The Arizona Cardinals played one of their worst games of the year. In a game that featured 7 turnovers and 11 penalties, the Cardinals did just what every sports analyst in the country said they wouldn’t do: let up against the San Francisco 49ers. The most incredible stat of the game is the 5 fumbles lost by the Cardinals. To put that into perspective, the 49ers only have 4 fumbles all year. Losing five fumbles is inexcusable, but it takes an incredible amount of bad luck to do so. Let’s just scratch this game up to a combination of bad luck, the Cardinals taking their opponent too lightly, and a 49er team that matches up very well with the Cardinals and always plays them tough.
San Francisco 49ers: As schizophrenic as the Cardinals are, the 49ers are even more so. After losing in heart breaking fashion to Seattle, a team which lost by 27 points to the Houston Texans this past week, the 49ers physically dominated the Cardinals and outplayed them in all aspects of the game. The Niners were able to keep very slim playoff hopes alive (more on that later) while sweeping a division rival. Life is suddenly good at Niners Nation and Mike Singletary’s approval rating is through the roof. Although I’ve avoided every sports site but Revenge of the Birds since Monday night, I do know the Niners are playing the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend. The Eagles are coming off a big win against the Giants and are essentially playing a trap game. Their offense is very dependent on the big play (WR DeSean Jackson has 8 TDs of over 50 yards this season, tied for the NFL record) and the Niners defense is very good at taking away the big play. The Eagles opened the game as 6 point favorites.
Seattle Seahawks: News from the Seattle region this week had more to do with the offseason than this season. Former coach Mike Holmgren, credited for bringing the only success to the thirty-year-old franchise, is being touted by many for the vacant GM job. Holmgren spent much of the week in Cleveland meeting with owner Randy Lerner and other Cleveland Browns officials. Holmgren reportedly wants to be the "czar" of football wherever he goes (similar to Bill Parcells’ job in Miami) and says he wants to make a decision before Christmas, putting some pressure on the Seattle front office. Many Seahawk fans are clamoring for Holmgren to be hired, but others are not so sure. CEO Tod Leiweke has already stated that the Seahawks are "not going to join [the new GM], they’re going to join us" a message which would seem to rule out Holmgren’s idea of being a football czar. On the field, Seattle suffered a humiliating 34-7 loss to the Houston Texans this week. Saying this season has been a disappointment for the Seahawks would be an understatement. Matt Hasselbeck’s injury woes have continued, first round pick Aaron Curry is not playing like the elite linebacker he was supposed to be, and many analysts are wondering if Jim Mora Jr. might be out of a job after one year. The Seahawks face Tampa Bay at home this week.
Note: According to our friends at Field Gulls, the Cleveland Browns have reportedly offered Mike Holmgren the "Football Czar" job he wants. ESPN's John Clayton is reporting the Seahawks want to go in a different direction.
St. Louis Rams: The Rams injury woes are just getting worse and worse. Thursday’s practice has been reportedly canceled due to a swine flu outbreak among the Rams’ personnel. The Rams have kept quiet about who on the team has swine flu, but QB Kyle Boller (filling in for the injured Marc Bulger) and Center Jason Brown missed practice Wednesday because of illness. The Rams were forced to start 3rd string QB Keith Null against the Titans this week in a replay of one of the most epic Superbowls ever played. Safe to say that this past week’s game was not as exciting. Although the Rams have had terrible injury problems this year, they waived guard Richie Incognito this week. Incognito has had many on the field problems and was named the NFL’s dirtiest player in a Sporting News poll. His problems stemmed all the way back to college where he left Nebraska for the University of Oregon after being suspended by the Nebraska coaching staff before the 2004 season. Incognito was quickly claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Bills, prompting current Bill’s LB Kawika Mitchell to tweet, "BIGGEST DISSAPOINTMENT THIS YR. THE GUYS A BUM." The Rams are coming off a 47-7 loss to the Titans and are taking on the Houston Texans this week.
The NFC Playoff Race:
New Orleans Saints (13-0) – (DAL, TB, @CAR)
Minnesota Vikings (11-2) – (@CAR, @CHI, NYG)
Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) – (SF, DEN, @DAL)
Arizona Cardinals (8-5) – (@DET, STL, GB)
Green Bay Packers (9-4) – (@PIT, SEA, @ARI)
Dallas Cowboys (8-5) – (@NO, @WAS, PHI)
In the Hunt:
New York Giants (7-6) – (@WAS, CAR, @MIN)
San Francisco 49ers (6-7) – (@PHI, DET, @STL)
The #1 and #2 spot: New Orleans and Minnesota have clinched playoff spots. A New Orleans win against Dallas this week will clinch the number 1 seed for NO. Minnesota will most likely win the NFC North and have the number 2 spot.
The #3 and #4 spot: The Eagles and Cardinals are battling for the #3 spot. If the Eagles win out, they are guaranteed the 3 spot. If they lose to either SF or Dallas and Cardinals win out, the Cardinals and Eagles would have the same record, the same NFC record, and the Eagles would win the tiebreaker based on win-loss percentage against common opponents (4-1 vs. 2-3). In order for the Cardinals to get the #3 spot, the Eagles would have to lose 2 of their next 3 games and the Cardinals would have to win out. The Cowboys can also win the #3 spot, but I’m going to discount them based on their December history.
Wild Card: This is very tricky so stay with me. The Packers are in a very good position for the first wild card spot, with 2 wins guaranteeing them that spot (this is assuming the Cowboys do not go 3-0 to finish the season). In all likelihood, either the Giants or the Cowboys will occupy the final Wild Card spot. If the Cowboys and Giants finish 9-7, and the Niners finish 8-8 or worse, the Giants would go to the playoffs based on head to head wins (this is true if the Giants and Cowboys finish 10-6 or better also). If however, the Giants, Cowboys and Niners all finish 9-7, then the final spot is based on conference record. If the Packers lose their next 3 games and also finish 9-7, it could be possible that the 49ers and the Cardinals face each other in the Wild Card Round.
NFC West: The Cardinals can lose the NFC West title, but it would have to be a huge collapse. The magic number is 2: 2 wins, 2 losses by the Niners, or a combination of wins and Niners losses will seal the NFC West for the Cardinals. The Cardinals have to lose to either the Detroit Lions or the St. Louis Rams and also lose to the Green Bay Packers. Even in this case however, the Niners will have to win out, including a tough game at Philadelphia this week. The Niners also face Detroit and St. Louis to finish up the season.
In all likelihood, the Cardinals will face the Packers in the Wild Card Round while the Eagles will face the Giants or the Cowboys. However, we won’t really know until after week 17, so get ready for a crazy race in the NFC.