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Are the Arizona Cardinals the best team in the NFC?

Arizona Cardinals' Antoine Cason, right, and Calais Campbell, left, celebrate after Cardinals' Karlos Dansby made an interception in the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Seattle. The Cardinals won 17-10. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

The Arizona Cardinals find themselves in a weird spot.

While having arguably the best team they've had in the 26 seasons since moving to the Valley from St. Louis in 1988, there's a great chance they'll be watching this year's postseason from their couches.

At 10-5, the Cardinals need to beat the San Francisco 49ers and root for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat the New Orleans Saints Sunday. If both things don't happen, the Cardinals will be left out of "the dance", as their head coach Bruce Arians refers to it, even though they'd have 11 wins.

Despite the situation in front of his team, defensive end Calais Campbell believes in his team.

"I mean, in my opinion, we're the best team in the NFC," he said Thursday on NFL Network's NFL AM. "But I hope we get into the playoffs so we can show it, because going 11-5 -- but you don't make it to the playoffs -- nobody really knows. The only teams we talk about are the playoff teams. So we really hope we get a chance to get in. I know if we do, we will do some damage."

Admittedly, a lot still has to transpire for the Cardinals to win their 11th game of the season and still be left out in the postseason cold. The 49ers bring a current league-high five-game winning streak with them to Glendale.

But you can certainly make an argument that Campbell is right. The Cardinals have won seven of their last eight games. Their only loss in this stretch came in Philadelphia and the officiating in that game was a popular subject of discussion around the league the next day.

Let's examine Campbell's claim a little further -- here's what the résumés of the best teams in the NFC look like over the last eight games.

Arizona Cardinals

Record over last eight games: 7-1

Winning percentage of teams they've beaten: .429

Point differential: 226-140 (+86)

Turnover differential: +3

The argument: The Cardinals are very likely a few questionable calls away from being undefeated in their last eight games. Had a flag or two gone their way in Philadelphia, we could be looking at an 11-4 Cardinals team heading into their Week 17 showdown with the 49ers.

Defensively, Arizona bounced back from their worst performance of the season in a Week 15 overtime win over Tennessee to completely baffle Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks, holding Seattle to under 200 yards of offense.

Carolina Panthers

Record over last eight games: 7-1

Winning percentage of teams they've beaten: .524

Point differential: 162-94 (+68)

Turnover differential: +6

The Argument: Carolina is a very confident football team, and why shouldn't they be? In their last eight games, the Panthers have beaten San Francisco, New England and New Orleans. Quarterback Cam Newton was shaky for most of last week's win over New Orleans, but made big plays on the final possession to lead his team to a 17-13 playoff-clinching win.

Philadelphia Eagles

Record over last eight games: 6-2

Winning percentage of teams they've beaten: .433

Point differential: 212-101 (+111)

Turnover differential: +11

The Argument: The Eagles stumbled early, but have recovered nicely. In consecutive losses against the Cowboys and Giants in Weeks 7 and 8, the Eagles have cranked up their offense behind quarterback Nick Foles.

Since tying an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against Oakland in Week 9, Foles has 19 TD tosses and just three picks. The Eagles are averaging 34.5 points per game in their last seven, but can be vulnerable defensively, as evidenced by their 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, of all teams, two weeks ago.

San Francisco 49ers

Record over last eight games: 6-2

Winning percentage of teams they've beaten: .347

Point differential: 207-117 (+90)

Turnover differential: +6

The Argument: The Niners are rolling right now. In fact, they're four points away from bringing a 12-game winning streak to Glendale with them to face the Cardinals.

The 49ers lost to Carolina 10-9 in Week 10 and followed that with a three-point loss at New Orleans the next week -- a game that most will admit was greatly influenced by some shoddy officiating.

In the last three contests, San Francisco's running game has been reborn, averaging 183 yards per.

Seattle Seahawks

Record over last eight games: 6-2

Winning percentage of teams they've beaten: .389

Point differential: 172-70 (+102)

Turnover differential: +11

The Argument: Seattle leads the league in confidence. If you don't believe me, check out the shirts that are already for sale in the Emerald City.

But the Seahawks have lost two out of their last three, and may be questioning themselves after losing a home game for the first time in two years.

What bodes well for Seattle is their opportunistic defense that has forced 18 turnovers in the last eight games, including nine in the last two games. When you can force turnovers at that rate, you're going to win a lot of football games.

The Cardinals' credential certainly stack up with the other top teams in the conference, but the data is inconclusive.

A quick look-over of the information would lead one to believe that Carolina is indeed the best team in the NFC right now. That, in itself, should boost the Cardinals' confidence. Arizona dismantled the Panthers 22-6 in Week 5.

But of the five teams examined, three have clinched playoff spots and the Eagles can do the same against the Kyle Orton-led Dallas Cowboys Sunday.

The Cardinals, even with a win over the 49ers, might be reduced playing the role of the kid whose party invitation got lost in the mail.

About the Author

School: Arizona State University

When you started with Bonneville Phoenix: October 2011

Favorite sports memory: Watching Cardinals win NFC Championship over Philly in January 2009 with my Dad...ASU wins 1987 Rose Bowl...Suns defeat Lakers in 1990 NBA Playoffs...2001 World Series

Favorite all-time athletes: Don Mattingly, Jeff Hornacek, Walter Davis, Anquan Boldin

Favorite sports movies: Friday Night Lights, The Natural, Hoosiers


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