Carson Palmer is having a rebirth in Arizona under Bruce Arians. Credit: Getty Images
The Eagles are smack in the middle of a playoff race coming out of the bye for the first time since 2010.
But they aren’t the only ones heading into this weekend’s showdown with the Cardinals eyeing a playoff run. Arizona is a surprising 7-4, locked in a battle with fellow NFC West member San Francisco for the second wild-card position.
Their season has mirrored the Eagles’ in many ways. Not much was expected out of either, with new coaches coming into the season. They also both got off to rocky starts before recently finding their footing. The Cardinals have one upped Philadelphia’s three-game winning streak with a four-game streak of their own.
Head coach Bruce Arians has found a formula on offense that has the Cardinals winning games, but three of the wins in that streak have come against Atlanta, Houston and Jacksonville, who have a combined record of 6-27.
Sunday’s game will give Arizona their first real test since back-to-back defeats in Weeks 6 and 7 against the 49ers and Seahawks.
Metro looks at three things to watch for in Sunday’s game (1 p.m., FOX):
1. King Carson
While the Eagles are getting unprecedented play out of Nick Foles, the Cardinals are seeing the resurrection of former Pro Bowler Carson Palmer. He was in fact a two-time Pro Bowler in 2005-06 with the Bengals. That was also the last time he was relevant in the NFL. Arians, formerly Ben Roethlisberger’s offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and interim head coach with the Colts as they went to the playoffs with Andrew Luck last season, has pulled the old Palmer back out of storage. He has 16 touchdowns and his 63.3 completion percentage is his highest since 2007. But he does have 15 interceptions, third-most in the NFL behind Jets rookie Geno Smith and Eli Manning, something the Eagles will be looking to capitalize on as starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher gets healthy. They’ll need him, because Philly has the No. 32-ranked pass defense in the NFL, allowing 300.1 yards per game.
2. You’re the man
Foles hasn’t shown any nervousness with Mike Vick looking over his shoulder, but head coach Chip Kelly ended any potential worries for the second-year quarterback by naming him the permanent starter on Tuesday. He will have the keys to the offense for the final five games — and may have the opportunity to lock up the job going into next season even though he’s been criticized as an imperfect fit for Kelly’s spread-option offense. One thing it’s hard to criticize is his 16 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He will be tested against Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of the best in the league, and the NFC’s fifth-best defense (317.1 yards per game). Peterson already has 10 interceptions in the first two years of his career. Only Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Chicago’s Tim Jennings — both with 12 — have more over that period. The Arizona secondary also includes rookie playmaker Tyrann Mathieu (two interceptions, one forced fumble), better known as the Honey Badger in his days at LSU.
3. McCoy’s matchup
Not only do the Cardinals pack a potent pass defense, their run defense is even better. Calais Campbell, at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, is one of the most impsoing players in the league, but it is Darnell Dockett who may be one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL — as evidenced by the $30 million in guaranteed money he got a few seasons ago. He’s living up to that money though, as Arizona is ranked No. 2 in the NFL in rushing yard per game allowed (81.3 per game). It all sets up a marquee matchup between the Cardinals’ defensive front and the NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy. The Eagles’ shifty running back is still the only rusher over 1,000 yards in the league and he has 399 receiving yards on top of that. McCoy is not much of a between-the-tackles runner, so Dockett and Campbell may be negated somewhat, leaving it up to linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington to make plays in space against McCoy.
Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter@MetroNYSports.