Playoffs?! A look at Cardinals’ potential Wild Card round matchups
With just a game left on the regular-season docket for the Arizona Cardinals, it’s time to take a look at the postseason.
Arizona returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, that much is true.
But outside of that fact, the Cardinals’ first-round opponent remains unknown with every seed outside of the No. 1 spot, held by the Green Bay Packers, coming down to the final matchups of the season.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look into who the Cardinals might be facing, which way those opponents are currently trending heading into Week 18 and the overall likelihood of meeting Arizona in the Wild Card round:
Postseason clinched? Yes
Current trend: Downward
Likelihood of playing Cardinals? 75.4%
The Cowboys enter the final week of the regular season after taking one on the chin by none other than the Cardinals in Week 17.
After stringing together four straight wins, Dallas erased its streak with a 25-22 defeat to Arizona.
Despite their recent loss, the Cowboys remain a tough out, largely in part to the arm of quarterback Dak Prescott and a stout defense.
In his return from a season-ending ankle injury in 2020, Prescott hasn’t shown any rust on his way to 68.4% of his passes for 4,154 yards and 32 touchdowns (career high). His play has been integral in Dallas’ spot as the No. 2 offense in the league, averaging 402.8 yards per game.
Defensively, Dallas is led by rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, who is making a serious case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Through the first 16 games of his NFL career, Parsons has recorded 84 tackles, 20 of which were for losses, 13 sacks, three passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
They’ve also got cornerback Trevon Diggs, who paces the league with 11 interceptions, patrolling the secondary.
But even with the cornerback’s takeaway ability, the Cowboys still sport one of the ninth worst passing defense in the league, allowing 242.7 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.
Entering Week 18, the Cowboys represent the most likely opponent for the Cardinals for Wild Card weekend when looking at all the playoff scenarios.
How they would face the Cardinals: Every other outcome other than the playoff scenarios below result in Arizona traveling to Dallas as the No. 5 seed.
San Francisco 49ers
Postseason clinched? No
Current trend: Who knows
Likelihood of playing Cardinals? 17%
It’s hard to check the pulse of the 49ers in 2021. One week, they’ll look nearly unbeatable. The next, they are falling flat on their faces.
Since losing four straight early on in the season, the 49ers have put up two winning streaks of three and two games since. It could have been an eight-game ride, though, with San Francisco dropping two games it was controlling against the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans.
Those losses could play a huge part in the 49ers even making the postseason, as both San Francisco and the New Orleans Saints are still vying for a Wild Card spot in Week 18.
And while the team entered the season with a bit of quarterback controversy, signal caller Jimmy Garoppolo has squashed most of the chatter.
Since the team’s Week 9 loss to Arizona (seven games), Garoppolo has completed 70.9% of his throws for 1,740 yards and 11 touchdowns to five interceptions.
His success has opened up the door a bit more for the running game, which sits seventh in the league in yards per game with 126.9. The 49ers are sixth in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 21, one off of the Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, who all sit at 22 scores.
On top of Garoppolo’s upped play, do-it-all wide receiver Deebo Samuel is being utilized in more than one spot.
It’s been a busy seven weeks for Samuel, who has found success as both a wideout and a running back. Through the air, Samuel has recorded 24 receptions for 428 yards and two scores. On the ground, Samuel has ran the rock 45 times for 298 yards and six scores.
Defensively, the 49ers bring a stout unit to the fold once again.
Entering Week 18, San Francisco is allowing the fourth-fewest total yards per game at 312.8.
But unlike the other playoff contenders on the list, the 49ers have been the best against the pass, allowing 206.8 passing yards per game, the fifth fewest mark in the league.
The defense also sports the ninth-fewest yards per game on the ground, allowing 106 yards.
How they would face the Cardinals: If both the Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers win and the Los Angeles Rams lose in Week 18, Arizona slides into the No. 3 seed and gets a home game against the 49ers.
Los Angeles Rams
Postseason Clinched? Yes
Current tread: QB concerns
Likelihood of playing Cardinals? 5.4%
The Rams enter Week 18 after narrowly squeaking by a Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens squad.
While it marked the fifth straight win for the Rams, it didn’t come without its issues, namely quarterback Matthew Stafford’s ball security.
Stafford threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns in the victory but also gave the Ravens life with two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and a fumble. Stafford has given up four pick-sixes in 2021.
Where the Rams have gotten a boost has been in the running game behind running back Sony Michel.
Since getting the starting role in Week 13, Michel has rushed for 497 yards and three touchdowns on 108 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. He also caught nine of 16 targets for 60 yards.
On the defensive end, lineman Aaron Donald remains an issue for any offense that comes his way.
He currently sits seventh in the league in sacks with 12.5 to go along with 18 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and four pass deflections.
As a unit, the Rams defense is allowing the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game (101.2) but is middle of the road against the pass, allowing 237.2 yards per contest.
How they would face the Cardinals: If the Seattle Seahawks, Cowboys, 49ers and Buccaneers win in Week 18, the Cardinals will travel to Los Angeles as the No. 5 seed.
Postseason clinched? Yes
Current trend: Up
Likelihood of playing Cardinals? 1.7%
The Eagles mark one of the more surprising teams to make the postseason this year.
After starting out 2-5, the Eagles have rattled off four-straight victories heading into a matchup with the Cowboys.
A lot of the team’s recent success has come on the legs of quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, as well as the hands of tight end Dallas Goedert.
On the way to a 7-2 mark over their last nine games, the Eagles have posted at least 114 yards on the ground. Over the last four contests, Philadelphia has averaged 167.8 yards per game and has scored six times on the ground.
As for Goedert, the tight end has reeled in 21 of his 26 targets for 339 yards and two touchdowns in the last four games.
Defensively, the Eagles are allowing the seventh-fewest yards per game (103.9) and are tied for the ninth-fewest points allowed per game (20.9).
The real question that surrounds the Eagles is, how will they fare against the top teams in the NFL after having one of the easiest schedules in the league?
Outside of the New Orleans Saints, who need a 49ers loss and a win over the Atlanta Falcons to clinch a playoff spot, all of the Eagles’ victories this season have come against sub-.500 teams.
How they would face the Cardinals: If both the Cardinals and Carolina Panthers win and the Los Angeles Rams lose in Week 18, Arizona slides into the No. 2 seed and gets a home game against the Eagles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Postseason clinched? Yes
Current trend: Weird
Likelihood of playing Cardinals? 0.5%
Usually picking up a 12th win in a comeback fashion would be the talk of the town, catapulting a team into the final week of the season on a high note.
But if you’re the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their success has been shrouded by the sudden departure of wide receiver Antonio Brown.
In the middle of Tampa Bay’s 28-24 win over the New York Jets on Sunday, Brown was seen taking off his uniform on the sideline before jogging off the field while doing jumping jacks and waving goodbye to fans.
After the game, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said Brown was no longer a part of the team.
Talk about bizarre.
But while Brown is making headlines for the wrong reasons, quarterback Tom Brady is making them for the right ones.
He may be the oldest starter in the league, but that hasn’t stopped Brady from leading the league in passing yards with 4,990 yards and 40 touchdowns. While he’s 10 touchdowns off tying his career-high of 50 touchdowns, Brady does have a chance to pass his single-season mark for passing yards set in 2011 (5,235).
Unfortunately for Brady, the offense will have to navigate the rest of the year without Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, who torn his ACL in Week 15. Entering play Monday, he’s still ninth in the league in receiving yards with 1,103.
Defensively, the Buccaneers have one of the toughest units against the run this season, sitting third in the league in rushing yards per game with 91.4.
The run defense has made up for a suspect pass defense, which is allowing 240.9 yards per game, just outside the bottom 10 teams in the NFL.
How they would face the Cardinals: If the Seahawks, Cowboys and 49ers win, but the Buccaneers lose in Week 18, the Cardinals will travel to Tampa Bay as the No. 5 seed.