Spearheaded by outstanding play from their quarterbacks, the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals are rolling into a key NFC matchup with playoff implications.
Philadelphia’s Nick Foles and Arizona’s Carson Palmer, however, figure to be challenged by defenses that have been playing at a high level.
The Eagles will try to stay atop the NFC East with their fourth straight victory Sunday, while the Cardinals look to keep pace in the wild-card hunt with their first five-game winning streak in 36 years.
Before heading into the bye week, Foles went 17 of 26 for 298 yards and rushed for a season-high 47 yards and a touchdown in a 24-16 victory over visiting Washington on Nov. 17.
Foles has won four of five starts since taking over for the injured Michael Vick, including three straight victories to vault the Eagles (6-5) into a first-place tie with Dallas.
As a starter, Foles has connected on 63.6 percent of his attempts for 1,308 yards with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. He hasn’t tossed a pick in 199 passes overall dating to last season - the second-longest streak in team history behind Vick’s 224.
Although Vick is nearing a return from his hamstring injury, Kelly made it official earlier this week that Philadelphia would ride the red-hot Foles the rest of the way.
”I feel the same,” said Foles, who has a 128.0 rating and is on pace to break the regular-season record of 122.5 set by Aaron Rodgers in 2011. ”Nothing has really changed. I’m going to prepare the same way I always have.”
Foles now faces an Arizona team that ranks eighth in points allowed at 20.3 per game and total defense at 317.1 yards. The Cardinals (7-4) held an opponent to 14 or fewer points for the fifth time in eight games in a 40-11 victory over Indianapolis on Sunday.
“Identity-wise,” quarterback Carson Palmer said, ”we’re a defensive football team.”
With the way Palmer has been playing, however, Arizona has been equally strong on the offensive side of late.
After going 30 of 42 for 419 yards with two touchdowns in a 27-14 win at Jacksonville on Nov. 17, Palmer was 26 of 37 for 314 yards with two more scores against the Colts.
He’s the first player in team history to record 300 yards passing, a completion percentage of 70.0 and a rating of 110.0 in consecutive games.
While Palmer completed passes to 10 receivers against Indianapolis, Michael Floyd had his second straight 100-yard receiving game with seven catches for 104 yards. Larry Fitzgerald caught five for 52 yards, becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards.
Fitzgerald has been tough on the Eagles with 25 catches for 412 yards and six touchdowns in his last three meetings, including Arizona’s 32-25 win in the 2009 NFC championship game.
With four straight victories, Arizona has drawn even with San Francisco for the sixth and final NFC playoff spot, though the 49ers hold the tiebreaker.
”I think there’s no reason we don’t (make the playoffs),” coach Bruce Arians said. ”We have a big game this week again against a team that’s a game behind us on the road, was in first place and fighting for the division title, so it will be another good barometer.”
The Cardinals seek their first five-game winning streak since a six-game run in 1977, and first 8-4 start since 2009.
They could have their hands full with a Philadelphia defense that hasn’t given up more than 21 points while winning five of seven after allowing 34.5 points per game during a 1-3 start.
”The defense turned it around very well,” said wideout DeSean Jackson, who has team highs of 58 catches and 985 yards. ”They’re doing some great things. As an offense, it’s great to have your defense going out there and competing, doing a good job, making the other team punt.”
LeSean McCoy, the league’s leading rusher with 1,009 yards, also could play a big role as the Eagles try for their second straight win at home after snapping a team-worst 10-game skid there.
McCoy has rushed for 151 yards on 5.6 per carry along with a touchdown in two career meetings with the Cardinals, who have the NFL’s second-ranked run defense at 81.3 yards a contest.
Arizona’s top rusher might not be available. Speedy rookie Andre Ellington, who has run for 441 yards and 6.0 per carry, injured his knee in practice Thursday and will be “a game-time decision,” according to Arians.
The Cardinals have won the last three matchups, including the 2009 NFC title game.