Eagles hosting the suddenly playoff-minded Arizona Cardinals on Sunday

Eagles hosting the suddenly playoff-minded Arizona Cardinals on Sunday

One of the great things about pro football in my humble opinion is how quickly a franchise can go from first-overall pick territory to world champion. It can take years to turn around a floundering Major League baseball team, and it’s damn near impossible to do in the NBA until the organization trips over a LeBron James. In the NFL, there’s always next season.

Today we asked the question whether the Eagles could be embarking on a worst-to-first success story, but they’re not the only ones trying to accomplish that feat. This Sunday’s opponent is riding a four-game winning streak into the Linc, and currently owns a better record than Philadelphia for that matter.

That would be the surprising 7-4 Arizona Cardinals, a team whose season looked dead in the water a month ago. As Michael Silver writes for NFL.com though, the red birds have managed to pull off a 180 to rescue their 2013 campaign. Now they have the playoffs in their sights.

With a four-game winning streak and a half-game lead over San Francisco (heading into the 49ers' Monday night game against the Washington Redskins) in the race for the NFC's second wild-card spot, the Cardinals (7-4) are starting to believe in the potential that has been relentlessly trumpeted by their first-year coach, Bruce Arians.

Momentum in late November is a wonderful thing -- just ask the Carolina Panthers, a team Arizona defeated 22-6 back in Week 5 -- and right now, the Cards are joyriding.

"Bruce, coming out of training camp, told us, 'Hey, you guys, we're a good team,' " veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston said Sunday night as he celebrated with teammates and family members in the stadium parking lot. "He saw it before anybody else. Yet, until very recently, I don't know if guys believed it yet.

"I think Bruce had to convince us we can win these big games. He told us, 'You know what? We can beat good teams. And if you don't know, you should now.' "

Arizona is probably best known for a stingy run defense that ranks second in the NFL and an opportunistic secondary that is tied for third in interceptions. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer has been playing extremely well these past four games however, posting a strong 110.8 quarterback rating during that span.

Not to take anything away from the Cardinals—partly because the Eagles are guilty of this as well—but they’ve been beating up on some bad teams during the current run. Three of the four wins came at the expense of opponents still searching for their third win of the season. It’s fair to wonder how good they really are.

It sure sounds like the Cards have a great deal of confidence heading into this week’s matchup with the Eagles though, which holds big postseason implications for both teams. Get to know the enemy a little better in Silver’s column.

For what it’s worth, in Silver’s power rankings he has Arizona eighth and Philly way down at No. 14.

>> Arizona Cardinals rounding into playoff form [NFL.com]

Future Phillies Report: The Bash Brothers are killing it in May

Future Phillies Report: The Bash Brothers are killing it in May

The Bash Brothers are operating at peak efficiency this month for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who can't lose in May.

That's where we'll start this week's Future Phillies Report.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
Cozens is having a Joey Gallo-esque season for Lehigh Valley, hitting for a low batting average (.219) with a whole lot of strikeouts (63) and homers (12). 

He's slowed down some after a torrid start to May, but in 19 games this month he's hit .311 with eight home runs, two doubles, a triple and 19 RBIs. He has six walks and 23 strikeouts.

Cozens was named International League Batter of the Week the second week of May, when he had two walk-off home runs and a game-tying, ninth-inning single.

Cozens has made some improvements against left-handed pitching but he still has a long way to go. Six of his 12 homers this season are off lefties, but he's still hitting just .175 against same-handed pitching with five walks and 30 strikeouts.

The more Triple A pitching he sees, the more comfortable he should become against veterans with good breaking balls and an actual plan on the mound. Keep in mind Cozens doesn't turn 23 until May 31.

Cozens is on the 40-man roster and will probably get a look in September. It would seem unlikely that he'd get a call-up to replace an injured outfielder before then, a relevant topic given the minor injuries this last week to Michael Saunders and Daniel Nava.

1B Rhys Hoskins (AAA)
Hoskins is the one offensive prospect we feature regularly here who I'm confident will be up with the Phillies before September. He continues to impress not just as a power hitter but as a "hitter's hitter" — a guy who controls the strike zone and has few holes.

As productive as Hoskins' April was, his May has been just as impressive. He hit .338 with six homers, 12 RBIs and a 1.063 OPS in April compared to .296 with six homers, 24 RBIs and a 1.045 OPS in May.

Hoskins had a two-homer, five-RBI game last Thursday in a rare Lehigh Valley loss, which snapped the IronPigs' 12-game winning streak.

In total this season he's hit .318 with 12 homers, 36 RBIs, nine doubles, two triples, 24 walks and 27 strikeouts. His consistent production could create an interesting scenario soon because if Tommy Joseph continues to hit, one of them could become a valuable trade piece that could bring back a starting pitcher. 

In Hoskins and Joseph, the Phillies have two powerful, young, inexpensive first basemen who project to hit somewhere in the middle of the order. Why not use an organizational strength to improve an organizational weakness?

Joseph has already shown he can hit for power at the major-league level, but Hoskins' upside seems higher because of his plate selection.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
He's almost there. After 171 plate appearances, Crawford has nearly reached the Mendoza line.

Crawford's multi-hit game Friday made him 10 for 25 over his last six games with a double, a homer, six RBIs, five walks and six strikeouts.

He's raised his batting average this month from .145 to .186, and even when he's slumped he's taken his walks — 25 in 39 games.

Crawford has hit .235 this month with a .358 on-base percentage. If his pitch recognition remains consistent when he reaches the majors — and keep in mind it's a skill he's shown at every rung of the minor-league ladder — it won't matter if he hits .260, he'd still be a valuable two-hole hitter.

This is the hottest Crawford has been all season and the Phillies are hoping he can keep it up for at least another week or two.

