Now the Fun Begins
December is shaping up to be a wild month, with surprise playoff contenders emerging and new stars rising. For one, who’d have thought two months ago that the Eagles and Cardinals would be playing a game with major postseason implications in Week 13?
So many great games on the schedule this week, as the calendar turns to December on Sunday: Denver-Kansas City II, New Orleans-Seattle I, the massively struggling Colts playing for their lives, a jillion teams playing to keep flickering postseason hopes alive.
I love the Arizona-Philadelphia game. It’s a matchup of a classic, traditional offensive coach, Bruce Arians, with a deep-ball-throwing quarterback, Carson Palmer, against a new-wave offensive coach, Chip Kelly, who like to play fast and has a smart quarterback, Nick Foles, to run his offense the way he wants.
Arizona’s won four in a row, averaging 30.3 points in those wins. Philly’s won three in a row, average 33.3 points.
Palmer’s found his footing recently after a long adjustment period with Arians’ offense (read what Jim Trotter wrote for us this week). He’s made Larry Fitzgerald-alternative Michael Floyd come alive at the other wide receiver slot (last two weeks: 13 catches, 297 yards), and his rating of 112.1 over the last month shows Palmer is becoming one with Arians.
Foles has been such a revelation at quarterback for Philadelphia that Mike Vick, the clear winner of the job in training camp, says it would be foolish for Kelly to make a change at quarterback even though Vick is healthy now. Sixteen touchdowns, no interceptions. It’s no fluke. Just watch Foles. He plays fast, and he has proven you don’t have to be a gazelle to win in Kelly’s scheme. As Kelly said a couple of weeks ago, Foles may not be fleet of foot, but he is fleet of mind.
Here’s how these teams stack up in their respective NFC races: Philadelphia, 6-5, has to win to regain a tie with the Cowboys (7-5) atop the NFC East; the Eagles end the season at Dallas in Week 17, and it’s looking like that could be a very significant game. Arizona, 7-4, is three games behind Seattle in the NFC West with five to play, and realistically is playing for a Wild Card. Problem is, 7-4 San Francisco and 8-3 Carolina are also playing for the Wild Card right now. The Panthers have won seven straight, and the Niners are 6-2 in their last eight, with the narrow losses to Carolina and New Orleans the only scars. It could be three teams fighting for two spots.
“We’re going to need some help,” Arians told me this week. “We have to stay on San Francisco’s heels until we play them (in Week 17, at Arizona), and we have to hope Carolina loses. But the way we’re playing right now, I like our chances. Defense and special teams are really playing well, and I’m telling you, Carson’s playing lights out. We go through practices now and the ball never hits the ground. The difference in our team on offense now is confidence. Watch Carson. Watch Michael Floyd. They are confident football players right now. That makes all the difference. Carson’s got two terrific receivers now, and they’re becoming a matchup problem.”
One of the fun things about the NFL at this time of year is watching the hot teams shock the world. A month ago we’d never have figured Philadelphia or Arizona to be in competition for anything but a high draft position. Now, admit it: You wouldn’t be surprised if either one of these teams, playing the way they are, wins a Wild Card game in January.
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