A big-play offense has helped push the Arizona Cardinals to the verge of the NFC West title.
The Philadelphia Eagles have a plan in place hoping to keep it in check after being burned by it last season.
A seven-game winning streak has the Cardinals in position to clinch the division and potentially a first-round bye Sunday night if they can knock off the Eagles again and put a dent in their playoff hopes.
Arizona (11-2) leads the NFL with 59 passes of 20 yards or more, including 10 for touchdowns, and averages a league-best 417.5 yards per game. Carson Palmer's two TD passes last week to Michael Floyd and John Brown both went for more than 40 yards in a 23-20 win over Minnesota.
“We know Arizona's going to take 6-to-8 shots a game. That's what they do,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “That's part of the reason they are the No. 1 offense in the NFL in a lot of categories right now. We've got to stay disciplined.”
Palmer's 4,003 yards and 31 touchdown passes – a single-season franchise record – trail only Tom Brady's marks, and his 107.2 passer rating is second to Russell Wilson.
The MVP candidate now can lead the Cardinals to their first-ever 12-win season and longest winning streak since a franchise-record 11-game run by the Chicago Cardinals in 1948-49. They clinched a playoff spot last week.
''Somebody texted me, 'Hey, you punched your ticket,''' coach Bruce Arians said. ''I said, `Yeah, we're trying to upgrade to first class.'''
Arizona will claim its first West crown since 2009 with a win Sunday or if second-place Seattle is stunned by Cleveland earlier in the day. A victory would also give the Cardinals a bye to begin the playoffs if Green Bay loses at Oakland.
''It's big-time but you get wrapped up in that then you'll kind of lose focus,'' linebacker Deone Bucannon said of the clinching possibilities. ''I feel like as a team we are on the same page. We want to win as many games as possible no matter what it is, because every game is a big game. It's the NFL. I feel like that's how we see it in this locker room.”
The Eagles (6-7) astonishingly hold their playoff destiny in their hands despite closing November with three consecutive losses to sub-.500 teams – the last two by a combined 59 points. They pulled off a stunner at New England before beating Buffalo 23-20 last Sunday to move back into a tie atop the NFC East, leaving Philadelphia with the chance to win the division by winning out.
“To start the year the way we did and kind of dig ourselves in a hole, it was unlikely that we would be in this position this late in the year,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. ''But for us to control our own destiny where we don't have to depend on anyone else, and if we take care of our business, we will end up where we want to be. I think that's all you can ask for.''
The first step is beating the Cardinals, something the Eagles were in position to do in Week 8 last year with a three-point lead and Arizona pinned deep in its own territory with under 90 seconds left. Instead, receiver John Brown somehow got behind the secondary, and Palmer hit him for a 75-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 24-20 victory.
Philadelphia's defense did a decent job on Palmer before that final series, prior to which he was 18 of 39 for 249 yards. Larry Fitzgerald and Brown combined for 279 yards receiving, though, and they've accounted for nearly 2,000 this season. Michael Floyd is their hottest receiver with four 100-yard efforts in the last five weeks.
“Floyd on the outside, Brown is a speedy guy, and we know all about him from last year, and then Larry is having one of those career years in the slot,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Everybody's got to win their matchup. You can't roll the help to one guy because all the other guys are more than capable of winning.”
Jenkins was recently moved into the slot where he feels “more productive,” but that also means having to mostly match up with Fitzgerald, whom he calls “the best I'll face this year.” Ed Reynolds, a practice squad player earlier this season, is now the deep safety in the nickel package and he had the game-clinching interception last week.
Philadelphia doesn't have nearly the potent offense Arizona does but feels better with Bradford at the controls. The Eagles are 6-2 in games he's started and finished, including wins the past two weeks after he missed the two blowout losses with a shoulder problem.
''There are some things that we can do better,'' said Bradford, who has five TD passes and one INT in his last four games. ''I think that we can perform at a higher level. Obviously, we are still not great out there.''
- Arizona Cardinals
- Deone Bucannon
- Ed Reynolds
- Larry Fitzgerald
- Malcolm Jenkins
- Michael Floyd
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Russell Wilson
- Sam Bradford