We're getting into crunch time in the NFL. This is the part of the season where the men are separated from the boys, to use a cheesy and outdated cliche. There are five games left to be played, no team has been mathematically eliminated, and by my count twenty-six teams either have a playoff spot or are within two games of one. We'll get a little more in-depth with the playoffs in a minute, but first we'll check out the rankings below. Also remember to read Brandon's if you haven't by now.
|27||New York Giants||-12.766||27|
|31||New York Jets||-15.180||28|
Talk about shaking things up! St. Louis in particular launched itself into the top ten with their convincing beatdown of the Bears last week. Of course, this team is nothing if not schizophrenic and could easily find themselves in the middle again next week should they fail to show up against the 49ers. The Cardinals also breached the top ten with their impressive win over Indianapolis, who found themselves tumbling down to fourteenth. The Eagles got bumped two places down in spite of their bye but are three spots ahead of the unmoved Cowboys. This is also in line with where they rank at other sites. Other than those major shifts, things for the most part stayed the same - Kansas City is still in second place, but I don't see that lasting very long with the way Carolina and New Orleans are creeping up on them. I personally don't expect them to survive next week's encounter with the Broncos, who will most certainly be angry with the way they handed their last game over to the Patriots.
Since the Eagles were on their bye, there isn't too much to say about them. Their score changed slightly, only because their points-allowed rank changed over the weekend. What there is much to say about, however, is the playoff outlook.
|1||Kansas City (2)||Seattle (1)|
|2||New England (7)||Carolina (3)|
|3||Cincinnati (8)||Philadelphia (12)|
|4||Tennessee (11)||Green Bay (13)|
|5||Denver (5)||New Orleans (4)|
|6||Indianapolis (14)||San Francisco (6)|
Overall, my predictions hold up in terms of teams currently slated to make the playoffs. The Titans finally joined the party with their win over the Raiders last week, although after the Colts' awful game they are currently picked to win the division. This isn't entirely out of the question, but it would probably come as a surprise to many if they do.
If you find that this playoff prediction looks slightly absurd, I would think a little harder. This is going to be a playoff run to remember in the NFL, as several competitive teams play each other in what should be an exciting December. Check this out:
- The Broncos still have to play the Chiefs and Titans
- The Colts have games with the Chiefs, Titans, and Bengals
- The Chiefs are scheduled to play the Broncos and Colts
- The Titans have their hands full with the Colts, Broncos, and Cardinals
- The Seahawks have matchups with the Saints, 49ers, and Cardinals
- The Saints still need to play the Seahawks and Panthers (twice)
- The Lions have dates with the Packers and Eagles
- The Cowboys will be playing the Packers, Bears, and Eagles
- The Panthers have two games with the Saints
- The 49ers have matchups versus the Seahawks and Cardinals
In other words, there are a ton of teams competing for a playoff spot this year and they pretty much all play each other. The team who is closest to coasting is New England, and they still have games against the Ravens and Dolphins. So the current official playoff picture is not just going to change - it's going to be upended entirely. What does this mean for the Eagles? Well, it means that a wild-card spot might not be so far out of reach depending on which teams fight and which teams implode down the stretch.
And now we are reminded of the importance of December in the NFL. Say what you want about Reid, but he knew how to win when it counted in the regular season, save for a season or two. Now Chip Kelly, as a rookie head coach, is facing his first stretch of 'deciding' games at a time when he would normally be done until whatever BCS Bowl the Ducks were going to that season. This team will need grit and resolve if they are to claw their way into the postseason, and if Kelly can inspire that into them then he will deserve to be coaching in January. But they still have to take things one game at a time, which brings us to their first December contest...
Scouting the Enemy
The Eagles play the Cardinals this week, a team they have not been able to beat since a Thanksgiving Day crushing in 2008 (coincidentally, they also wore their black jerseys for that game). Bruce Arians has really coached this team up and they are likely to be one of Philadelphia's toughest opponents this season. While their defense (coached by Todd Bowles) is not a unit to be taken lightly, the team is not without their weaknesses. Here is where I think the Eagles can excel this Sunday:
Run Defense. The defensive line has turned into a strength for the Eagles, and hopefully it will be able to handle a Cardinals running game that is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry without much help. If this holds up, they should be able to pay extra attention to Larry Fitzgerald, who has burned the Eagles in one-on-one matchups in the past.
Pass Protection. The Cardinals' pass rush has been literally average (2.6 sacks per game). The Eagles' offensive line is slightly below average with 2.8 sacks per game allowed, but they have gotten better in recent weeks. The Cardinals have not really faced a top-tier offense this season except for the Saints... and they gave up thirty-one points to them. I think Nick Foles will have a relatively clean pocket this week.
Third-Down Defense. This has been somewhat of a documented problem for the Eagles, but Arizona is only converting one-third of their third downs, which is near the bottom of the league. They will probably fare a little better against Philadelphia, but I don't see the bend-but-don't-break identity the defense has embraced to fall apart this week. Expect the 'D' to clamp down in the red zone like they have for the majority of the season.
Overall, the Cardinals haven't been a great road team, and they're traveling all the way to the east coast. The Eagles of course are not a great home team, but they are coming off their bye and that should account for something. This game starts the home stretch when we find out what this team (and by extension, Nick Foles) is really made of. Here's to hoping that what they leave on the field is promising for the future, whether that future be January or next September.