A game between a pair of 7-5 teams is one of the NFC's marquee matchups on this Week 14 Sunday, and very little separates the Eagles and the Lions. Both offenses feature explosive weapons in the passing game and the running game. Both have players with unique skills who present matchup challenges. Both have quarterbacks who are, for the most part, tearing defenses to pieces this season.
On the other side of the football, both defenses have disruptive fronts that play takeaway football. The specialists are strong on both sides and the return games and coverage schemes are fairly equal.
In other words, this is going to be a heck of a football game.
The Eagles are going to have to win some very key battles to beat Detroit. This isn't about limiting wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who is going to get his catches and make his plays. It isn't about coming up with something the Lions defense has never seen, because teams have a pretty strong feel for each other 12 games into the regular season.
Here are some of the things I'm going to watch once 1 p.m. rolls around and Lincoln Financial Field rocks and rolls ...
The Reggie Bush Factor
In Detroit's 40-10 win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving, Reggie Bush put on a vintage performance. He ran for 117 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and added 5 receptions and 65 yards. He also fumbled in the red zone, turning the football over to the Packers.
With all due respect to the great talents of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Bush may be the most difficult player on the field to cover for the Eagles. He's a great receiver who has speed and route-running ability, and if the Lions are able to isolate Bush down the field, look out. Bush is also big and strong and he teams with Joique Bell to give the Lions a nifty 1-2 punch in the backfield.
So how do the Eagles tangle with Bush? They are likely to have Mychal Kendricks on Bush as much as possible, but it's not like Kendricks can spy Bush and follow him all over the field. It's going to take a group effort, maybe with a lot of zone mixed in, to keep Bush hemmed in. The Eagles must get their hands on Bush at the line of scrimmage and they have to be very sure in their tackling.
Bush has some fumble concerns, so ripping the football out -- at least trying to do so -- is vital for the defense.
How Do The Eagles Handle Suh And Company?
Whether the Lions run the Jim Washburn Wide 9 or line up and go, this is one of best fronts the Eagles will face all season. Tackle Ndamukong Suh is an offense wrecker, and he has a lot of help from his mates at the line of scrimmage. Nick Fairley is able to collapse the pocket, while the ends generate a lot of pressure off the edge.
The Eagles have a chance here, because the offensive line is so athletic and versatile. Right guard Todd Herremans will see a lot of Suh and will have to handle Suh's power. Fairley is a disruptive player inside. Tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters are going to have their hands full, too.
Detroit is going to get some push, and the Lions are going to look for big plays in the backfield. The Eagles can counter with screens and running between the tackles and will have to block the second level for LeSean McCoy to have some success.
If the Eagles step up here, the offense can have success against a secondary that has struggled this season and that has some injury concerns.
Which Quarterback Protects The Ball Better?
Matt Stafford is a strong-armed, big-body quarterback who is simply a fantastic talent. He has a quick release that allows him to avoid sacks, but Stafford is also prone to an interception or two in the course of a game.
Nick Foles is a big-bodied quaterback with a good arm and excellent touch and accuracy. He has not thrown an interception this season, as we know. Both quarterbacks are going to have pressure coming, so whoever handles the heat the best is going to win this game.
The Eagles must get after Stafford, or he will destroy the secondary. Same with Foles, who is likely to go after that Detroit coverage group and try to spread the ball around and take some shots down the field.
Can Foles continue to avoid turning the football over? Can the Eagles force Stafford into some mistakes? Which quarterback wins this critical playoff-type game with his smarts and guile and accuracy in what could be some nasty weather in South Philadelphia?
We know this going in: The teams are very evenly matched. Detroit is rested and confident coming off that blowout win over Green Bay. The Eagles have won four straight games. This is a team on a rise, for sure.
It comes down to execution and staying away from critical mistakes. It's about being physical and making tackles and focusing on the football.
It's playoff football, just as it was against Arizona. Can the Eagles keep it going? The big questions will be answered soon enough.