Before the Carolina Panthers come to Arizona for week one of the regular season, I decided to take a look at the 2011 schedule a bit more in-depth. The Cardinals do have some challenging teams to play this season, but which teams are going to be the ones that Arizona will need to defeat in order for them to have a successful season?
Keeping in mind that these teams may or may not be the most difficult teams, the Cardinals will need to establish their dominance in the NFC West early. To see the games I think are must wins for Arizona, hit the jump.
Three of the first five games that Ken Whisenhunt's team plays are on the road. In that span, they will travel to the capital to face the Redskins, up to Seattle to go up against the 12th man and then a brief stop at University of Phoenix Stadium to take on the G-Men. All of these games are very winnable, as both Washington and Seattle are expected to struggle and the Giants have already been riddled with injuries during the preseason. Winning the game against the Seahawks would stretch the gap in the division and I see it as a huge momentum booster.
Winning all of their division games would be quite the accomplishment, but that is a very difficult thing to do for any team. The St. Louis Rams come to town on November 6th and I see this as one of the biggest games of the season. The Rams are probably the biggest competitor to the Cardinals in terms of who will take home the division crown, so beating them would be huge.
Two weeks after the Rams visit Glendale, the Cardinals will be flying up to the Bay Area to play the 49ers in Candlestick Park. They have not defeated the 49ers in San Francisco since 2008, so regaining a foothold in a hostile environment while also beating a division rival is a must. If Arizona can win at least 4 of their 6 division games, it will put them in a good spot to win the NFC West.
Something that all Arizona sports teams can sometimes struggle with is beating the inferior teams. That is why the Cardinals need to dominate the Cincinnati Bengals on Christmas Eve, showing the rest of the league that they can be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
To recap, the Cardinals need to beat their division rivals at least four times, taking two on the road in Seattle in San Francisco. Also, beating teams that are below the skill level of the Red Birds like the Browns and Bengals in weeks 15 and 16 respectively will be victories that can propel them into the playoffs. Starting the year off right by taking out the Panthers and Redskins will also be a morale boost for the team.
If they do all of what I listed above, they will come out with an 8-8 season and could make the playoffs on that record. Any more wins after that against teams like the Steelers or Cowboys at home would be icing on the cake.
What games do you think are must wins for the Cardinals, fans? Let us know in the comments.