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Home means so much — now, and then

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2014 – 11:40 am

The  Cardinals are 7-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They are 13-2 at home since Bruce Arians became coach — a meaningless, close loss to the 49ers to close out the 2013 season, and the the 34-22 loss to the Seahawks in October of last year. The home-field advantage is real for the Cards, a big reason why this team still has the optimism it does going into this game despite having to dig deep into the depth chart for a quarterback.

Only three times have the Cardinals ever won more than seven games at home in a season, the most recent being 1925 and that total (11 home wins) was helped by the fact the Cards played 13 of 14 games at home. (That is a seriously unbalanced scheduling.) The Cardinals are the only team in the league to have given up 20 points or fewer in every home game this season.

Details of what player will be the QB aside, that’s ultimately what Sunday’s game is about. If the Cardinals win, they clinch home field throughout the playoffs. Literally, in fact, since that would include a Super Bowl appearance. If the Seahawks win, they are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed, and it almost goes without saying the home-field advantage the Seahawks have in Seattle. There’s still a chance the Packers could be the top seed, and no one wants to play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau in January.

So it’s fitting that, for the Cardinals, it’s a home game that determines future home games — and possibly the direction of the entire postseason in the NFC.

Homefieldbloguse


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Packers loss gives Cards-Seahawks extra meaning

Posted by Darren Urban on December 14, 2014 – 3:11 pm

The Cardinals won in St. Louis Thursday, and can spend Sunday watching the rest of the NFC playoff picture unfold. Already, they caught a break. The Green Bay Packers went to Buffalo and lost, 21-13, to fall to 10-4 and a game behind the Cards. Ultimately, what does that mean? It means that regardless of the result of the Seahawks-49ers game going on right now, because of all the tiebreakers the Cardinals have spent the year building, if the Cardinals can beat the Seahawks a week from tonight on “Sunday Night Football,” the Cardinals will clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

It would be an incredible feat given the injuries the Cards have absorbed.

(UPDATE: The Seahawks did beat the 49ers. As expected.)

A loss against Seattle would not necessarily eliminate the Cards from the No. 1 seed, but the math is much more simple if they win (and a loss versus the Seahawks would mean the Cards would need a lot of help as well as a season finale win in San Francisco.)

A No. 1 seed would mean a ton, from a first-round bye (time to heal Drew Stanton) to home-field advantage for as long as the Cardinals remained in the playoffs — including, of course, the Super Bowl if they got that far.

– ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning Stanton is expected to be out four weeks with his knee injury. The Cardinals have declined to get into specifics of Stanton’s issue other than it is his right knee that’s injured. The Cards do expect him back at some point.


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Beat the Rams, and the playoffs are all but a lock

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2014 – 9:39 am

The NFC West can’t be decided this week. That is going to come down to the “Sunday Night Football” game at home against the Seahawks. But if the Cardinals can beat the Rams Thursday night, regardless of what happens in the rest of the league over the week, they will all but clinch a playoff berth.

The win would make the Cards 11-3, meaning their worst possible record would be 11-5. This is where the head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions this season become crucial. All three of those teams are 9-4. A loss by any one of them means the Cards will make the playoffs (again, assuming a win in St. Louis). Since the Cowboys and Eagles play this Sunday night, that’s practically guaranteed.

There is still a sliver of doubt, and as the Bengals and Panthers can attest, it’s not impossible. It is, however, incredibly unlikely an 11-5 Cardinals team is left at home for the postseason:

Here’s the one scenario which would leave an 11-5 Cardinals team out of the playoffs, as unlikely as it may be:

– The Lions finish 3-0 to go 12-4 (and they still have a game against the Packers).
— The Cowboys and Eagles tie Sunday night, and then each come up with wins in their final two games. That would make them 11-4-1.

(h/t to colleague Kyle Odegard for crunching these numbers.)

That scenario — and assuming the 10-3 Packers avoid what looks like an unlikely 1-2 finish against Buffalo, Tampa and Detroit — would leave the Cardinals at home. But a tie isn’t going to happen. Three more 100-yard rushing games by Kerwynn Williams seems more likely than an Eagles-Cowboys tie. (OK, the mathematicians out there probably would disagree, but you get the point.)

