With playoff seeding still being determined and divisions still being decided, the Philadelphia Eagles welcome the Arizona Cardinals for a Sunday night showdown at Lincoln Financial Field (8:30pm ET on NBC).
At 11-2, and on a seven-game winning streak, the Cardinals pretty much have their NFC West division locked up. It remains to be determined which team will get the second bye, the first of which belongs to the undefeated Carolina Panthers. Currently, the Cardinals hold a two-game lead over the Green Bay Packers for the second seed and final bye but schedule-wise, Green Bay probably has the softer slate. The Cardinals are favorites with the USA sportsbooks against the Eagles, as they likely should be. After all, the NFC East’s co-leader is only 6-7.
However, the Eagles have been hot lately, non-coincidentally coinciding with the return to full health of QB Sam Bradford (pictured). Bradford has been among the NFL’s best quarterbacks since he returned to action two weeks ago against the New England Patriots, leading his team against the odds to win that game and then the following week against the Buffalo Bills. Despite the records, the Eagles are a team that the Cardinals can’t be happy to face.
The Eagles and Cardinals are, of course, no stranger to each other and have even developed something of a rivalry over the past few seasons. The two teams faced off last year in a game won by Arizona and one that really changed the tide of Philadelphia’s season. The Eagles had entered that game 9-4 and in firm control of the division. They finished the year mired in losing streaks and watched as the NFC East and the playoffs slipped away.
This year’s Eagles are not quite 9-4 but the same principal remains. A win against the Cardinals not only truly legitimizes the Eagles as a good team, one that has really turned its season around and that should be feared upon having a home playoff game. A loss, while it in no way eliminates the Eagles from contention, certainly doesn’t help when it comes to looking ahead at who the Eagles would have to face if they did make the playoffs.
Arizona’s Big Play Offense a Real Threat
The Eagles are much improved on defense from where they were last year when Arizona’s John Brown caught a 70+ yard dagger to the heart with mere seconds remaining in that loss, but they are still ill-equipped to deal with an offense as lethal as the Cardinals’.
Arizona leads the NFL with 59 passes of 20 yards or more including 10 of which have gone for touchdowns. They also lead the NFL with a league-best average of 417.5 total yards per game. On top of that, Carson Palmer is having one of the best years of his career having already set a single-season franchise record for touchdown passes with 31. In the NFL this year, only Tom Brady has more and only Russell Wilson has a higher passer rating than Palmer’s 107.2.
Malcolm Jenkins and Ed Reynolds are going to be looked on to continue their production as of late and they do so meeting a challenge in Larry Fitzgerald and Brown. While no longer the young, acrobatic catcher with speed to burn, Fitzgerald is still a weapon and one the Eagles would be foolish to let slip through coverage. Brown of course, Palmer’s top guy and leading receiver, burned the Eagles last year and has big play written all over him. He will be the one to keep an eye on come Sunday.
Sam Bradford’s Presence a Difference Maker
When the Eagles made the decision to trade Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams in return for former #1 draft pick and rookie of the year, Sam Bradford, many were scratching their heads and calling the move lateral at best. Foles was coming off a good year and Bradford was well, injured, as he had oft been in his young career. But now, in week 15 and with playoffs on the line, the trade is looking like the right one as Bradford is the guy this offense needs and will be the one to take them to the playoffs if in fact the Eagles get that far.
Bradford, since returning to health against the Patriots, has really been the difference maker. He has five touchdowns to just one interception and has led the team on key drives in crucial moments of the two wins. Against New England, Bradford got Philly on the board early and often. Against the Bills, he orchestrated several drives that resulted in touchdowns, be them on his arm or in the arms of one of his three talented running backs.
Bradford has the weapons and he certainly has the cannon, one of the best in the league. What he doesn’t have is a true big-play threat like the Cardinals do, however he has accounted for this by cutting the field in half and playing to the strengths of the team. It took him a few weeks to become comfortable this way but it is clear that Bradford has made the turnaround. If he remains healthy then the Eagles, who control their own destiny in the East, could make the postseason that eluded them last year.
Bradford and the Eagles will have to deal with Patrick Peterson, one of the NFL’s best corners, who just returned to practice himself and could be ready to suit up on Sunday. If he does, the long threat is pretty much eliminated which actually could play to the Eagles’ favor. Bradford has the full complement of his players at 100 percent and no doubt will be ready to spread the field as he has during the winning streak.
Our Preview’s Cardinals at Eagles Betting Picks Predictions
There is something about a hot team playing at home that has to be considered here, even if that team has been a disaster at home all year. But, this is very much a different Eagles team and it has something to prove to the Cardinals, to the East and frankly to itself, that it belongs with the big boys. The Eagles aren’t perfect, but they enter this game in a great position and that should show on the final scoresheet.
So for this preview’s picks, we predict the Eagles can defy the bookies’ betting lines: