where the negative of having to play the Texans on a short week suddenly becomes an advantage with 9 days to prepare for the Cowboys.

You can only imagine what that extended period of time would have been like if the Eagles were riding a two-game losing streak.

After Dallas, the Eagles travel to the Meadowlands for a rematch with the Giants that will likely, again, be for first place in the NFC East.

They close out the season with home games against Minnesota and Dallas.

It's all about positioning at this stage of a season.

The loss to Chicago hurt, but it would have been crippling had the Eagles not bounced back with the victory over Houston.

Again, there is a huge difference being 8-4 instead of 7-5.

With eight wins, the Eagles are not only guaranteed of staying on top of the East by virtue of having beaten the Giants 2 weeks ago, but, just as important, they stay right in the thick of the hunt for a wild card.

If the old theory of "just get in the playoffs any way you can" holds true, then this might be the Eagles' biggest win of the season.

Devastating would be too strong a word to use had the Eagles lost. But things would have been much more complicated.

Coming out of last week, there were seven teams in the NFC with at least seven victories. Had the Eagles lost to Houston and fell to 7-5, they could've come out of this weekend's action as a team that went from being in the playoffs to one that would miss out.

Had the Eagles lost, while New York beat Washington, New Orleans beat Cincinnati and Green Bay beat San Francisco on Sunday, they would've dropped from third to at least seventh in the conference standings.

That would've been a bad place to be, considering the Saints, who trail Atlanta in the NFC South, already have eight wins and Green Bay holds the tie breaker over the Birds, having won their season-opening encounter.

Obviously, Chicago, which leads the NFC North with an 8-3 record, also holds a wild-card tiebreak over the Eagles.

From here on out, things are going to readjust depending on each result.

It's a time when it's better to be the one setting a pace instead of trying to catch up.

Obviously, things won't be easy for the Birds with three division games, two on the road, in the final 4 weeks, but the win over Houston at least gives them a cushion.

It looks like it's going to take at least 10 wins for anyone, except the winner of the NFC West, to get one of the six playoff bids.

Again, you take the odds for what they are worth, but makeNFLplayoffs.com calculates that the Eagles have a 99.9 percent chance of making the postseason if they finish 3-1 - not bad.

If they go 2-2, the odds drop to 82.5 percent, which still is extremely favorable.

Even if the Eagles finish up 1-3, they'd still have a 23.2 percent chance of making the playoffs - not good but better than being completely eliminated.

There is still plenty of work to do, but beating Houston has shifted the odds in the Birds' favor.

Send e-mail to smallwj@phillynews.com.

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