A win in St. Louis would be a major step.

Playoffclinchbloguse

 


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Odds, ends and Bowles

Posted by Darren Urban on January 7, 2014 – 10:27 am

So it’s gonna be about 70 degrees today. Sunny. Just sayin’. Seems like everyone else is making comments about the weather, so I thought I’d chime in.

Anyway …

– Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles reportedly met with the Browns for their head coaching job on Friday and was supposed to meet with the Vikings about their opening Monday. Neither team seems close to making a decision on their coach, although Bowles reportedly made an impression with the Vikings. Both Minnesota and Cleveland continue to look at more and more candidates, and that doesn’t include coaches still in the playoffs. Bowles won’t be interviewing in Detroit, where he was a candidate back in 2009. That makes sense, because many reports say the Lions would likely hire Chargers offensive coordinator and ex-Cards boss Ken Whisenhunt for that job once the Chargers are knocked out of the playoffs.

On the all-pro team from profootballfocus.com, Tyrann Mathieu makes first team as a slot cornerback, Justin Bethel first team for special teams. Patrick Peterson is second team at cornerback.

– Cardinals director of football administration (and salary cap guru) Mike Disner was named on Forbes list of top 30 rising stars under age 30 in sports. (The man next on the Forbes slideshow after Disner? Kevin Durant. LeBron and Gronk are among the athletes on the list too.)

– I am not a fan of messing with the playoff format. It caught up with the Cardinals this season yes, it benefited them in the 2008 season. I do not think extra teams should be added to the postseason. That said, it is still often discussed. That doesn’t mean anything is imminent, but things could change at some point.

– In case you missed it — and in case you’d like a smile or two — check out here the year in quotes and quips from coach Bruce Arians.


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So now it’s about the Bucs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2013 – 8:01 am

Go … Lavonte David?

In case you missed it last night — and I’m sure most of you didn’t — the 49ers beat the Falcons to clinch a playoff berth and eliminate the one opportunity left for the Cardinals to control their own postseason destiny. The Falcons almost posted a miracle finish, scoring a touchdown to pull within three and then recovering the onside kick and driving deep into San Francisco territory. Then this happened. And the Cards’ hopes were kicked right in the wrong place.

(And as a quick aside, I had no problem with the Falcons passing. Ryan was shredding the Niners in the fourth quarter with the pass and there, you are playing to win, not to settle for a field goal and overtime.)

So that leaves one playoff scenario for Arizona. Beat San Francisco at home, first of all. Second, the Cards must hope the Tampa Bay Buccaneers go into New Orleans and knock off (or at least tie) the Saints. Sure, the Saints are favored by a whopping 12 points. Sure, they are 7-0 at home with an average margin of victory of more than 17 points. Hey, the Bucs only lost by two to the Saints earlier in the season (in Tampa, and the Saints are a totally different team on the road.)

The NFL, into drama as it is, moved the kickoff of the Saints-Bucs game from an early to a late game, meaning the Cardinals’ chances will be riding along in parallel games with the 2:25 p.m. kickoff. Otherwise, the Cards might have known they were eliminated before they even took the field. I can’t see how Bruce Arians and his guys won’t be scoreboard watching in this case.

It’s about winning 11 games now for the Cardinals, and as Arians said, letting the chips fall. But the Cards have come within less than two minutes of two monumentally needed outcomes this weekend before being punched in the face twice — the Panthers were on the verge of a loss before Cam Newton threw a game-winning TD pass with 23 seconds left, and NaVarro Bowman’s game-changing interception last night was with 1:28 on the clock — and those chips are landing exactly where the Cards do not want them. One chip left to play.


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Friday before the Seahawks different for Dockett

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2013 – 2:28 pm

The Cardinals as a group haven’t just moved far forward from this time last year. So too has Darnell Dockett. The trip to Seattle was the back end of a very rocky week for the defensive tackle last season, after his sideline confrontation with Kerry Rhodes at the end of the Jets game and the let-them-score issue. Dockett was demoted that week in practice and then came off the bench in Seattle. It was a bad time for both him and the team.

