Back in April, when the 2011 NFL schedules were released, I gave some very early thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals and what it would take for them to return to the postseason. Now we that we know more or less what the team looks like on paper, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the subject.
Hit the jump to read once again what I wrote months ago and so you can chime in on whether things still apply.
(Please note that until the"..." all of this is what I wrote in April)
My thoughts on the Cardinals 2011 schedule can be found on SB Nation Arizona, so have a look at what is there, but a quick rundown is in order:
- The Cards begin and end the season at home. This is very good.
- They finish the season with four of the final five at home. Also good. However, preceding those five weeks are five weeks in which they play on the road four times. That will be a rough stretch.
- Eight games (six teams) are against teams with questions at the quarterback position. This won't really matter because the Cards have QB issues of their own.
- There are no prime time Cardinals games. Are we surprised? However, if they are competitive and in the playoff hunt, they could have their games "flexed" to Sunday night.
- 2010 records indicate that the 2011 schedule for the Cards is the weakest in the league once again. It is way too early to say that because all those bad teams are trying to improve. Plus, that is mostly due to the fact that they play in the NFC West.
Now, moving on to what it will take to get the Cardinals back to the playoffs where they belong...
They must win division games
To win the NFC West, I think it is absolutely necessary to win a minimum of four division games.
They must beat weak teams
I know, this is tougher than it sounds. The Cardinals were a bad team, having lost to the worst team in the NFL last season. These "must-win" games against likely weak teams are Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers and Week 15 at home versus the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals game is on the road and that team is a bit confusing as to how strong or weak they are. But beating Carolina and Cleveland, combined with four division victories would bring the Cards to six wins and two losses.
Nine wins is likely the number of wins needed to be division champs. That means three more out of eight remaining games.
They must pull off at least one "upset" win
The Cardinals face three teams that were very strong in 2010 -- the Eagles, Steelers and Ravens. They must beat one of those teams if they want to make the playoffs. The most likely game would be against the Steelers. It is the only home game of the three and the Cards will have a bye week to prepare for it. That would bring the win total to seven.
They must at least split their two home games against "potentially good teams"
They must have at least one East Coast road win
To get to the magical win number nine, they must beat one of the "weaker" teams they play on the road out east. They play the Redskins, Vikings and Bengals. Looking at 2010 performances, each one of these games is winnable. But all these games start early (1PM ET) and the Bengals game is on Christmas Eve, which potentially has very bad weather, another bad thing for the Cards.
If they can pull out only one of those three games, or somehow beat the Ravens in Baltimore, they would have nine wins. Nine wins should get them back to the postseason.
Looking back at all that, I think very little has changed. The one thing that has is that we do know that the Bengals should be terrible. That Christmas Eve game becomes a must win. Four division wins, three must wins against weak teams and that leaves at least two wins they need out of the seven remaining between the Steelers, Ravens, Eagles, Redskins, Vikings, Giants and Cowboys.
Do I think this is out of the question? Absolutely not. Nine wins is definitely not out of the realm of possibility.
As for prime time games, the one most likely to happen would be the game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. If both teams are playing well, it could have playoff implications and it would feature Kolb vs the Eagles and DRC vs the Cardinals.
Now it is your turn. How many wins do you expect to see? Do you see the path to the playoffs as being any different than what has been broken down? Let yourself be heard with good hearty debate.