Arizona Cardinals (11-2 SU, 7-6 ATS) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7 SU, 6-7 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 8:30PM EST
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ARI +3.5/PHI -3.5
Over/Under Total: 50.5
Sunday Night Football features a nice NFC matchup with the 11-2 Arizona Cardinals coming to the City of Brotherly Love to face the Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams are in it, despite the Eagles being 6-7. Its good enough to have them in a 3-way tie in the NFC East. They won their second straight game on Sunday in a 23-20 win over the Buffalo Bills. The Cardinals played last Thursday, overcoming some anxious moments to get by the Minnesota Vikings at home, 23-20. It was their 7th win a row.
The Cardinals are clearly one of the top contenders in the NFC. It has taken a long time to truly acknowledge that, but barring some unforeseen injury issues or some other bolt from beyond, this team will need to be dealt with at some point. They have only covered the spread once in their last 4 games and seem to be cooling down a touch, but you cant argue with the bottom line. And with a 23-4 record in his last 27 starts, there might not be a team that benefits from the presence of a single player more than the Cardinals do with QB Carson Palmer.
The Arizona offense is packed to the gills. The loss of Chris Johnson hurt, but his namesake David Johnson looked really good in relief on Thursday. The rookie is a versatile threat, with 9 TDs on the year. Larry Fitzgerald is at 1088 yards, with John Brown nearing the 1000-yard mark. Michael Floyd gives them three legit targets and defenses are run ragged trying to contain all these weapons. Receiver JJ Nelson is also a contributor, along with TE Darren Fells and RB Andre Ellington. Its a lot to keep track of for a defense. They are second to Carolina in scoring at over 31 points a game.
Palmer is now over 4000 yards passing on the season and has 31 touchdowns. He has nine picks, but none in his last three games. The line has kept him reasonably secure, as he often operates in a clean pocket. The coaching is a good fit with the offense and they always seem to push the issue, never content to settle for the field goal or to play it safe late in the half. Its almost how a guy with a bet on the game would coach. Bruce Arians is a guy who has this team on the right track and is one of the brightest football guys around.
The Cardinals have given up just 42 points in their last three games and on the season have allowed an average of just over 19 per game. Time and again they get the late play that turns close games into wins. On Thursday, it was Dwight Freeneys last-second strip-sack that stopped a promising-looking Vikings drive. We talk a lot about the different little things a team can do or not do, but its easy to lose sight of a teams simple ability to generate wins. Its a talent onto itself. Arizona is hoping on Sunday to put their robust run-defense to good affect against the Eagles. All told, its the 4th-ranked defense in the NFL.
The Eagles have a lot to play for, but will need to thwart a team that is on a roll and has lost just once on the road this season. To their credit, the urgency finally seemed to register with Philly, first with an unlikely road win over the Patriots and then the win over Buffalo last Sunday. With games coming against the Giants and Eagles, the other leaders in the NFC East, they would like to hit that stretch with a little extra juice. A win here would really help, both in terms of their record, as well as their headspace going into the final few weeks of the season.
For a defense that was really wobbling a few weeks ago, the Eagles are at least playing halfway-decently the past few weeks, while showing a bit more grit and clutch play. They are starting to apply more heat to opposing quarterbacks. In some of their closer games this season, the defense was a main contributor to the losses, always seeming to melt at the most inopportune time. In that regard, theyve been better. They rank toward the bottom of the league against both the run and pass and thats not by accident. A few weeks ago, they had Tampa Bay and Detroit looking like the 1999-2000 Rams. Its nice that they appear to have gotten some things together, but theyre far from dependable or in any way bankable. But theyre getting more turnovers, making more plays, and starting to make things happen more.
For however inconsistent or downright disappointing Sam Bradford has been in 2015, the Eagles are glad to have him back and he was pretty effective on Sunday. Their receiving corps is one of the more disappointing groups of the season, though TE Zach Ertz is having a big year. DeMarco Murray hasnt been very good, working as a compliment-piece for Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. But its still a good 3-headed monster at running back and could come together at just the right time. Another good sign was Nelson Agholor catching a long TD pass on Sunday, as the first-round rookie has been quiet this season.
Its a slippery game to play when trying to gauge urgency. On one hand, the Cardinals have an inside track to the 2-seed in the NFC, but expecting them to lift their feet off the gas now could me a miscue. The ease in the playoff route for a 2-seed compared to a 3 is enough to keep them playing hard. But the Eagles are in high-alert mode and with two other teams in their division also at 6-7, a loss here could really put them behind the 8-ball and if the other two teams won, as they did last week, it could almost have them sunk. I see Philly rising to the occasion and notching the cover.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Philadelphia Eagles plus 3.5 points.
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