“Mentally for me, I wasn’t in the right place, our team wasn’t in the right place in the middle of that losing streak,” Dockett said.

Dockett has bounced back, of course. He was happy with the new scheme that Todd Bowles brought in. He has 4½ sacks, and is coming off – according to profootballfocus.com – two of his best games of the season. The Cardinals need him to play well Sunday in Seattle during this return trip. Dockett sure remembers the last time.

“They had a team that was struggling in every phase and they took full advantage of it,” Dockett said. “They ran the score up. Passing the ball with five minutes left. But that’s cool. I’m not mad. As a team, we have to understand the environment we are going into and we have to understand what is at stake. We have to understand we will face adversity there. Every team that goes there faces adversity. You will have to overcome it real fast.”

Can the Cardinals do that? An excellent question. When Bruce Arians calls this a barometer of where his team is at, that’s a guarantee.

– Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was disappointed in his unit last week, not necessarily because they played poorly but because for the first time this season, he felt the players began watching the clock instead of playing the game once the Cards took a 34-17 lead.

“I thought we shut it down,” Bowles said.

I doubt that will be a problem Sunday, nor a possibility, but it’s always good to learn such a lesson in a win.

– As for the rash of penalties the Cards had in the second half, Bowles said “I thought we lost our composure.” Some flags might have been questionable, but Bowles is right, the Cards have to make sure they keep it together.

– Speaking of penalties, fines were handed out from the Titans game. Tennessee linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was hit for $10,000 for his low hit on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, the one that left Palmer with a sprained left ankle (and luckily nothing else.) Titans running back Jackie Battle was not fined for his concussion-inducing hit on Larry Fitzgerald, although it wasn’t a foul and I didn’t even think it was that big of a hit.

Two Cardinals were fined. Linebacker Marcus Benard was docked $15,750 for his roughing the passer penalty on Ryan Fitzpatrick. And linebacker Daryl Washington paid $5,000 after his taunting penalty. Safety Rashad Johnson and defensive end Calais Campbell were not fined for their personal fouls.

I think Larry Fitzgerald plays. He said he’s never missed a division game and that’s true. He’s missed only four games in 10 seasons, against Cleveland in 2007 and against Chicago, Oakland and Green Bay in 2006.

– A bigger concern is the ankle of Palmer. With all those pass rushers, you want your quarterback as mobile as possible. Coach Bruce Arians didn’t sound concerned. We will see how that plays out. Palmer has played at a high level which is why the Cards are doing so well. He hasn’t seen a defense like the Seahawks though, since, well, the Seahawks game.

– Won’t go through all the playoff permutations again but again, a Cards’ loss and a Carolina win and it’s over. Otherwise, the Cardinals are still breathing.

– Finally, below is a message from Tyrann Mathieu that he wanted to make sure the fans saw.

On to Seattle.


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Titans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2013 – 10:13 pm

Somehow, it turned into 2009 again. It shouldn’t have, not with the Cardinals having built a 34-17 lead and holding that lead with less than four minutes to play, but I’ll say this, the Titans kept going and Ryan Fitzpatrick looked damn good.

So, like 2009, when the Titans drove 99 yards to score on the final play of the game and rip one away from the Cards, there the Titans were, heading for the same end zone, facing a chance to score a touchdown and rip a win away from the Cards. Sure, it would just be temporarily since overtime was coming (and there was a moment there where the Titans looked like they were contemplating going for two and ending it one way or the other), but it still hurt.

The Cardinals prevailed, though, leaving Tennessee with a win that keeps their playoff hopes alive. That life span is shrinking though. The other results the Cards really could have used across the league did not happen Sunday. So the monumental task of winning in Seattle is now saddled with the realization that the Cards are going to need a sequence of events to unfold to make the postseason regardless of what they do.

– Because I’ve found on Twitter some confusion, here’s the deal: The Niners have already clinched the tiebreak over the Cardinals because of a better record in the division, regardless of the outcome of the team’s Week 17 contest. The way the tiebreaks work, a three-way tie – say between the Cards, Niners and Panthers – first checks to see if there are two of the teams in the same division. Because the Niners and Cards are, that tie is broken first, and as we already know, the Niners win that tiebreak. Cardinals are out. Which is why any tie involving the Niners is playoff death.

