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Cardinals Sort Through Playoff Hopes

Posted Dec 21, 2013

Game in Seattle crucial piece to team's postseason considerations

The Cardinals have a crucial rematch against the Seahawks Sunday in Seattle.

SEATTLE – By the end of this week’s NFL slate, the Cardinals could be in total control of their playoff hopes. They could also be eliminated from contention.

Such is the volatility of life in this league, where a 16-game season leads to a jumble of teams battling for positioning as the year winds down.

The Cardinals (9-5) have won six of their past seven games but their playoff odds remain slim. With two tough games down the stretch and an unfortunate tiebreaker situation, Arizona has been given an 11.6 percent chance of making the postseason by Football Outsiders.

It could all be over by Sunday night, if the Panthers beat the Saints and the Cardinals lose to the Seahawks.

However, there are also myriad ways for the Cardinals to get in, and they can guarantee themselves a Week 17 shot by pulling the upset of Seattle. Here are the scenarios for the Cardinals to make the playoffs:

  • The one way to control their own outcome is this: The Cardinals beat the Seahawks and the 49ers lose to the Falcons on Monday night. Then, if the Cardinals beat San Francisco in Week 17, they’re in.
  • Similarly, if the Cardinals win their final two games and either the Panthers or Saints lose their final two, a playoff berth is in hand. Keep in mind, New Orleans and Carolina play each other Sunday, so one of those teams will lose at least once (barring a tie, of course).
  • And here’s probably the most realistic scenario: If the Panthers lose their final two games, the Cardinals would only need to win one to make the postseason as long as the 49ers finished above them in the standings.

The Cardinals players and coaches promise they won’t be scoreboard watching, but for fans it’s inevitable. And as the results come in, the rooting allegiances could change. For instance, if the Panthers and Cardinals both lose Sunday, the 49ers must beat the Falcons, or else Arizona is eliminated.

The scenarios will be fluid, but the refrain from the Cardinals remains the same.

“We have to win our games,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Then whatever happens, happens. Again, we need to win a division game on the road to prove that we’ve made some progress.”

It’ll be a tough test, facing a Seahawks team with the best record (12-2) in the NFL at CenturyLink Field, where quarterback Russell Wilson is undefeated in 14 games. Seattle is one win or one 49ers loss away from wrapping up home field advantage for the entirety of the NFC postseason, so the vaunted atmosphere should be fully charged.

“It’s a championship opportunity,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “We win this game, we lock up a lot of stuff and we’re kind of on the road or on the path that we want to be.”

The teams played on Thursday night in Week 7 and the Seahawks won, 34-22. It’s been the Cardinals’ only home blemish of the season, and it was a game in which Marshawn Lynch ran 21 times for 91 yards to set the tone for Seattle, which finished with 135 rushing yards.

Since that contest, the Cardinals are allowing only 69.4 yards per game on the ground, and after giving up 66 yards on 19 carries to the Titans, are now the NFL’s stingiest run defense. That matchup will be critical, as will the job the Cardinals can do with their own running game.

The Seahawks have the top pass defense in the league, so moving the ball effectively on the ground is paramount. Andre Ellington had just three carries for three yards in the first meeting, but figures to play a much bigger role provided his injured thigh is sufficiently healed.

The team which controls the line of scrimmage will hold a sizable advantage, and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said the Cardinals must give every bit of extra effort.

“If you love this game and you know what is at stake and you know what is in front of you, you’ve got to find it within for that extra drive,” Dockett said.

The Seahawks are allowing an NFL-low 14.6 points per game after shutting out the Giants last week and have the best point-differential in the league at plus-175. Through 14 games, they’re looking every bit a Super Bowl contender, and the Cardinals’ play must be crisp to win.

If they can beat Seattle and San Francisco in these last two games, the Cardinals will finish with 11 victories for the first time since moving to Arizona. While it wouldn’t guarantee a playoff berth, it sure would help. For now, they just want to get there, and the first step is upsetting one of the league’s elite teams.

 “As you saw last year (in a 58-0 loss), if you come out sluggish, start slow, these guys will try to embarrass you,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “As a team, we want to start fast and finish the ballgame. Like coach always says, stack up our chips and see where they may lay, and hopefully come out with that ‘W.’”

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