THE FIRST two seasons of Chip Kelly coaching the Eagles and Bruce Arians running the Cardinals, the teams seemed pretty evenly matched, and they played that way - the Eagles winning 24-21 in 2013, after building a 24-7 lead, and the Cards winning 24-20 last year on John Brown's 75-yard touchdown catch from Carson Palmer with a minute and 21 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Eagles went 10-6 both seasons. Arians' Cards were 10-6 and 11-5. Things look different this year, though, as the 11-2 Cards visit Sunday night, not having lost since an Oct. 18 visit to the Steelers. The Eagles are 6-7, already assured of their worst record under Kelly, scrambling to prove they are the best of three really ordinary NFC East contenders.
The divergent paths have something to do with the Eagles' switch this season from Nick Foles to Sam Bradford, while Arians was able to stick with Carson Palmer, and build around him, but the Cards also are doing a better job overall at attracting talent.
Most notably, they drafted dynamic starting safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon 27th overall in 2014, one pick after the Eagles selected Marcus Smith, the outside linebacker who saw all of four defensive snaps last week against the Bills. That same year, Arizona took jet-powered wideout John Brown in the third round, five spots after the Eagles drafted Josh Huff. Brown has 55 catches for 895 yards and five touchdowns this season. Huff has 22 catches for 252 yards and three TDs.
Also, last offseason, the Cardinals signed a free agent to a five-year, $40 million contract, but it wasn't a running back, like DeMarco Murray - it was three-time Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati, who is still just 28. The final judgment has yet to be written there, but the Eagles' offensive line sure would be better with Iupati, and it isn't clear their running game would be that much worse without Murray.
Of course, not every Cards decision has worked out. Last spring's first-round draftee, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, has been inactive for every game so far his rookie year. Eagles first-round receiver Nelson Agholor isn't setting the world on fire, but he is playing.
In a conference call this week, Arians generously suggested the quarterback switch accounted for Kelly's struggles this season. Kelly was asked about that on Thursday.
"This is a quarterback-driven league, and when you have a team that's been very successful for an extended period of time, usually it's because there's stability at the quarterback position," Kelly said. "But I don't look at it that that has to be the end-all, because I think when people look at it that way and say, 'I didn't have a quarterback,' you're just making excuses. Your job and your whole coaching staff's job is to find a way to get things done and win the football game.
"It helps. It obviously helps . . . we're playing a really good quarterback and Bruce has done a great job with him. I think sometimes Bruce is being a little self-deprecating in terms of - Carson is really good, but Bruce has done a great job with that entire team. So it's not just, 'Carson is leading the Arizona Cardinals.' I think, in the last three years, I'm not sure there's a coach that's done a better job with his team than Bruce."
Kelly and several players said the unusual circumstance of playing an NFC West opponent three years in a row isn't a big advantage for anyone, given personnel and staff changes. In the Cards' most recent game, a Dec. 10 victory over Minnesota, they fielded three offensive starters and four defensive starters from the units that took the field against the Eagles two years ago. Those numbers were five and six, respectively, for the Eagles last Sunday against Buffalo.
Though the coaches are different now, the Cards and Eagles actually have faced each other five years in a row, Arizona winning in 2011 and '12.
Everybody practiced Thursday except defensive end Vinny Curry, who was ill, the Eagles said . . . Six of Arizona's 11 wins have come by double-digit scores . . . The Cards lost their top two running backs to injury (Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington), but third-round rookie David Johnson ran for 92 yards on 19 carries in the last game, against the Vikings . . . The Arizona offense's 46.3 percent third-down conversion rate ranks second in the league . . . QB Matt Barkley hasn't been active for the Cardinals yet this season.
On Twitter: @LesBowen