(Reuters) - Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles do not control their own fate heading into the final weekend of the National Football League regular season — but at least they still have a fighting chance of successfully defending their title.
Consecutive victories over quality opponents — including Sunday’s last-gasp win over the Houston Texans — have kept alive their hopes of becoming the first to win consecutive Super Bowls since the New England Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The chances are slim with the Eagles rated by analytic website fivethirtyeight.com as having only a 28 percent chance of making the postseason.
Yet progress looked even more unlikely three weeks ago after a loss to NFC East rivals Dallas Cowboys was compounded by news that starting quarterback Carson Wentz had a back stress fracture.
Now, unlike some of the other mind-numbingly complex playoff scenarios, the task for the Eagles is relatively simple on Sunday as they battle the Minnesota Vikings for a playoff spot.
The Eagles (8-7) have to beat the Washington Redskins (7-8), and rely on the playoff-bound Chicago Bears (11-4) triumphing over the Vikings (8-6-1).
The first part of the equation might be the easiest for the Eagles, even without Wentz.
Back-up quarterback Nick Foles does, after all, have a Super Bowl ring, having filled in, and then some, for the injured Wentz at the end of last season.
Philadelphia might welcome back speedy veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has not played since breaking a fibula in the second week of the season.
Meanwhile, there is no simpler equation than the clash between the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts, both 9-6 in the AFC South.
The winners will be in, while the losers’ season will be done.
In the race to enjoy first-round byes, only the New Orleans Saints (13-2) are so far assured of one of the four coveted spots.
The Saints have clinched the NFC South, while the Los Angeles Rams (12-3) are hot favorites for the second bye in the NFC, needing only to beat the San Francisco 49ers (4-11) to secure next weekend off.
If the Rams lose, they will open the door for the Bears, who would still have to triumph against the Vikings to cash in on a second seed.
In the AFC, no team has clinched a bye, though the New England Patriots (10-5) and Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) are best placed, with the Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) needing a bit of help.
The Chiefs and Chargers are in the same division (AFC West), which means only one can earn the bye.
They are both favorites for their respective games — the Chiefs against the Oakland Raiders (4-11) and the Chargers against the Denver Broncos (6-9).
If both win, Kansas City would win the division courtesy of their better divisional record.
CLINCHED FIRST ROUND BYE: New Orleans Saints
CLINCHED PLAYOFF BERTH: Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans
IN HUNT FOR PLAYOFF BERTH: Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Chadband