With a huge win over the San Francisco 49er's in Week 14, the Arizona Cardinals are now closer to being a playoff team. While the team does need some help to reach a playoff spot, the once 1-6 lame duck team has won 5 of their 6 to propel themselves into a legitimate playoff contender. With a week 15 matchup against the Cleveland Browns looming, I think it's safe to say we can have a 7-7 record before long.
First, let's look at Arizona's remaining opponents and the team (should) fare against each:
Week 15: Cleveland Browns. In Arizona. Need I say more? Well, I will anyway. The Browns are a sad-sack team whose biggest offensive producer is Madden-cursed Peyton Hillis. Colt McCoy does not have much talent to throw the ball to, making the offense look rather anemic of late. This seems to bode well for the Cardinals whose defense has been much-improved of late. For those of you looking for a big day out of Beanie Wells, you may be in luck: Ray Rice put up 204 yards on them in week 13. Arizona should win this game, even if Richard Bartel is called upon to take snaps in the game.
Week 16: Cincinatti Bengals. At Cincinatti. The Bengals are a good team who has had a tough schedule as of late. Quarterback Andy Dalton is better than people might expect, though Cedric Benson is just about as good as he seems. They've lost four out of their last five, but they may gain momentum from facing the St. Louis Rams in week 15. This game should be interesting. It is a winnable game for Arizona, though it won't be easy. By this point, Cincinatti will play every game as though it is win or go home.
Week 17: Seattle Seahawks. In Arizona. Seattle won the week 17 matchup against the Rams last year and then went on to beat the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs. While this isn't a team to be overlooked, their mediocre quarterback play leads me to believe we can win this game. As of week 14 (pending the Monday Night game the Seahawks have against the Rams), Arizona is 4-2 at home while Seattle is 2-4 on the road. The stats favor Arizona.
So, let's assume that the Cardinals do indeed finish 9-7. What would need to happen in order for Arizona to secure a playoff spot? Let's look at the teams contending for the wild card right now and their remaining schedules:
Atlanta Falcons (8-5):
Jacksonville @ Atlanta
Atlanta @ New Orleans
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta
Atlanta probably can't win the game against New Orleans given that Drew Brees is at home. An ideal scenario would be for Atlanta to drop another game at home, either to Jacksonville or Tampa Bay.
Detroit Lions (8-5):
Detroit @ Oakland
San Diego @ Detroit
Detroit @ Green Bay
For the Cardinals, the week 17 matchup against the Packers throws a wrench into things. Will the Lions be playing their starters against Green Bay's backups? Oakland is a team capable of defeating Detroit, but whether that happens remains to be seen. San Diego has been playing better as Ryan Matthews had gained 100+ yards in the last three games, two of which were wins for the Chargers. All of these games are question marks for Detroit- no win is guaranteed to them here.
Chicago Bears: (7-6)
Seattle @ Chicago
Chicago @ Green Bay
Chicago @ Minnesota
If Caleb Hanie remains quarterback, I don't see this team winning another game. They passed on Donovan McNabb, which was probably a bad decision in the short term. Hanie simply cannot win games for this team. They will likely go 7-9 with Matt Forte injured unless something changes.
New York Giants (7-6):
Washington @ New York Giants
New York Giants @ New York Jets
Dallas @ New York Giants
The Giants in week 14 slugged it out on national television with the Dallas Cowboys, proving their offense can stand toe to toe with anyone. Their defense? Not so much. The Giants defense allowed 49 points to the Saints in week 12 and 38 points to the Packers in week 13. They entered week 14 with a four-game losing streak. While they probably should win the Washington game, the other two are up in the air. I expect them to finish 8-8 while Tom Coughlin is rumored to be released, which he shouldn't be.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6):
Dallas @ Tampa Bay
Philadelphia @ Dallas
Dallas @ New York Giants
After Sunday night's loss to the Giants, the Cowboys are in the wild card hunt, rather than leading the NFC East. However, given their remaining schedule, I'm predicting them to finish 10-6 and win their division. In the event they do not, however, Philadelphia needs to step up in their week 16 game, which they will probably be playing for pride more than anything else. As a historical note, the Cowboys lost to the Cardinals in last year's Week 16 game.
Seattle Seahawks (5-7 pending Monday's night game, 6-7 projected)
St. Louis @ Seattle
Seattle @ Chicago
San Francisco @ Seattle
Seattle @ Arizona
Through weeks 15 to 17, Seattle will be tangling with 3 teams hoping to make the playoffs this year. Their offense is productive behind Marshawn Lynch, though Tavaris Jackson shouldn't be the starter for any other reason than they don't have anyone better (I'm looking at you, Charlie Whitehurst). If they drop the Rams game on Monday Night at home, consider them out of the playoff hunt. Otherwise, they have the toughest road of anyone in the current playoff picture.