Arizona Cardinals (2-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)
The Cardinals finished the 2015 season #1 in first down rate differential when they finished 13-3 and then they finished #1 in that metric again in 2016, despite going 7-8-1, as they could have easily won 10-12 games if not for numerous special teams errors in close games. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And against Miami, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points. Had they made the playoffs, they would have been a difficult opponent.
However, this Cardinals team is not the same team as the past 2 seasons. They lost five defensive starters in free agency, including defensive end Calais Campbell, safety DJ Swearinger, and safety Tony Jefferson, all of whom were among the best players in the league at their position in 2016. On top of that, they’ve been ravaged by injuries, losing running back David Johnson, left guard Mike Iupati, and, most recently, outside linebacker Markus Golden for the season with injury, three other key contributors from 2016. They now have one of the least talented rosters in the league. They’re 2-2, but their only two wins have come in overtime against the 49ers and the Colts, two of the worst teams in the league.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are 3-1 with wins over the Redskins, Giants, and Chargers and they won the first down battle in their loss in Kansas City. They finished last year 7-9, but 6 of their 9 wins came by a touchdown or less. This season, they have Lane Johnson back (5-1 with him last season), an improved receiving corps, and a more confident Carson Wentz under center. They could easily finish with 10-12 wins and win the NFC East, as they have one of the more talented rosters in the league.
However, I can’t take them with much confidence as 6.5 point favorites for two reasons. For one, they’re banged up as well in this one, as top cornerback Ronald Darby remains out after injured his ankle week 1, while stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox will miss his 2nd straight game with injury. I still have this line at 10.5, but the Eagles have to play again on Thursday Night 4 games after this one, which puts them in a tough spot. Favorites are just 58-90 ATS before Thursday Night Football since 2008. They should be the right side, but this I’d need the line to go down to 5.5 to think about betting on them. They’re a smart survivor pick though.
Philadelphia Eagles 23 Arizona Cardinals 14
Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6.5