We're about to find out if the Philadelphia Eagles are for real.
With an equally hot opponent coming to town and the Dallas Cowboys keeping the pressure on in the NFC East, Philly can't afford to drop the ball at home coming out of its bye week Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Eagles technically won four in a row to cap the 2011 season, but that campaign was long lost at that point in time. Philadelphia hasn't actually won four straight games without something at stake since 2009.
But again, the Cards are hot, too, having not lost since Week 7. That defense is as tough as they come, and the Eagles are likely in for their biggest challenge yet.
Here's our final preview of the matchup from Philadelphia's perspective, along with a prediction.
What Philly must do to win, offensive edition
You're really picking your poison, because the Cards are just plain good against the run and the pass. They have the No. 1 defense in the league dating back to Week 8. But I think the Eagles would be best off spreading the field a little against that young secondary.
In other words, a lot of three-wide receiver sets. Tyrann Mathieu will likely give Jason Avant fits in the slot, and DeSean Jackson should have his hands full with Patrick Peterson outside, but that'll at least give Riley Cooper some favorable matchups on the opposite side. Plus, it could give LeSean McCoy a little extra room to work.
Aside from that, just remain disciplined against a D that has forced 23 turnovers in 11 games.
What Philly must do to win, defensive edition
Arizona is still a mediocre passing team. Carson Palmer has thrown 15 interceptions, and the Cardinals have surrendered 30 sacks. Palmer has thrown a league-high eight interceptions while under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and he hasn't exactly been burning defenses on blitzes.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis rarely calls more than 10 or 15 blitzes per game, but it might help if the Eagles brought the heat a little more than usual against Palmer and an offense that is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry in the running game anyway.
5 most important non-quarterbacks
Cooper: I really think he'll have a ton of opportunities in three-receiver sets, especially if he draws some one-on-one matchups with the 5'9" Jerraud Powers.
McCoy: Gotta have that balance.
Jason Peters: Can't let that stellar front seven frazzle the young Nick Foles early.
Fletcher Cox: They need to blitz, but they also need to get productive pass-rushing snaps out of their regular rushers, and Cox leads that pack.
Cary Williams: He'll get help, but nobody will be more responsible for Larry Fitzgerald than Williams.
|Most interceptions under pressure, 2013|
|1. Carson Palmer||8||47.9|
|2. Matt Ryan||7||54.0|
|2. Ryan Tannehill||7||46.2|
|Pro Football Focus|
Injury analysis, Cardinals edition
No wonder these teams are on fire. They're remarkably healthy. Nobody of major consequence has been out of practice this week, although running back Andre Ellington was added to the injury report due to a knee injury, according to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, which is never a great sign. Ellington has averaged over five yards per carry on 10-plus attempts in three of his last four games.
Injury analysis, Eagles edition
Only safety Earl Wolff remains out of practice because of a knee injury, according to the team's Twitter account. Everyone else is participating fully.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Eagles 24, Cardinals 23
Both defenses are playing really well, but the Eagles have the better quarterback and way more talent on offense. At home and coming out of the bye, they stay hot with a close victory.