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How the Eagles, Niners or Cowboys could claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC

On Sunday morning, the Philadelphia Eagles had the best record in the NFL. By late Sunday night, following their 33-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, they found themselves in fifth place in the NFC playoff order, where the Eagles, Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers all stand at 10-3.

With four games remaining, the 49ers -- who beat the Cowboys and Eagles by a combined 84-29 this season -- hold the top spot in the NFC, which would earn them the only conference bye. The Cowboys hold the top spot in the NFC East, which currently gives them the No. 2 NFC seed, thanks to a tiebreaker. However, if they and the Eagles win their final four games, Philadelphia would win the division for the second straight season by having a better conference record.

The last time the NFC East had a repeat champion was 2003-04, when current Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid was still coaching the Eagles.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan isn't focused on playoff scenarios just yet.

"I'll have a reaction when it is the No. 1 spot, if it is. That's when the season ends," Shanahan said. "Right now, it doesn't mean much. It just means where you're at now, and I know we won't be [No. 1] if we don't handle business this week. So that's really all we're worried about this week, and then we'll move on to who we play after that."

NFL Nation reporters Tim McManus, Nick Wagoner and Todd Archer look at how it could all shake out for the NFC's No. 1 seed:

San Francisco 49ers

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What must the 49ers do to claim home-field advantage?

There is no mystery here. The Niners need to win their remaining four games in order to guarantee the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. By virtue of their dominant wins against the Eagles and Cowboys, the Niners hold the tiebreaker against both of them. The only way they would fall from that spot is if they lose and at least one of Dallas or Philadelphia wins out.

ESPN's Football Power Index ranks the Niners' remaining schedule as the 16th-most difficult in the league, which lands in the middle ground between the tough slate awaiting the Cowboys and the easy one in front of the Eagles. All eyes will be on the Niners' Christmas night showdown against the Baltimore Ravens in a game that matches two of the FPI's top three Super Bowl favorites.

Of course, the Niners wouldn't mind a little cushion in the form of losses for Dallas and Philadelphia so they could have some wiggle room down the stretch.

What's the likeliest scenario for the 49ers?

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At this point, it's difficult -- though not impossible -- to envision the 49ers losing to any of the teams left on their schedule (at Cardinals, vs. Ravens, at Commanders, vs. Rams). Barring significant injury issues, they will be favored in each of those contests, and the Niners seem to be rounding into form. The FPI has the Niners as the favorites to wrap up the No. 1 seed with a 58.7% chance.

What's more, the 49ers under Shanahan have made a habit of finishing with a flourish. Since 2021, San Francisco is 12-2 in regular-season games played in December and January with an average margin of victory of 11.6 points per game. That winning percentage and scoring margin rank first in the NFL in that time.

How much does home-field advantage mean for the Niners?

Dating to training camp, the 49ers haven't shied away from the importance of the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage. San Francisco has advanced to the NFC Championship game in three of the past four seasons. The only time the Niners won it and advanced to the Super Bowl was 2019, when they had the conference's top seed.

It could mean even more for the 49ers this season, considering how banged up they are at the moment, especially on defense. They have five defensive starters dealing with injuries now, and though none are considered long term, any additional rest would come in handy. That's especially true given that the Niners will log the second-most miles in terms of regular-season travel.

"Obviously, who doesn't want to play as the first seed with home-field advantage?" quarterback Brock Purdy said. "I think everybody in the league knows that. We know that here, and like I said, we're taking it one day at a time and everything will fall into place that needs to." -- Wagoner

Philadelphia Eagles

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What must the Eagles do to claim home-field advantage?

First, the Eagles have to pull out of this tailspin. They were throttled by the Niners and Cowboys the past two weeks, losing by a combined 43 points, and they have trailed at halftime in six consecutive games. The defense is in disarray -- allowing 109 points (36.3 per game) in its past three contests, the third-most points allowed by a reigning conference champion since the 1970 merger -- and Sunday marked the first time the offense failed to score a touchdown in four seasons with Jalen Hurts at the helm.

But the Eagles have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, according to the FPI, putting them in solid position to claim home field despite the recent stumbles. They need to take care of their own business, starting Monday night at the Seattle Seahawks (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN), and hope the Niners slip up.