– Just as an FYI, I’m not interested in debating whether that’s fair or not. That’s the tiebreak procedure. It is what it is.

CLARIFYING: The three-way tiebreak does get only the first spot determined. Which does eliminate Arizona. But head-to-head between Carolina and SF is Carolina because the Panthers won head-to-head. So Carolina would be the No. 5 seed, leaving SF tied with Arizona for the No. 6. We know how that turns out. So again, a three-way tie between those teams leaves the Cards out (and by the same breakdown, the same goes for a three-way tie between SF, AZ and NO.)

– Lost a bit in the end of that thriller were the injuries to Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Ellington. Fitz got a concussion when he was hit trying to recover the final onside kick. Ellington left with a thigh bruise. Ellington was fantastic running (7.1 yards a carry) or receiving (21.8 yards per catch on four catches). The Cardinals need both of them healthy and ready in order to beat the Seahawks.

– Spare me the comments that Fitzgerald shouldn’t be out there for an onside kick. It’s called the “hands” team for a reason. You want the guys with the best hands grabbing the ball.

– Justin Bethel did not get a hand on the shanked 50-yard Rob Bironas field goal attempt. “Unfortunately I didn’t,” Bethel said. “If he would have kicked it (straight) I probably would have blocked it.”

– But it is easy to make the argument that without Bethel’s hard push from the right, Bironas would not have kicked the ball like he did.

“A miss is a miss,” Bethel said. “It’s as good as a block so I’ll take it.”

Antoine Cason with a hero game. Two important interceptions, and he recovered Jay Feely’s “mortar” pooch kickoff to start the second half. Great kick by Feely by the way, and great timing by special teams coordinator Amos Jones to call it there.

– Ryan Fitzpatrick with 402 yards passing? Yeesh.

– The Cardinals had no penalties in the first half. Then they got four on the Titans’ 16-play touchdown drive to begin the second half — two of which negated third-down stops – and the Cards were not happy. They cooled down a bit postgame (winning tends to do that) but didn’t forget.

“There were some weird things that happened,” QB Carson Palmer said. “Some weird things that weren’t called in this game. I don’t know what the penalty, as far as who had more penalties. I’m pretty sure we had more penalties than they did. It was just a weird game, kind of an eerie game like that.”

Said S Rashad Johnson (who was ticked off after his penalty for an illegal hit of a receiver near the goal line and screamed at the officials), “No matter what happened out there, what calls were made, we were going to go home with that win. It just shows the maturity of this ballclub and how much we’ve grown through the year.”

– Ellington led the Cardinals in rushing (71 yards) and receiving (89 yards). The last guy to do that? Running back Marcel Shipp in December of 2002, when he had 79 yards rushing and 79 receiving in St. Louis against the Rams.

– Palmer surpassed three Hall of Fame quarterbacks in career passing yards: Troy Aikman, Y.A. Tittle and Steve Young. Palmer now has 33,154 yards passing, 27th in NFL history.

– The Cardinals just keep winning.


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Scoreboard watching and the playoff chase

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2013 – 10:39 pm

Bruce Arians does not want to talk playoffs. Not yet.

“Somebody asked me once if I’m scoreboard-watching,” Arians said. “I said, ‘Yeah. First down, second down, third down and how much time is left on the clock. I’m calling plays. I’m not looking at who is winning and who is losing.”

But I am not Bruce Arians. So, as many have asked about, here are the playoff scenarios and, realistically, what the Cardinals are looking at going into these final three games. Win just one and it’s over. Win three and the Cards (8-5 right now) might still need help.

If there is a tie with the 49ers for the sixth spot, the 49ers (9-4) would win the tiebreaker. Head to head wouldn’t matter, since the teams would split (the Cardinals can’t afford to lose the finale), and the 49ers in that scenario would win the second tiebreak, winning percentage in the division (San Francisco would be 4-2; The best the Cards can finish in the division even if they win out is 3-3.) With the Niners already a game up in the standings, that’s not the team the Cards probably can catch.

