Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles: Back hosts to overcome handicap

Philly look a better passing side with Nick Foles at QB
Philly look a better passing side with Nick Foles at QB

Neil Harvey previews the first of Sunday's live TV NFL games and he fancies the Philadelphia Eagles to overcome the -3.5 handicap in a game between two in-form sides...

"Everything considered, it’s hard to see Arizona winning this one. In the cold and hostile surroundings of Philadelphia, and against an in-form team that’s as good as it’s been all season, I can only see one winner here."

Back Philadelphia (-3.5) to win @ 2.26/5

Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles
Start Time: Sunday, 18:00
TV: Live on Sky Sports 2

There's plenty at stake for both (7-5) Arizona and (6-5) Philadelphia, with the Cardinals still in contention for a wildcard spot in the NFC West, and the Eagles competing with Dallas for the NFC East title.

And as well as having motivation on their side, both teams also have form. For Philly, it's three wins on the bounce now, with Nick Foles having taken over as the starting quarterback just in time to resurrect what had been looking like a doomed Eagles campaign. Arizona meanwhile, are in even better nick, having won four in a row, including a 40-11 trouncing of the free-falling Colts last week.

A look at the stats reveals there's little to split the sides in terms of passing offence. The Caridinals have a clear advantage at stopping the pass though, ranking 17th, compared to the Eagles, who are last in the league (32nd). This is where the Cardinals will aim to get the bulk of their points, with Carson Palmer looking to find Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd out wide.

Philly meanwhile have yet to face a team with a pass-defense that rates higher than 15th. They lost to the Giants(=15), the Chiefs (=15), the Chargers (28) and the Cowboys (31), with all those defeats coming at home. So quite clearly, there've been big problems with Philly's passing game.

All that though could be irrelevant, because each of those losses came with Michael Vick at the helm. With Foles at QB, the Eagles have suddenly become a passing force, with the 24 year-old throwing for more than 900 yards, 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last three games. Foles is much more of a passing QB than Vick ever was. He's able to cycle through his receiving options, to see who's open, in a way that Vick never could. And as shown by his lack of turnovers, Foles is averse to throwing in sheer panic, which was practically Vick's signature move.

Elsewhere, the Eagles' powerful running game, which ranks second in the league, will come up against the NFL's number two run-defense, while Arizona's 24th ranked running game looks set to struggle, when you consider that Philly held Alfred Morris, the arrowhead of Washington's best-in-the-league run offense, to 93 yards last week.

At first, this looks a tight match-up on paper, with the Cardinals edging it on the stats. But that's without considering Philadelphia's renaissance under Foles, plus home advantage. And there's also the weather to consider. Arizona's players can expect conditions to be some 30 degrees or so colder than they're used to, when they hit the turf at Lincoln Financial Field.

A lot has been made of Philadelphia's terrible home record, with the Eagles winning just one of five at home this season. But note that Arizona are no great shakes on the road, with their two victories from five coming at whipping boys Tampa and Jacksonville, and at a time when both were close to being at their worst.

The Caridinals' secondary is one of the best in the league at snaffling interceptions, but now it's up against Mr Careful, in Foles. And Arizona have suffered against the other strong running games they encountered, with Seattle and San Francisco inflicting upon them their biggest defeat of the season. That suggests a key role for Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, and I feel he could prove the match-winner in this contest.

Everything considered, it's hard to see Arizona winning this one. In the cold and hostile surroundings of Philadelphia, and against an in-form team that's as good as it's been all season, I can only see one winner here.

The Cardinals should struggle with their running game, and that will leave all their hopes in the hands of Carson Palmer. That's a concern given that Palmer has thrown almost as many picks as he has TDs this season. He's also been playing in warm conditions, not just all year but for the majority of his career, and this will be the first winter chill he'll have played in for some time.

It's chilly in Philly and I'm expecting an icy reception for the Cardinals, which could be one of the few receptions they manage all game. Back the Eagles to continue their winning run with plenty to spare here.

Recommended Bets

Back Philadelphia (-3.5) to win @ 2.26/5
Back Arizona points to be less than 23.5 @ 2.01/1
Back Rashard Mendenhall rushing yards to be less than 50.5 @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back LeSean McCoy rushing yards to be more than 79.5 @ 1.9110/11 or better

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