"Adversity can do a couple of things to you. It can break you or it can make you way better," coach Nick Sirianni said. "And I know that everybody that's in that locker room has been through s--- in their lives and has made it to this point. They've made it to this point because of the s--- they've been through. And so that adversity has made a lot of us in that locker room where we are today, and we've got to remember that."

What's the likeliest scenario for the Eagles?

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The FPI has the No. 2 seed as the most likely outcome for Philadelphia (37.7%), followed by the No. 1 seed (30.5%) and the No. 5 seed (29.8%). That demonstrates just how up in the air the Eagles' postseason prospects are; the odds of having home-field advantage throughout are almost identical to being on the road for the duration of the playoffs.

They will likely be favored in all of their remaining regular-season games -- at Seahawks, vs. Giants, vs. Cardinals, at Giants -- but given how they've been playing of late, an upset loss or two along the way would not come as a shock. The game against the Seahawks looms large. If the Eagles can regroup against Seattle, that should provide enough momentum to finish strong and secure one of the top two seeds.

How much does home-field advantage mean for the Eagles?

Here are the home records for each team since the start of the 2022 season:

Cowboys: 15-1

Niners: 15-2

Eagles: 14-3

Being at home isn't everything -- the 49ers proved that when they dismantled the Eagles at Philly in Week 13 -- but it definitely helps.

Lincoln Financial Field is home to perhaps the rowdiest fan base in the country, and the intensity gets turned up several notches during the postseason. The Eagles were the top seed in the NFC en route to each of their past three Super Bowl appearances, including in 2017, when they won it all.

"To me, it's like a playoff game from here on out," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said of the remaining schedule. "We got to fight to the end right now." -- McManus

Dallas Cowboys

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What must the Cowboys do to claim home-field advantage?

Winning might not be enough.

The Cowboys lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the 49ers. They would lose the conference-record tiebreaker with the Eagles. That Week 3 loss at the Cardinals will come back to bite them. Unless, of course, the Eagles and 49ers lose one more game.

Philadelphia's toughest remaining opponent is Seattle. San Francisco has Baltimore this week and ends the year with the Rams, who could be in the playoff chase in Week 18. Oh, maybe this shouldn't be buried: The Cowboys essentially can't lose any of their final four games (at Bills, at Dolphins, vs. Lions, at Commanders).

What's the likeliest scenario for the Cowboys?

It's looking like the same as last season: Finish as the No. 5 seed and open the playoffs at the NFC South winner. In 2022, it meant a wild-card trip to face the 8-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This season, it could be a game at Atlanta, New Orleans or Tampa Bay, with that division unsettled. That could mean a trip to San Francisco in the divisional round for the second straight year or a third meeting with the Eagles, should they advance.

Three of their remaining opponents are in the playoff chase (Buffalo, Miami, Detroit). Let's be honest, the Cowboys would likely be heavy favorites against whomever they play in the wild-card round.

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Owner and general manager Jerry Jones would accept that fate.

"I do, because that's what it is. We just can't do anything about that," Jones said. "But I like it when you can go to the playoffs and don't have the wins that you might think deserve playoff participation. I like it if I'm one of the teams that doesn't have the wins, so I don't have a problem with the rule. We all know what it is when we start."

How much does home-field advantage mean for the Cowboys?

Hmm, how does "everything" sound? The Cowboys have won 15 straight regular-season games at AT&T Stadium, their longest streak since they won 18 in a row at Texas Stadium from 1979 to 1981.

"We want to play at home. I mean, why wouldn't we?" coach Mike McCarthy said. "The crowd [against Philadelphia], I don't think I've ever heard AT&T Stadium that loud. That's an unbelievable advantage for us. The only way to get to that point is to take care of what's in front of you."

The Cowboys' seven wins at home this season have been decided by an average of 24.4 points. Per Elias Sports Bureau, the Cowboys are tied for the fourth-largest point margin in NFL history through seven home games. But home-field advantage has not been kind to the Cowboys lately. They lost in the divisional rounds at home as the top seed in the NFC in 2007 and 2016. -- Archer

    

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