We're halfway through the season and the 4-4 Eagles managed to maintain relevancy with a win over the Bills in Week 8, but the reality is that the Birds have put themselves in a very difficult situation. The early-season losses to the Falcons (who haven't managed another win this season) and the Lions are already looming large in terms of the Wild Card and tie-breaking situations. As things stand, it looks like a division title is the most viable path to the playoffs for the Birds. However, a lot can happen over the course of nine weeks in the NFL, so we'll be keeping an eye on the other playoff contenders as we consider all possible roads to the playoffs for the Eagles. Here are the key games in Week 9.
Vikings (6-2) at Chiefs (5-3), 1:00 Sunday
The Vikings find themselves sitting at 6-2 and trailing the Packers by one game in the NFC North. As things currently stand, the runner-up in this division is in line for one of the Wild Card spots. The fact that Minnesota holds a head-to-head win over the Eagles makes things more difficult, and it would actually be better for the Eagles if the Vikings won their division because the Eagles hold a head-to-head win over the Packers. Regardless of the outcome of this one, it will have an impact on the Eagles' hopes of being able to sneak into the playoffs without a division title. You could root for a Minnesota loss to help the Eagles stay within striking distance, or for a win to help the Vikings try to overtake the Packers.
Packers (7-1) at Chargers (3-4), 4:25 Sunday
Speaking of the Packers, they travel to LA to take on a struggling Chargers team. LA kept its slim playoff hopes alive with a win over Chicago last week and should continue to play with desperation. We're clearly rooting for a Green Bay loss here, both to pull the Packers back to the pack a little bit and also opening the door for the Vikings to overtake first-place in the division.
Buccaneers (2-5) at Seahawks (6-2), 4:05 Sunday
We'll be hoping for a miracle upset here. The NFC West is incredibly competitive and will likely produce at least one of the two wild card teams. The Seahawks currently sit second behind the 8-0 49ers. Despite the 6-2 record, the Seahawks only boast a +12 point differential so they've been far from dominant. Playing at home against Tampa Bay doesn't bode well for an upset and some help for the Eagles, but you never know.
Lions (3-3) at Raiders (3-4), 4:05 Sunday
The Lions are well behind the Packers and Vikings in the division and will likely be reliant on the wild card if they hope to make the playoffs. Detroit remains on the fringe of the playoff scene put certainly has plenty to play for. The Lions' head-to-head win over the Eagles complicates things, so it would make things less complicated for the Birds if Detroit fell out of contention.
Cowboys (4-3) at Giants (2-6), Monday 8:15
Here's the obvious big one, as it has division implications instead of wild card. Every Cowboys loss will be huge for the Eagles the rest of the way, and an unexpected one to a divisional opponent would be massive. Dallas beat the Giants 35-17 in Week 1, but Eli Manning started that game.
The Rams (5-3) and Saints (7-1) have byes.
Obviously, all of this is predicated on the Eagles handling their own business. They are facing a season-defining stretch against the Bears, Patriots, and Seahawks. At the very least, the Birds need at least one victory out of those three games, in addition to beating the Cowboys at home and not slipping up in games against the Redskins, Dolphins, and two against the Giants. That scenario could possibly be good enough to get the Eagles the NFC East title.
Conversely, failing to go at least 1-2 in the next three or giving away a game against those lesser opponents likely dooms the season. At the other end of the spectrum, if the Eagles go 2-1 against Chicago, New England, and Seattle, the whole outlook changes and the Eagles will likely be in the driver's seat. If they somehow managed to go 3-0, the entire narrative of the season changes.
The next four weeks (Philly has a bye sandwiched between Chicago and New England) will more or less define the season. But we have to take things one week at a time, and for as long as the playoffs remain a mathematical possibility, we'll explore all possible paths.