OF Roman Quinn (AAA)
I wrote about Quinn at length on Monday, outlining the reasons why he should be called up by the Phillies (see story).

Entering play Tuesday, he had hit .333 with a .424 OBP in May, fueling Lehigh Valley's surge by contributing at the top of the order.

Quinn would, right now, be a defensive upgrade for the Phillies, and it's not as if Saunders has done a whole lot to keep his job anyway.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams has homered three times in his last six games. All three were solos, but one was a game-tying shot in the ninth inning and his home run the next day was a game-winner in the 10th.

The ninth-inning bomb went to the opposite field and was off veteran big-league closer Joe Nathan. Both were good signs — that Williams' power can travel to left-center field and that he did it against a pitcher who's had a lot of success and experience.

On the year, Williams is hitting .258 with an on-base percentage right around .300. He has six walks and 47 strikeouts. For the 700th time, that's a concern and it's probably always going to be there. To make a difference in the majors, the Phillies will need Williams to produce about 30-35 doubles and 15-20 homers per season. In that regard, the recent uptick in barreling balls is a promising development.

2B Scott Kingery (AA)
The most surprising storyline in the Phillies' farm system this season is Kingery's home run jump. The guy has 14 homers already before Memorial Day. He hit five last season.

The quick assumption would be that Kingery is taking advantage of Reading's homer-friendly ballpark, but six of the 14 homers have come on the road.

On the season, Kingery is hitting .290/.369/.665 with eight doubles, four triples, 14 homers, 28 RBIs, 17 walks and 31 strikeouts. He's also 9 for 10 in stolen base attempts. And he's committed one error all season.

This has been a breakout year for Kingery, who will make the jump to Triple A in 2017 if this continues. 

C Jorge Alfaro (AAA)
Alfaro has been striking out a lot lately. He has 27 strikeouts and no walks — you read that right — in 70 plate appearances this month.

His batting line has dropped to .281/.308/.410 with 10 extra-base hits in 146 plate appearances. 

Like Williams, Alfaro is probably never going to show enough plate selection to be a true superstar. But there's some more confidence Alfaro will be able to hit in the majors, and if he can hit .260 with power and a strong arm behind the plate, that might be enough.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (High A Clearwater)
A stiff neck has kept Sanchez off the mound since our last Future Phillies Report, but he remains the Phillies' highest-upside pitching prospect and maybe their highest-upside prospect overall. 

He has 28 strikeouts and three walks this season with a .211 opponents' batting average, and he still hasn't allowed a home run in 104 pro innings. He has a blazing fastball and above-average command, especially for an 18-year-old.

Carson Wentz building rapport with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith

Carson Wentz building rapport with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith

For a few weeks now, Carson Wentz has been throwing to his new weapons, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, in an attempt to grow their chemistry.

Something was different on Tuesday.

"The biggest thing is we get comfortable on air and now all of a sudden, there's a body in the way," Smith said. "It's weird. But you have to get open against somebody. Just have to knock the rust off these next few days. A lot of us have been playing long enough. We just need to be where [Wentz] expects us to be."

On Tuesday morning, the Eagles kicked off their OTAs, the voluntary practices that lead into the mandatory minicamp in mid-June. And for the first time this spring, offense and defense went head-to-head in full-team drills (see 10 observations).

It was just the latest step in the progress of building a rapport between the quarterback and his top receivers, who were added during free agency.

"I don't think it's too tough," Jeffery said. "I think it's just working each and every day. He knows what type of player I am; I know what type of player he is. It just makes it better. Just keep working."

Wentz said in addition to on-field work, he and his new receivers (and new RB LeGarrette Blount) will be looking to sneak in as much extra time together as possible. That extra time will come in the locker room, in the training room, in the film room and in the cafeteria, wherever and whenever they can.

At least now, thanks to OTAs this week, they'll have tape against the defense to look back at and use to get on the same page.

"It's a work in progress," Wentz said. "No doubt about it. It's a work in progress with guys I've been here with a year now. It's just an ongoing process. You're putting in new plays, new routes, things are always changing. So it's a process, but I feel very comfortable with them at the same time. But again, we're still just going to continually build that relationship."

While Tuesday was just the first day of practice in a long process leading up to the season, both Jeffery and Smith showed off their respective skills.

While Jeffery is quiet off the field, he already made plenty of noise in Day 1 of OTAs.

"It's been great with him," Wentz said. "He plays on time, he knows what he's doing, his catch radius is impressive. That's the first thing that jumps out at me. I'm just looking forward to continuing to build that relationship."

Jeffery is the big receiver with a huge catch radius, while Smith is the speedier receiver, even though he still has good size at 6-0, 205 pounds.

Were both their skills on display at Day 1 of OTAs?

"Definitely," cornerback Patrick Robinson said, shaking his head.

Jeffery and Smith are still the new guys in town, but they both worked with the first team on Tuesday, while Jordan Matthews played in the slot (more on him here). (Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham worked with the twos; rookies Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson worked with the threes.)

For Matthews, playing in the slot with Jeffery and Smith outside should help him quite a bit in 2017. So the Eagles' slot receiver said he was glad to have them added to his team.

"Both of them bring a lot of production," Matthews said. "Both of them are playmakers in their own different ways. The biggest thing I like, too, is in a room full of guys, you need competition. That's going to be what elevates guys' level of play. When you bring in two guys like that, who have had production over a long period of time, and they're also willing to come out here and work during the voluntary part of the offseason, you're going to have everybody get pushed."

Matthews has spent a ton of time with Wentz over their year together and already has a great relationship and chemistry with his quarterback.

Now it's up to Jeffery and Smith to catch up. And they're off to a good start.