Eleven games into the 2013 season, the Eagles stand at 6-5, tied with the Dallas Cowboys atop the NFC East Standings. After finishing 2012 with a 4-12 record and bringing in a brand new coaching staff this past offseason, not many Eagles fans thought that the Eagles would find themselves in this position.
The first 11 games of the season presented some challenges for the Eagles, who faced off against opponents like Denver and Kansas City, two teams that currently possess a combined record of 18-4. The Eagles have also already played five of their six always-competitive NFC East games, and have fared well with a 3-2 record.
Week 12 was the bye for the Eagles, and though it came relatively late in the season, it gave fans a chance to catch their breath and look ahead to the final five games of the regular season …
Week 13 vs. Arizona Cardinals (7-4)
Because they play out west and don't have many of their games televised around the Philadelphia area, Eagles fans may not be aware of how strong of a season the Cardinals are having. In an incredibly tough division that features the likes of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals have done more than stay afloat. Their 7-4 record places them half a game ahead of San Francisco for second place in the division, with the 49ers playing at Washington tonight. The season still has a while to go, but the Cardinals find themselves in a favorable spot in head coach Bruce Arians' first season with the team.
This Cardinals team is much different than the 2008 team that made its way to a Super Bowl appearance. That team was led by Kurt Warner and a high-powered offense, finishing third in the NFL with 26.7 points per game. This season, the Cardinals are led by their defense which ranks in the top 10 in terms of both points (20.3) and yards (317.1) allowed per game. With a front seven that includes Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington and John Abraham, Arizona's run defense has become their biggest strength, allowing just 81.4 yards per game on the ground, good for second in the NFL and best in the NFC.
While their front seven is comprised of mainly veterans, Arizona's secondary is a very young, yet immensely talented group, led by two LSU products – cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu. Though both players haven't been around very long, their athletic ability makes the duo a big part of the game, on both defense and special teams.
On the offensive side, Carson Palmer has had an up and down season (16 touchdowns, 15 interceptions), but he does have some dangerous playmakers to get the ball to, such as veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the younger Michael Floyd. Arizona hasn't gotten much from running back Rashard Mendenhall this season, but rookie Andre Ellington has helped pick up the pace in the Arizona backfield.
The Eagles have dropped their last two meetings with the Cardinals - 2011 in Philadelphia and 2012 in Arizona. It's often difficult for a western team to come across the country and play a 1 p.m. game, but the Cardinals will come to Lincoln Financial ready to play.
Week 14 vs. Detroit Lions (6-5)
After falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lions will play the divisional-rival Green Bay Packers before traveling to Philadelphia in what could potentially be a matchup of two division leaders. Detroit has taken care of NFC East opponents so far this season, going 2-0 with wins over Washington and Dallas.
This game will likely be predicted as a shootout, with both teams currently possessing top-five offenses in terms of yards per game. Looking at their offensive numbers, the Lions rushing attack doesn't appear very potent, averaging just 103.7 yards per game. That being said, Lions running back Reggie Bush is having a phenomenal season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but also contributing in a big way in the team's passing attack. On the season, Bush is Detroit's third-leading receiver (383 yards) behind superstar Calvin Johnson and Kris Durham.
Speaking of Johnson, he'll be a player to watch every time that Detroit's offense takes the field. Despite double-teams and constantly being the focal point of opposing defenses, Johnson has already accounted for 1,198 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns, including a mind-blowing 329-yard performance against the Cowboys.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford leads the NFL in pass attempts (465) and is third in passing yards (3,495). The Eagles defense will have to play one of their best games of the season if they hope to come away with a win.
Week 15 at Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1)
Not many things have gone right for the Vikings this season, and many of their problems can be traced back to instability at the quarterback position. Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman have all seen time under-center, but none of those three has had much success. Ponder has started seven games and is currently number one on the depth chart (although that is subject to change by Week 15), but his play has been highly inconsistent, throwing just seven touchdowns compared to nine interceptions, and boasting a passer rating of 78.7.
One area that hasn't been an issue for the Vikings is their ground game. Having a back like Adrian Peterson certainly helps. Peterson has rushed for 997 yards through 11 games, which is incredibly impressive when you take into account how weak the Vikings passing game has been.
Despite all of the poor play from the quarterback position, the Vikings have managed to score 24.2 points per game on average. The reason why that hasn't been good enough to win more than two games is Minnesota's dreadful defense. The Vikings allow a league-worst 31.5 points per game, and they haven't allowed fewer than 23 points in any game this season. They have allowed 30 points or more in seven of their 11 games. They have been decent against the run, but opponents are gashing them through the air, averaging 281.7 passing yards per game, which ranks 29th out of 32 NFL teams.
