Rare is the Week 17 practice with pads. Teams are only allowed so many padded practices in the regular season, and besides, by the end of the year, guys are banged up enough that putting them through such a workout doesn't always make sense.
But sometimes, it does.
Sometimes, a team which has long been headed to the playoffs has a disaster of a game in the snow back East, and a padded practice is needed to right the players' mindset before the postseason. We've seen that work before. Sometimes, a team needs a win in that final game just to make the postseason, and the players get into pads in a practice on a Thursday, and it becomes physical at moments, and maybe, that's the mentality the Cardinals need right now.
We know what happened after that long-ago blowout loss in New England and the infamous practice Ken Whisenhunt put the Cardinals through afterward. The Cards ended up, improbably, in the Super Bowl. There are some fun parallels between the 2008 and 2020 seasons as we head into Sunday's game – win and the Cards are 9-7, just like in 2008, after that bad Week 16 game, for instance – but coincidences only go so far (I mean, Abraham Lincoln did not have a secretary named Kennedy.)
Whether the practice work – and mentality – the Cardinals had this week translates into the game won't be known until the game. The Rams are missing some key pieces. The Cards might be. But it's a playoff game before the playoff game. It may not be about shocking the world, but the Cards will take what a win would give them right now.
-- It's not hyperbole to say Haason Reddick will be the most intriguing free agent the Cardinals will have this offseason, which, considering where he stood in training camp, is an amazing thing to say. But 12½ sacks (and counting) can do that to a guy.
Does Reddick want to stay? Of course he'd like to. Reddick has always had some excellent self-awareness, so he called it a "smart business move" based on his first three seasons that the Cards didn't pick up his fifth-year option (leaving him in an enviable unrestricted free agent position.) His market, and how the depressed salary cap might look like for free agency overall, will be fascinating.
"I've never been in this position before," Reddick said. "I don't really know all the ins and outs and what's to happen."
(And of course we will have much more information and analysis on free agency once the season ends.)
-- The Cardinals need to have safety Budda Baker (neck) out there. They need Chase Edmonds and Larry Fitzgerald too (and particularly the latter I expect to play) but Baker is crucial.
-- Is this potentially the last game ever for Fitz? Heck, is it the last game in a Cardinals’ uniform for Patrick Peterson? Reddick might be tops on my list but there is a lot of intrigue coming for free agency, given how many free agents the Cards will have. (And if the Cardinals win, we just ask these same questions week after week until the Cards' season actually ends.)
-- Speaking of Peterson, there is time (and a blog post) to come at some point analyzing the situation. I don't think it's as simple as some fans feel it is, and it's always taken me aback a bit how emotional some fans are against Peterson, considering he'll be a Hall of Fame candidate and likely end up in the Ring of Honor.
-- Kenyan Drake needs 81 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season, and listening to him talk, it's a big deal for him to make it and it sounds like it matters to the offensive linemen too. You figure Drake is going to get the bulk if not all of the non-Kyler Murray carries. He only had 10 attempts for 49 yards in the first meeting with the Rams, in part because the Cards' offense could sustain anything in the first half. Getting to 81 would be an achievement, but that's the goal.
-- We can talk all day about the Rams needing to use untested backup QB John Wolford, but this game will be about the Cardinals' offense and what it can do against a healthy Rams defense that is first in yards against, third in scoring, first in sacks and tops in not allowing big plays (rushes of 10+ yards, passes of 20+ yards).
-- Drilling down deeper there, Kyler Murray has to have a good game. And DeAndre Hopkins has to find some headway against Jalen Ramsey.
-- Wolford will be the first quarterback since the Super Bowl began in 1966 to make his first career start in the last game of the season with his team still having a chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN. According to NFL Research, quarterbacks making their first start in Week 17 aren't good (although to be fair, most of the time, those QBs are playing for lousy teams). In 24 such starts previously, those QBs have a 5-19 record, with 16 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions, averaging 157 yards per game.
-- The Rams punter, Johnny Hekker, actually has 22 more career passes than Wolford (22-0). That's amazing to me. Not that he has 22 more than Wolford, but that a punter has 22 career passes.
-- It's amazing that we are through a regular season in this era of COVID. I'm like many of the players – if you would have said we'd be here, with no need for a Week 18 or any lost games, I'd have not believed it. Instead, it's win and in.
See you Sunday.