By Pete Baxter
Heading into week nine of the 2021 NFL season, the Eagles have had an up and down 3-5 start to the season. Second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts and rookie head coach Nick Sirianni have gone through their share of growing pains (with ever-passionate Eagles fans already calling for both of their jobs).
The Eagles have generally beaten the bad teams. They blew out the Falcons in week one 32-6. They dominated the winless Lions in week eight 44-6. They took down the Panthers in week five in a close three-point victory. They fell to the 49ers by one score back in week two. One more touchdown against San Francisco and they are sitting at .500.
They have struggled against the good teams. They predictably fell to the Cowboys, Buccaneers, Raiders and Chiefs (not that the Chiefs are world beaters this season) along with the 49ers, as noted.
The adversity faced by the team has grown week to week for this team with injuries mounting. Running back Miles Sanders (already severely underused on the season) and wide receiver Jalen Reagor have joined pass rusher Brandon Graham and offensive lineman Brandon Brooks as headliners on the injury report. Offensive tackle Jordan Mailata has been in and out of the lineup.
With all that said, is this a lost season in Philly? Or are the Eagles, in fact, still very much alive in the playoff hunt? Let’s take a look at what it could take for the Eagles to challenge for a wildcard playoff spot this season:
The NFC Least
Fortunately for Philly fans, the NFC East is nearly as bad as it was last season. The Cowboys are off to a strong start at 6-1 and should run away with the division, but the Eagles, despite being two games below .500, sit in second place in the division. The Washington Football Team and New York Giants have been terrible, both at 2-6.
Only the NFC West and NFC South have at least two teams with .500 or better records in the conference. The Saints, now without Jameis Winston for the season, will likely stumble after a 5-2 start. The Panthers are 4-4 but have lost four their last five games.
Projecting the Eagles’ Final Record
To determine the team’s chances of making the playoffs, let’s first project the record the Eagles will have as the regular season wraps up by looking at each remaining game:
Week Nine: Home versus L.A. Chargers. Result: Loss. Justin Herbert may be limited with a hand injury, but as long as he plays, the Chargers just have too much firepower for Jalen Hurts and company to keep up. There is a chance, but more than likely, the Chargers escape Philly with a win. Updated record: 3-6.
Week 10: At Denver Broncos. Result: Win. After a hot start to the year, the Denver Broncos have been just plain bad in recent weeks. Nick Sirianni may just be able to out-coach Vic Fangio, and Jalen Hurts can outgun Teddy Bridgewater. The Eagles leave Mile High Stadium with a win. Updated record: 4-6.
Week 11: Home versus New Orleans Saints. Result: Loss. This could be a battle, but the Saints’ defense should be good enough to shut down Jalen Hurts and company. Trevor Siemian (in for the injured Jameis Winston) just needs to avoid mistakes and manage the game for New Orleans. Updated record: 4-7.
Week 12: At New York Giants. Result: Loss. The Eagles are a marginally better team than the Giants, but not better enough to complete a season sweep against their division rival. The Giants squeak out a victory at home. Updated record: 4-8.
Week 13: At New York Jets. Result: Win. Let’s assume Mike White does not become the second coming of Joe Montana, and the Jets revert to being one of the worst teams in the league. Updated record: 5-8.
Week 14: Bye
Week 15: Home versus Washington Football Team. Result: Win. The easiest stretch of the Eagles’ schedule continues as the struggling Washington Football Team comes to town. Shockingly the Eagles have the better defense, and Tyler Heineke looks more and more like an XFL quarterback as the season has progressed. Another very winnable game. Updated record: 6-8.
Week 16: Home versus New York Giants. Result: Win. The Eagles avenge their week 12 loss to the Giants at home. Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman’s last trip to Philly? Updated record: 7-8.
Week 17: At Washington Football Team. Result: Win. Whether or not Heineke has held of Ryan Fitzpatrick as starting quarterback at this point, the Eagles are still the better team and take down the Football Team in DC to finally get to .500. Updated record: 8-8.
Week 18: Home versus Dallas Cowboys. Result: Loss. The Dallas Cowboys come to town and, unfortunately, are still the better team. They knock the Eagles below .500 in a crushing final loss of the season. Updated record: 8-9.
The Playoff Picture
For a rebuilding squad with an inexperienced quarterback, even less experienced coaches, and a rash of key injuries throughout the season, an 8-9 record is a respectable finish. No jobs should be lost, and the Eagles have a lot to build from next season (along with their massive stockpile of draft picks). But is it enough to make the playoffs?
Let’s take a look at the current playoff picture in the NFC:
Division Leaders (Wild Card Bye):
- Green Bay Packers, first in NFC North, 7-1
- Arizona Cardinals, first in NFC West, 7-1
- Dallas Cowboys, first in NFC East, 6-1
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers, first in NFC South, 6-2
- Los Angeles Rams, second in NFC West, 7-1,
- New Orleans Saints, second in NFC South, 5-2
- Carolina Panthers, third in NFC South, 4-4
The Eagles then sit in a quagmire of sub-.500 teams chasing the Panthers for the final Wild Card spot:
- Minnesota Vikings, second in NFC North, 3-4
- San Francisco 49ers, third in NFC West, 3-4
- Atlanta Falcons, fourth in NFC South, 3-4
- Philadelphia Eagles, second in NFC East, 3-5
What Does it All Mean?
So, can the Eagles pull it off and sneak into a Wild Card seed? Absolutely.
The top five teams in the conference are out of reach. Beyond that, the whole conference is up in the air. New Orleans is likely on the verge of a collapse with Jameis Winston out for the season. The Carolina Panthers have lost four of their last five games and are looking like a bad team. Minnesota is as mediocre as ever and seem like a team built for an 8-9 record at best. The 49ers are a team in flux and are trending in the wrong direction. The Eagles blew out the Falcons in week one, and the Falcons seem to be overachieving to have even reached 3-4 at this point.
All of these teams are within reach. It is entirely possible that the Eagles continue to win the games that they should win (they are heading towards a very easy stretch in their schedule) and climb into as high as the sixth seed in the conference.
Is it a guarantee? No. But there is a chance. A Wild Card playoff seed would be a massive accomplishment for Nick Sirianni and his young quarterback. It could make the difference between the team riding with Jalen Hurts heading into next season or moving in a different direction at the position.
Interesting times in Philadelphia. More to come.