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Eagles 2021 playoff outlook: Where they stand after 13 weeks, remaining games and where they must improve


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Eagles 2021 playoff outlook: Where they stand after 13 weeks, remaining games and where they must improve

Philadelphia has a shot at the postseason with an opportunity to control its own destiny

Jeff Kerr
By Jeff Kerr

The Philadelphia Eagles sitting at 6-7 after 13 weeks shouldn't surprise many, considering the depth of the offensive line was the strength of their team heading into the season. Nick Sirianni and his coaching staff still deserve a lot of credit for reversing course and adjusting the initial game plan from the start of the season.

Since Week 8, the Eagles are the best rushing team in football. Philadelphia is averaging 210.5 rushing yards a game -- the highest in the league and the first time the franchise has rushed for 175-plus yards in six consecutive games since 1949. They only trail the Indianapolis Colts in yards per carry (5.09) and rushing touchdowns (11), as this new identity has pushed the Eagles to the contenders for a playoff spot. 

Philadelphia is 4-2 in its last six games, improving on both sides of the football. The Eagles are second in the NFL in points per game (29.8) since Week 8, second in point differential (+72), and second in total time of possession (three hours and 17 minutes). The defense has improved as well, ranking eighth in yards allowed per game (308.4) and seventh in points allowed per game (17.7). 

The improved play has Philadelphia in the thick of a playoff race heading into their bye week. When the Eagles return, four NFC East games await that will determine the fate of their 2021 season. For a team in a transition year with three first-round draft picks coming in 2022 and plenty of salary cap space to improve the roster, the Eagles are ahead of schedule in their quest to climb to the top of the NFL. 

A postseason berth in Sirianni's first year will go a long way for this franchise. The Eagles control their own destiny over the final four games, a scenario this team was hoping for when the 2021 season began. 

Current playoff position

The Eagles are eighth in the NFC playoff standings heading into their bye week, significantly improving their playoff chances in Week 13 with a win over the New York Jets combined with a San Francisco 49ers loss to the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings falling to the previously winless Detroit Lions

Philadelphia's NFC East division title chances are slim to none. The Dallas Cowboys (8-4) would have to lose four of their next five games and the Eagles would have to win out to steal the division and host a playoff game. Dallas winning against Washington this week would be better for Philadelphia, since the Eagles would be tied with the Football Team ahead of the first of two late-season showdowns with their NFC East rivals. 

The best way for the Eagles to get into the playoffs is via the wild card. Philadelphia is just a half game behind Washington for the No. 6 seed and San Francisco for the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs, but the Eagles have already lost to the 49ers this year (Week 2). San Francisco holds the crucial head-to-head tiebreaker for a wild card spot should the two teams have the same record after Week 18. 

Remaining schedule

Here are the NFC playoff standings from No. 6 to No. 8 and the remaining schedules for each: 

  • No. 6 seed: Washington Football Team (6-6) -- vs. Cowboys (8-4), at Eagles (6-7), at Cowboys (8-4), vs. Eagles (6-7), at Giants (4-8)
  • No. 7 seed: San Francisco 49ers (6-6) -- at Bengals (7-5), vs. Falcons (5-7), at Titans (8-4), vs. Texans (2-10), at Rams (8-4) 
  • No. 8 seed: Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) -- bye week, vs. Washington (6-6), vs. Giants (4-8), at Washington (6-6), vs. Cowboys (8-4)

This situation is pretty cut and dry for the Eagles, who play Washington twice in their next three games. Both those games will be the difference between advancing to the playoffs and missing the postseason altogether. The Eagles also have to make sure they beat the Giants after failing to do so in the first meeting two weeks ago. 

Splitting with Washington would mean that the tiebreaker is division record. (Philadelphia is already 0-2 while Washington is 1-0.) The best-case scenario for the Eagles is for Dallas to sweep Washington, giving Philadelphia an extra opportunity if the Eagles were to split with the Football Team. Dallas may not have anything to play for in Week 18 if it sweeps Washington, as the No. 1 seed -- and the lone conference bye -- appears out of reach at this juncture. (Dallas does play the top-seeded Arizona Cardinals in Week 17.)

The blueprint is pretty clear for the Eagles to make the playoffs: sweep Washington and take care of the Giants. The margin of error is very slim, but Philadelphia controls its own destiny. 

Where the Eagles must improve in the final four games

Throwing the football

Jalen Hurts is going to be the Eagles quarterback after the bye week (assuming he's fully healed from an ankle injury that kept him out of Sunday's win over the Jets). While the Eagles have been excellent running the football since Week 8, Hurts' passing numbers are less than ideal. Of quarterbacks with over 50 pass attempts since Week 8, Hurts is 28th in completion percentage (57.8%), 24th in passing yards (719), tied for 25th in passing touchdowns (three), tied for ninth in interceptions thrown (four), and 30th in passer rating (71.6) -- out of 36 quarterbacks. 

It didn't help that Gardner Minshew finished 20 of 25 for 242 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, ending up with a 133.7 passer rating in his lone start filling in for Hurts (against the Jets). The Eagles also ran for 185 yards without Hurts, displaying a more balanced offense that would better keep opposing defenses on their toes.

The Eagles are still dynamic with Hurts at quarterback, but if they can get a higher completion rate and more consistency from him for the duration of the year, Philadelphia could run the table in the NFC and get to 10 wins. Perhaps more play-action passes and eliminating a few run-pass options and zone reads will help Hurts evolve as a quarterback. 

Getting to the quarterback 

The Eagles have just 10 sacks since Week 8, tied for the eighth-fewest in the NFL. And this is despite their secondary improving in completion percentage allowed (66.2%, 14th-highest in NFL) and opposing quarterbacks having a 91.7 passer rating against them (also 14th-highest in the NFL). Those numbers would improve if the Eagles could get more pressure on the quarterback. 

Philadelphia doesn't get any pressure from its defensive front outside of Javon Hargrave (7.5 sacks) and Josh Sweat (5.0 sacks). The Eagles don't have any player on defense outside of those two with more than two sacks, implying someone other than Hargrave and Sweat has to step up over the final four weeks. This is where Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett need to earn their money and get to the quarterback. 

The Eagles are tied for 11th in pressures (146) but tied for 26th in sacks (21). The blueprint is out for opposing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quick because of the amount of zone coverage the Eagles play, but Philadelphia needs to find a way to get home on pass plays to create more third-and-long situations. 

Will they make the postseason? 

If the Eagles sweep Washington, there's a very good chance Philadelphia will be making its fourth playoff trip in five years. Finishing 9-8 also should be enough to get the Eagles in the playoffs, but the best way to get in is to win their next three games. 

The loss to the 49ers hurts and means Philadelphia will need a better record than San Francisco to leapfrog them. The 49ers have a tough road ahead with the Bengals, Titans, and Rams on their schedule, so its possible they could finish 8-9 and Philadelphia could jump them in the standings. 

Ultimately, the season comes down to both matchups with Washington -- the team that's a half game ahead of them in the conference standings. A split with Washington just holds serve and the Eagles would need outside help. A sweep of Washington and the Eagles should be playing football in mid-January. 

Philadelphia's fate is in its own hands. 


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