Eagles-Cardinals Preview

In a division that produced both conference finalists a season ago, the Arizona Cardinals find themselves in first place.

Extending their lead to two games in the NFC West will require a win over one of the league's other one-loss teams, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Both bring two-game winning streaks into Sunday's matchup, with the Cardinals trying to stay perfect at home while the Eagles return from a bye with some key names back practicing.

The Cardinals (5-1) are 1 1/2 games ahead of idle San Francisco and might be the surprise team of the division. However, coach Bruce Arians is quick to point out his team still hasn't reached the level of accomplishment of last season's conference finalists - the 49ers and Seattle.

"We know we're not special. The one thing we've talked about all week was, you never underestimate your opponent and you sure don't overestimate yourself," Arians told the Cardinals' official website. "We haven't done anything yet, except get to 5-1. There's a lot of football left."

The latest step forward was Sunday's 24-13 win in Oakland, the Cardinals' third in as many games with Carson Palmer starting at quarterback. Palmer, playing his second game after a shoulder injury kept him out the previous three, completed 22 of 31 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

The Cardinals went 10-6 last year in Palmer's first season in Arizona but missed the playoffs after a 3-4 start. Since, they're 10-2 with him as a starter, and his 97.8 rating in that time ranks seventh in the NFL ahead of Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.

"We lost some games that we shouldn't have last year that kept us out of the playoffs. This year we've won those games, so that's a great lesson," Palmer said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think we're getting ready to define hopefully my time here and our time as a team."

He'll be going up against a Philadelphia defense that seemed to find its way before a Week 7 bye. The Eagles (5-1) went into the week off riding a 27-0 home win over the New York Giants on Oct. 12, in which they allowed a season-low 254 yards after surrendering an average of 461.3 over the previous three games.

That defense could have starting linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has returned to practice after missing four games with a calf injury to help handle Palmer, running back Andre Ellington and wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

With Palmer starting, the Cardinals are averaging 361.7 yards of total offense as opposed to 273.0 in their three games without him.

"They've got a lot of weapons and they do a lot of different things on the offensive side of the ball to spread the ball around to all of those guys," coach Chip Kelly told the Eagles' official website.

The Eagles, now looking up at 6-1 Dallas, might also be healthier on offense. Running back Darren Sproles could play after suffering a sprained MCL against the Giants, something he didn't think would be possible after the injury occurred.

"I'm fine," said Sproles, who has returned to practice. "I thought it was bad. I had an MRI and I feel pretty good."

In the passing game, the Eagles will be hoping for improvement from Nick Foles. The quarterback has thrown five interceptions in three games and seven for the season after throwing 27 TDs to two interceptions in 13 games in 2013.

He might need a particularly strong game through the air to open up the running game. The Cardinals have the top run defense in the NFL, allowing 72.5 yards per game after limiting Oakland the 56.

"It's the personnel they have," Kelly said. "Obviously, (defensive coordinator) Todd (Bowles) does a really great job with their scheme. Their scheme is somewhat unique in getting in a lot of fronts. They run a lot of looks on the defensive side of the ball, so they can confuse you a little bit.

"But also they've got some really, really good football players on the defensive side of the ball."

The Cardinals, though, will be dealing with a rested LeSean McCoy who is coming off his best effort of the season. The NFL's leading rusher a season ago had 149 yards on 22 carries against the Giants after averaging 2.9 yards per carry through his first five games.

The Eagles beat the Cardinals 24-21 on Dec. 1 in Philadelphia, but seven of the last nine meetings in Arizona - including the conference championship game following the 2008 season - have gone the Cardinals' way.

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