The Philadelphia Eagles are hot. They've won four straight games. They're 6-2 in their last eight. The offense is having success with Nick Foles taking over the reigns at quarterback. The Eagles 'D' has only allowed 21 points or less in their last eight games. Even the special team units is playing well, especially with Donnie "Football" Jones doing a great job at punting the ball. Football Outsiders has the Eagles as the highest ranked team in overall DVOA the last four weeks. The Eagles rank 1st in offense, 15th in defense, and 1st in special teams DVOA. And, hey, the team can finally win at home again. Timing is everything, and the Eagles are are getting hot at the right time of the year.
The question is: will any of this matter when the Eagles take the field against the Lions on Sunday? Detroit isn't a shabby team either. After a 40-10 drubbing of the Packers on Thanksgiving, the Lions come to town looking to solidify their division lead in the NFC North.
Detroit enters this match-up with an offense that ranks second in the league in yards per game. With Matthew Stafford at QB and the ever-so-fearsome Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, it's no surprise the Lions excel in the passing game. Complementary to the passing attack is Detroit's run game with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell leading the way. Detroit's offense line is also solid, and that's only helped out by the fact Stafford gets rid of the ball quickly. Needless to say, the Eagles defense will have their hands full.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions defense is very stout against the run. Their unit only allows 82.7 rushing yards per game, which is the 3rd best in the NFL. Detroit's defensive line, highlighted by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, is a key to their run stopping success. The passing game is a different story. Detroit ranks 26th in passing yards allowed. Philadelphia's best plan of attack is to test the Lions through the air. Nick Foles had an overall good game against the Cardinals, but there were some accuracy issues that need to be cleaned up. This is a game where Foles needs to come up big. Foles is just two touchdowns away from setting an NFL record for the most touchdown passes thrown without an interception. Sunday would be a great time for his to earn the record.
A match-up that favors the Eagles is a critical one: the turnover battle. The Eagles turnover differential in their last five games is +8. The Lions differential in the last 5 games is -13. (H/t Mike Tanier) Detroit simply does not take care of the ball very well. Out of the nine NFL teams with the worst turnover differentials, they are the only team with a winning record. While the Eagles will struggle to stop the Lions from moving the ball, they can make up for it by being opportunistic as they have been by forcing turnovers and limiting points.
The way I see it, this game really has the makings of a toss up. Victory is definitely there for the taking for both sides. It's hard to say either side has a significant edge. The Lions have fantastic weapons on offense, but they also turn the ball over too often. The Eagles have jumped out to fast starts in their last two games but didn't look as hot in the second halves of those games.
An Eagles win is vital as they try to keep up with the Cowboys and the wildcard contenders in the NFC playoff race. Plus, a Philadelphia victory gives the Eagles a head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit in the event of playoff seeding. Assuming the Eagles make the post-season, a win over Detroit could mean the difference between the third seed and fourth seed.
It's up to the Eagles to earn their straight fifth victory and stay hot here down the stretch.
• The Lions own the league's weakest strength of schedule so far this year at .441. Is their 7-5 record a little inflated?
• When it comes to the red zone, the Lions are among the best teams in the NFL at converting for touchdowns. This will be a big test for the Eagles "bend-but-don't-break" defense.
• Detroit's 3-3 road record is only a game off from their 4-2 home record. Their road losses have come to the Cardinals, Packers (with Aaron Rodgers), and Steelers. Their road wins: the Browns, Redskins, and Bears. Can the Lions only beat bad teams on the road?
• Sunday is expected to be a cold day with chances of sleet and light snow. How will the teams handle the weather? The Lions play at home in a dome. Some will question if Nick Foles can play in the cold. Funny enough, one of Foles' best college performances came in the cold during a game against Chip Kelly's Ducks in 2010. Foles threw for his collegiate career-best 448 passing yards.
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