A No. 1 seed (San Francisco) and a No. 2 seed (Kansas City) are heading to the Super Bowl. That's no surprise. That's the ideal. Right around 80 percent of the participants in the Super Bowl since the NFL introduced a 16-game schedule and a second Wild Card playoff team in 1978. If there are any reminders from Sunday's Conference Championship round, it's that the goal is to win your division and secure a first or second seed in the postseason.
The others? The feeling here is that the Eagles are right there with the best teams in the NFL when they are whole, but you know the deal: The roster is going to change, perhaps significantly, as it always does from one season to another. There were some notable numbers and football mantras in play Sunday that serve as reminders for the Eagles moving forward …
1. Win, or don't lose, the turnover battle
Kansas City had a turnover-free afternoon in the win over Tennessee, which also didn't turn the ball over, so that draw was a win for the Chiefs. San Francisco, of course, dominated the Packers in that department, intercepting quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice and recovering one of his fumbles. This is a rule of the game we've discussed all season with regard to the Eagles, who had a minus-3 in turnover differential during the regular season. The Eagles were the only playoff team in the 2019 season with a negative turnover differential. They won during the season when they protected the football and lost when they gave it away. If you want to boil the game down to simple statistics, this is a leading one.
2. Stop the run defensively
All things considered on Sunday, perhaps the most impressive defensive accomplishment was the job Steve Spagnuolo's defense did against Derrick Henry and Tennessee's running game, limiting the Titans to 85 yards on 23 rushing attempts. Henry averaged 3.9 yards per carry. San Francisco ran for 285 yards on 42 carries while the Packers managed just 62 yards on 16 rushing attempts.
The Eagles are well-positioned here as they ranked third in the NFL in run defense in 2019. It's going to be interesting to see how the Eagles address the defensive front seven in the months to come because the defense needs more game-changing plays in the passing game with the pass rush and the linebackers must be more of a factor, but the groundwork is in place already for success up front defensively.
3. Come up big in the red zone
All four teams on Sunday were excellent in the red zone. No surprise. That's how they played so deep into the postseason. The Eagles ranked eighth in that category in 2019, but that included the playoff loss to Seattle when the Josh McCown-led offense failed to score touchdowns on three red zone trips. With Carson Wentz at the helm, the Eagles were much better in the red zone and they were downright outstanding in goal-to-go situations. The Eagles have the makings of one of the league's best red zone offenses with the great offensive line returning, with Wentz healthy, with running back Miles Sanders even better next year, and with excellent tight ends and big targets in the passing game,
4. Make explosive gains on offense
It doesn't matter how it happens; it just has to happen.
The grind-it-out offense is wonderful and it leads to winning the time of possession battle – not as important from this perspective as some believe – and it leads to a "balanced" attack – also an overrated statistic – but what's really important is "chunk" plays. San Francisco had four plays of 30-plus yards on Sunday. Green Bay had two passing plays of 40-plus yards. Kansas City had a 60-yard touchdown play and a 27-yard touchdown run and three other plays of 20-plus yards. Tennessee had five plays of 20-plus yards.
The Eagles had a total of five passing plays during the entire season that gained 40-plus yards. Two of them went to DeSean Jackson in the opening-game win over Washington – the touchdown connections of 51 and 53 yards. Once he went down, the offense lacked explosiveness. Sanders is an explosive element out of the backfield. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are explosive. Jackson, of course. The Eagles need to find ways to gain more big plays on offense. They ranked 21st in the NFL with a 5.2-yard-per-play average in 2019, while both Kansas City (second, 6.3 yards) and San Francisco (fourth, 6.0) ranked among the top five in the league.
5. Play loose and be creative on offense
Didn't you just love the playcalling on Sunday. Handoffs to wide receivers. Direct snaps to running backs. Lots of motion and deception. Fun stuff. Speed is the theme here and it was obvious throughout all four teams that the coaches had that "loose" mentality on offense.
When the Eagles are whole, head coach Doug Pederson has demonstrated that kind of approach. If there is one thing the Eagles can add to the offense in the months ahead, it's more speed. Kansas City scares the bejeebers out of every defense. San Francisco is using ways to get wide receiver Deebo Samuel the football and he's dynamic with the ball in his hands.
The Eagles aren't far away here. Given the assets the Eagles have in the offseason – cap space and potentially 10 draft picks – you can expect the team to be on the hunt for playmakers that will give Pederson and his staff more flexibility.
6. Win the final minutes of the first half
The Chiefs scored 14 points in the second quarter on Sunday to take control of the game, including the touchdown run from quarterback Patrick Mahomes late to assume a lead they would not relinquish. San Francisco dominated with 20 points in the second quarter, including 10 points in the final two minutes of the half. Important stuff. No surprise, then, that Kansas City led the NFL with 12.2 points scored on average in the second quarter of games this season (including the playoffs), and San Francisco was fifth, averaging 9.2 points in the second quarter. The Eagles were 19th in the NFL, averaging 6.2 points in the second quarter of games, including only 4.0 points in the second quarter of home games. That needs to be much better moving forward.
There is more to consider – third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball, penalties, tackling, etc. – but some of the things that jumped out on Sunday are worth considering. Two teams remain in the battle to win Super Bowl LIV. The Eagles really weren't that far away in 2019, all things considered. But they have some gains to make in the next few months to put the team back in the deep playoff picture in 2020.