Arizona Cardinals: 11 wins – 6 losses, 5th in the NFC
Nice surprise at the start of the season, the Cardinals fell into line over the matches, to finish with 4 defeats in 5 games. While skies looked clear over Arizona just a month ago, winter has only brought bad weather.
So, head out of the water or Steelers 2020? The Cardinals’ playoff campaign promises to be epic, but comes at the worst of times.
How did they get there?
The 2021 vintage of the Cardinals started on the wheel hats. 7 wins in as many games to kick off hostilities, and a nice 10-2 record at the time of their rest week, week 12.
Unfortunately for them, the machine jammed. Only 2 small games won out of the 6 they played to end the season, with the real downside being a knockdown at the Lions (30-12). All while the schedule was to allow them to validate the first place in the NFC West after a hot start.
While he finally seemed to have found the formula, Kliff Kingsbury did the same thing to us as last season: he cracked when it matters most. The flamboyant attack and the sparkling defense gave way to a rambunctious team.
If they are there, it is because they are undoubtedly the best team of the first part of the season. But among the qualified teams, it is perhaps the one that had the worst second half.
The key player: Kyler Murray (QB)
The fate of the Cardinals in these playoffs could be determined solely by the performance of Kyler Murray. Flamboyant in the first seven games of the season, his ankle injury, if it now seems to have been resolved, has put a huge brake on a start worthy of an MVP. He’s been in big trouble against in three straight losses to the Rams, Lions and Colts.
His advantage is that he seems to have nothing more to lose this year. His number 1 receiver on the floor, he still has many prime targets. His unpredictability can fine any defense in the league on a good day. But he will have to find the completion percentages he had at the start of the season. He has passed the milestone that makes him a feared quarterback, now is the time to prove it in the games that matter most.
Why are they going to go all the way?
Because they are able to beat anyone. Even at the height of their losing streak, Kliff Kingsbury’s men were able to beat the Cowboys on their home turf. They have a large number of playmakers on both sides of the ball, who can change its destiny at any time during a game.
Another point which goes in their direction: they should not evolve during the playoffs in front of their public. In 2021, they have a terrible record of 3-5 on their lawn, including 4 defeats in a row. Outside, however, the Cardinals seem unplayable, with 8 wins in 9 games. As strange as it may seem, we must wish them that the road to the playoffs will not pass through Glendale this year.
Why won’t they go?
Because they are also capable of losing to anyone. They are part of the very closed club of teams that managed to lose against Detroit. They also had an unknowing opportunity to win their division by defeating Seattle in the final week, a failure.
Because they are also on a very complicated series. Only 1 win in the last 5 games, it’s a very negative dynamic before entering the playoffs. The attack has lost its luster in recent weeks, and the defense is no longer as reassuring as it was in the first games.
Kliff Kingsbury has not been spared injuries to his squad, especially his leaders. The star rookie of the summer, JJ Watt, seriously injured his shoulder in week 7. Finally, DeAndre Hopkins tore a ligament in his knee during the 14th week. There is a slight hope that Watt finds his teammates for the playoffs, although he probably won’t be 100%. For Hopkins, on the other hand, his season is definitely over.
Can they beat any team in a dry match? It is very likely. But seeing the Cardinals chain surprises over 4 consecutive meetings seems to be a fiction today. The dynamic is not at all in their favor, and unless there is a reversal of the situation worthy of the greatest thrillers, it is difficult to see the Lombardi trophy parade in Arizona in February.
The first step already seems high, with the Rams against whom they will play for the 3rd time this season. With a victory on each side, this 1st round of the playoffs is the beautiful between two teams which have battled all year for the head of the NFC West. On paper, Rams advantage by the overall strength of the workforce and experience of the playoffs. But we have seen throughout the season, a surprise can hide behind any meeting.