The NFL End of Season Run

Marshall Hastings
Co-Editor-In-Chief
@Marsh_Hastings

Carson Palmer
Photo courtesy of Arizona Cardinals Facebook Page.

With just four weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, the playoff hype machine is raging at full blast. Some folks still think pretenders are contenders, while others seemingly want to disregard some of the hottest teams in football. No one truly knows how everything is going to play out until Week 17 (obviously), but it seems that everyone wants to give their expert take. With that being said, why shouldn’t we? Let’s go.

New England Patriots

Take a deep breath New England, this really means nothing. Two straight losses, including an error-laden upset at home to the Philadelphia Eagles are nothing to be concerned with. Sure, the injuries seem to be piling to the breaking point, but honestly, when you look back on Sunday afternoon’s disappointment in Foxborough there will be nothing but the lone bleak point in an otherwise productive season. Just remember that as of week four of 2014, the entire nation rejoiced at what seemed to be the beginning of the downfall. It wasn’t, and neither is now.

The Eagles walked out of Foxborough with a win purely because they managed to make abnormal plays. A blocked punt, a tipped-pass-pick-six, and a punt return for a touchdown. Not signs of successful offense, just signs of luck. The Patriots lost the game on Sunday, the Eagles didn’t win it.

Rob Gronkowski will get healthy, Julian Edelman will return, and the Patriots will still get a top two seed and a first round bye for the AFC Playoffs. A home matchup with the Titans and a road trip to a struggling Miami team still loom large. Houston may look difficult, but keep in mind who is still standing under center and who’s got the headset on. As long as the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick combination is still alive, so too will be the success of the Patriots.

Maybe the Patriots slip up with Houston or the Jets, but keep in mind that the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals (the top two seeds in the AFC) meet in three weeks, and the Broncos still have to travel to Pittsburgh in two weeks. If Peyton Manning returns and the Broncos pencil him in as starter, there truly is no telling what could happen.

The Patriots have nothing to worry about, they’ll be thriving and competitive come playoff time. In the meantime, take a chill pill, kick back, and enjoy the ride.

Philadelphia Eagles

Just over a week ago, the Eagles were reeling after consecutive blowouts, giving up 45 points to Tampa Bay in a historic performance from Jameis Winston before a 45-14 beating at the hands of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. Funny how one game changes all of that.

Suddenly the Eagles are the team to beat in the NFC East. Suddenly, almost magically, the Eagles seem to be putting everything together. Maybe Sam Bradford can lead this team to the playoffs. Maybe Chip Kelly won’t be fired. Maybe you need to re-read the first part about New England.

The Eagles won because of fluke plays. They won’t be able to get a pick-six at the goal line every week. They won’t return a blocked punt for a touchdown again this week. With all of the flukes that took place, it seems people don’t realize that Bradford threw for just 120 yards, that the defense gave up 312 yards to Tom Brady, and Demarco Murray, the so-called elite back that they paid big money for, averaged just three yards a carry.

The only reason the Eagles playoff hopes are alive is because the NFC East is the NFC Least. The East is awful, and since no one seems to want to win it, the Eagles still carry a slimmer of hope.

The Eagles get lucky that three of their final four games are at home, but they were at home when Famous Jameis tossed five touchdowns, so the whole home-field advantage thing seems to be a moot point. The Bills enter Philly this weekend desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive, then the Arizona Cardinals and the best offense in the NFL swarm Lincoln Financial Field the following Sunday.

Forget the hot streak. The Eagles team that relinquished 45 points in back-to-back weeks is more likely to return than the Philadelphia team that showed up in Foxborough. And when they show back up, the L’s on the stat sheet will show up too.

Arizona Cardinals

With the best offense in the NFL and the third best passing game, the Cardinals seem to get overshadowed on a weekly basis by the unbeaten Carolina Panthers and the struggling Green Bay Packers. Sitting as the number two seed in the NFC at 10-2, the Cardinals just might be the most dangerous team in the NFC.

The Panthers seem to be defying all odds as their unbeaten streak increases week by week, but a dogfight of a win against the New Orleans Saints may be the first crack in the Panthers armor. That’s where Carson Palmer and the Cardinals come in.

A year ago, the Cardinals were one unlucky injury to Carson Palmer away from making a serious run in the NFC. Their defense was smothering and the offense was firing on all cylinders. Larry Fitzgerald has re-found his elite younger self and the Cardinals offense has blown up. Their 419 yards per game is 60 yards better than the league average of 354, while their nearly 300 yards passing a game is just 15 yards behind the league leading Patriots.

Their pass defense has been just as effective, holding opposing quarterbacks to just 227 yards per game and just one more touchdown (17) than interceptions (16). They’ve allowed just 124 first downs through the air, good for only 28.5 percent of opposing teams first downs.

The defense is averaging just 89 yards a game against on the ground with nine fumbles while allowing offenses to convert a mere 32 percent of third downs. The Panthers may be stealing the limelight in the NFC, but come Conference Championship weekend, don’t be startled to see the Cardinals punching their ticket to San Francisco.

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