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Cardinals’ playoff hopes hinge on win over Redskins

Carson Palmer walks off the field in the Arizona Cardinals' loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (Associated Press)

It’s simple math for the Arizona Cardinals now. If they beat the Washington Redskins next Sunday at home, their playoffs hopes will still be alive. If they lose that game, it’s sayonara season.

The Cardinals started better on Sunday in Atlanta. They finally scored on their opening drive, they competed and their offense showed signs of life, but this was always going to be a tough matchup on the road against one of the NFL’s best offenses. A boatload of familiar problems including dropped passes, a dropped interception, penalties, the inability of the defense to sustain momentum gained by the offense, and special teams errors made the task too tall.

“We’ve got to find a way to play better,” defensive tackle Corey Peters told Paul Calvisi on the postgame show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “We just didn’t do a good enough job, really in any phase.”

The Cardinals’ 38-19 loss to the Falcons means they trail the Seattle Seahawks by three games for the NFC West crown. The Cardinals’ (4-6-1) wild-card deficit to the 8-3 New York Giants is even greater. The Cards are four wins behind the Giants for the NFC’s first wild card spot.

In simpler terms, the NFC West and the top wild card spot are gone. Arizona will not earn either of those.

That means Arizona’s target is Washington, the current wild card leader at 6-4-1. A win over Washington at University of Phoenix Stadium would pull the Cards within a game of the Redskins with four games left in the season, and give them the tiebreaker in head-to-head competition, the first criterion for breaking a deadlock between two clubs in wild-card scenarios.

That doesn’t even account for the other wild-card hopefuls in the NFC mix, a few of which would still have better records than the Cardinals. Minnesota is 6-5 and already beat the Cards. Tampa Bay is 6-5, but the Cards own a tiebreaker over the Bucs after beating them early this season. Philadelphia will either be 6-5 or 5-6 after its game against Green Bay (currently 4-6) on Monday night. New Orleans is 5-6 and comes to Glendale on Dec. 18.

The Cardinals can’t worry about those myriad scenarios, however. All of their energy must be spent on defeating the Redskins or all else lacks significance. The odds are long that they will stage such a rally, especially when three of their final four games are on the road, including another date with the Seahawks.

There is only a ray of hope that this season will not go down as the most disappointing season in Valley sports history, given the Cardinals’ preseason expectations.

“Win next week,” coach Bruce Arians told Calvisi. “Let’s come to work and win next week. I still think we’re in the thick of it.”

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