Arizona Cardinals: 11 wins – 6 losses, 5th in NFC
Nice surprise at the start of the season, the Cardinals fell into line with each match, ending up with 4 defeats in 5 games. While the skies seemed clear over Arizona just a month ago, winter has brought nothing but bad.
So, head sticking out of the water or the 2020 Steelers? The Cardinals’ playoff campaign promises to be epic, but comes at the worst of times.
How did they get there?
The Cardinals’ 2021 cuvée started off with a bang. 7 wins in as many games to start hostilities, and a good 10-2 record during their week of rest, in week 12.
Unfortunately for them, the machine has jammed. Only 2 small matches won out of the 6 they played to end the season, with a real downside in the Lions (30-12). All while the calendar should allow them to validate the first place in the NFC West after a great start.
While he finally seemed to have found the formula, Kliff Kingsbury gave us the same thing as last season: he cracked when it matters most. The blazing attack and sparkling defense gave way to a rickety 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 who did the worse 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 be resolved, put the brakes on a start worthy of an MVP. He’s been in really 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 tile, he still has many prime targets. His unpredictability can on a good day fin any defense in the league. But he will have to find the completion percentages he had at the start of the season. He’s passed the milestone that makes him a dreaded quarterback, now is the time to prove it in the games that matter most.
Why are they going to go to the end?
Because they can beat anyone. Even at the height of their losing streak, Kliff Kingsbury’s men beat the Cowboys on their home turf. They have a large number of playmakers on both sides of the ball, who can change their destiny at any time during a game.
Another point that goes in their direction: they should not during the playoffs evolve in front of their audience. They have in 2021 a terrible record of 3-5 on their lawn, including 4 defeats in a row. Away, 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 to Detroit. They also had the opportunity, unknowingly, to win their division by beating Seattle in the last week, a failure.
Because they are also on a very complicated series. Only 1 victory over the last 5 games, it is a very negative dynamic before approaching the playoffs. The attack has lost its splendor over the last few weeks, and the defense is not as reassuring as it was in the first games.
Kliff Kingsbury has not been spared from injuries within his squad, and especially among his leaders. Summer flagship rookie JJ Watt suffered a serious shoulder injury in Week 7. Finally, DeAndre Hopkins tore a ligament in his knee in Week 14. There is a slight hope that Watt will reunite with 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 game? It is very probable. But seeing the Cardinals string together surprises on 4 consecutive meetings seems to be fiction today. The dynamic is not at all in their favor, and unless a reversal of the situation worthy of the greatest thrillers, difficult to see the Lombardi Trophy parade in Arizona in February.
The first step already seems high, with the Rams they will play against for the third time this season. With a victory on each side, this 1st round of the playoffs is the beautiful one between two teams who have fought all year for the head of the NFC West. On paper, Rams advantage due to the overall strength of the workforce and the experience of the playoffs. But we have seen it throughout the season, a surprise can hide behind any meeting.