The Panthers (9-4) are a slightly different story. With the head-to-head edge, the Cardinals need to just catch them in the standings. Carolina has a one-game lead; they are home against the Jets and Saints before finishing on the road at Atlanta. The Cardinals, of course, play at Tennessee, at Seattle and home against the Niners.

This is, of course, assuming the Eagles (8-5) win the NFC East and don’t drop behind Dallas for a wild card scenario, since they have the head-to-head tiebreak on the Cards. (If you want to see every single step in the tie-breaking procedures, click here.) UPDATE: And the way I read the tiebreaks, the Cards would lose out in a three-way tie with SF and Carolina.

Bottom line? Every loss is crippling. And wins might not be enough.

“I remember, 2008, 24 years old, (making the postseason) and I’m thinking this is something that is going to happen a lot,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “There are no guarantees in this business. When you have an opportunity you have to make the best of it and we have an opportunity right now. I think everyone in this locker room understands if we win out, we’re going to be in the playoffs. Simple as that.”


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Spoiler alert

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2012 – 9:37 am

The playoffs are a long-ago dream, but the Cardinals still can have a hand in it. This week, the Bears — reeling as they are — come to town losers of 5 of their last six after a 7-1 start. Once the playoffs seemed a foregone conclusion. But if Minnesota pulls off an upset in Houston in an early game Sunday, then the Cardinals would eliminate the Bears from the postseason if they can beat Jay Cutler’s crew.

“In order for us to be relevant, we have to win,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “This time of year everybody knows what has to happen for their football team. We are aware of the path we have to take.”

The Cards actually could be in position to do some damage in both the final two games. In the finale at San Francisco, the 49ers could have something on the line. If the Niners lose in Seattle this weekend, they could actually lose the division title the following week if the Cards won. Even if the Niners clinch this weekend by toppling the Seahawks, San Francisco will likely have a chance to clinch a first-round bye on the line in the final week.

What’s amazing is the difference a week makes. The Lions, playing poorly, came into University of Phoenix Stadium as the favorite last week because the Cardinals were on their nine-game losing streak. Now, it seems, many believe the Cardinals have a good shot to knock off the Bears and cripple their playoff chances. At this point, it’s what the Cards have to play for.

 


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Playoff reality (or possibilties, depending on your view)

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2011 – 9:46 pm

The Cardinals are the 10th seed in the NFC right now. Their playoff chances are very, very slim. They must win their last two games to finish 9-7 and have any measurable hope.

There are two wild card spots up for grabs. The Falcons and Lions are both 9-5, so either one need just win one of their final two games to eliminate the Cards. So one of those teams, at least, must lose both their final two games. The Seahawks won’t matter because the Cards face them head-to-head (and would have knocked them out to go 9-7).  The Cards don’t want to tie the Giants because the Giants beat them; a tie with the Cowboys is OK because the Cards beat them (in a tie for the wild card and not the NFC East title). UPDATE: As has been pointed out to me by a few people, the Cards can’t tie the Giants in a win-out situation because the Giants would win the East in that case. It boils down to the Falcons or Lions losing out (and the Bears losing at least one more).

NFC tiebreakers:
• Atlanta is the No. 5 seed ahead of Detroit based on head to head (1-0).
• Seattle finishes ahead of Chicago and N.Y. Giants based on head to head sweep (2-0).
• Chicago finishes ahead of Arizona and N.Y. Giants based on conference record (6-4 to the Cardinals’ 6-5 and the Giants’ 4-7).
• N.Y. Giants finish ahead of Arizona based on head to head (1-0).

In a nutshell, it’s the Falcons (at New Orleans, home versus a bad Tampa Bay team) and the Lions (at home against San Diego, at a Green Bay team that may not have anything to fight for) to watch.

We’ll obviously know much more after this weekend. Like whether the Seattle at Cards game will mean anything more than just second place in the NFC West.

(To view a breakdown of the NFL’s tie-breaking procedures go to http://www.nfl.com/standings/tiebreakingprocedures).


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