The biggest bright spot for the Vikings this season has been their return game. Minnesota leads the NFL in both kickoff return yards per game (113.3) and kickoff return touchdowns (2). Most of that damage has been done by rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, whose average return of 34.0 yards leads the NFL, as do his two scores. Patterson has showcased explosive speed all season long, and tied an NFL record that will never be broken with a 109-yard return touchdown against Green Bay.
This game will also be the first time that we get to see Chip Kelly's offense playing indoors. Without having to deal with the elements, the Eagles offense could be in for a big day.
Week 16 vs. Chicago Bears (6-5)
The Bears are currently tied for first in the NFC North in their first season under head coach Marc Trestman. Chicago has always been known as a defense-first team, but Trestman came in with an offensive background, and he has certainly left his mark. Chicago's offense ranks in the top 10 in yards per game (372.5), yards per play (5.8) and points per game (27.5).
The Bears are led by quarterback Jay Cutler, who has recently been hampered by groin issues. When he has been healthy, he's played well, completing 63.0 percent of his passes (the second-highest clip of his career) and tossing 13 touchdowns. When Cutler hasn't been able to play, backup Josh McCown has filled in nicely, throwing for 1,106 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception.
Both Cutler and McCown have benefitted from the talented group of playmakers around them. On the outside, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have combined for 1,805 yards and 12 touchdowns and rank 10th and 13th in the league in receiving yards, respectively. Tight end Martellus Bennett has also been tremendous in his first season in Chicago, racking up 531 yards and five touchdowns.
The Bears also feature the sixth-leading rusher in the NFL, Matt Forte. His seven rushing touchdowns are the fifth-most in the league, but he is also a valuable piece of the Chicago's passing attack, as evidenced by his 414 receiving yards. Forte's 1,265 yards from scrimmage rank fifth in the NFL, with LeSean McCoy leading the way with 1,408.
Meanwhile, the Bears defense hasn't played quite as well as Bears fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Chicago allows an average of 28.1 yards per game and is near the bottom of the league when it comes to sacks, despite having a notable pass-rusher like Julius Peppers on their defensive line. One thing that the Bears do well defensively is intercept passes, as they are tied for sixth in the NFL with 14 interceptions on the season. Eight different Bears have picked off a pass this season, with Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings leading the pack with three each. With Nick Foles behind center, the Eagles have been very good at holding on to the ball, and the turnover battle will likely play a big role when the two teams meet.
Week 17 at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)
Eagles fans have probably had the season finale against the Cowboys circled on their calendars since the schedule was first announced, but it now appears that the game may be of even greater importance than most people imagined. The Cowboys are currently a tied with the Eagles in the standings, and the NFC East title could be on the line when the two sides meet to close out the regular season. The Eagles will be out to avenge the 17-3 defeat that the Cowboys handed them at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 7.
The Cowboys followed their worst performance of the season, a 49-17 from the Saints with an impressive win over the Giants on the road.
Dallas remains a dangerous opponent, averaging 27.1 points per game. In the first meeting with the Eagles, the Cowboys couldn't get much going on the ground without starting running back DeMarco Murray, but Tony Romo had a decent game passing-wise. It was an all-around ugly game in Philadelphia, but Romo managed to throw for 317 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice in the game, but he found a way to come out with a win.
Dez Bryant had a big afternoon against the Eagles, catching eight passes for 110 yards, and Terrence Williams also had a nice game with 71 receiving yards and a touchdown. Romo spread the ball around well against the Eagles, as Cole Beasley and Jason Witten combined for 10 catches.
The Cowboys defense has been reeling all season long. Dallas ranks dead-last in the league, allowing an average of 432.2 yards per game, and they also allow 298.5 yards per game through the air. The defensive troubles have occurred despite a stellar season from middle linebacker Sean Lee, who has become one of the top players at his position. When the Eagles and Cowboys meet for a second time, Lee's health could be a factor. Lee injured his hamstring against the Saints in Week 10, and although he should be back to action by the season finale, hamstring injuries can be tricky. If Lee tries to push it too much, too quickly, he could end up suffering a setback.
The Eagles played a very sound defensive game against Dallas in the first matchup, limiting the Cowboys to their second-lowest scoring output of the season. The defense has gotten better every week, and if that trend continues, Dallas could be in for a rough game offensively.
So there you have it. Five games stand between the Eagles and a playoff appearance, which would undoubtedly be a major accomplishment in Kelly's first season in Philadelphia. He has already improved upon last season's win total, but a lot of work remains to be done. How far can Kelly take this Eagles team? Only time will tell.