The stakes grow higher each week as the NFL season marches along toward December and the playoffs. In Week 11, four of the NFC’s best, the Arizona Cardinals (8-1), Detroit Lions (7-2), Green Bay Packers (6-3), and Philadelphia Eagles (7-2) face off in games that will help define the NFC playoff picture. The latter game, which pits the NFC East-leading Eagles against the Packers – who sit on the outside of the playoffs looking in – is the premier match-up of the week.
The Packers enter Week 11 coming off a dominant prime-time victory against the Bears in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdowns in the first half. Since Rodgers told the media to relax, the Packers have been one of the league’s best teams, with five wins in their last six games. In that span, Rodgers has been nearly perfect, throwing for 21 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson heaped praise on Rodgers, telling reporters at NFL.com that he had never seen the quarterback play better.
“I mean, if you look at last week with what we were able to do in the first half, I don't think he can play better. It's still hard, I think, over a course of a season to match what we did a few years ago when we went 15-1 and our offense was putting up unbelievable numbers.”
The offense and its efficiency has been the primary driver of the team’s success over the last six games. The team has averaged 37.1 points per game over their current stretch and has done most of their damage early, scoring 10 points on average in the first quarter and 15 over their last three games. While the offense is ranked only 10th in passing and 18th in rushing, their efficiency comes from not turning the ball over and scoring when it is important, early and often.
The Eagles have yet to play a stretch of games with the kind of offensive consistency they displayed last year, but few are complaining as they sit atop the NFC East with seven wins. Two weeks ago, there was considerable uncertainty as an injury to quarterback Nick Foles put the offense in the hands of Mark Sanchez. Sanchez, however, has been effective thus far, throwing for 534 yards and four touchdowns in his first two games. As the Sanchez experience continues, fans and pundits will be watching closely to see if Sanchez is really playing at a high level or whether Chip Kelly’s offense has enabled the quarterback to succeed.
The differentiating factor for the Eagles this season has been their ability to score on defense and special teams. The team has four defensive touchdowns and three return touchdowns this season, which has helped them through stretches when the offense was under performing. Football Outsiders measure the Eagles as both the most fortunate and the best special teams in the league. The team has seen more sub-par play from opposing special teams than any team in the league, but they have also been able to capitalize on it.
In a close game, a weird play or two that falls in favor of the Eagles might be enough to get their eighth win, but keeping pace with Aaron Rodgers might be too much to ask of Mark Sanchez. As long as the offense continues to roll, expect the Packers to hold an edge in this game.