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AFC East revenge?: A quick look at what this game means for the Cardinals

Sunday’s game against the Bills is a big one. Let’s take a quick look at the consequences of winning or losing.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen and the Bills rolled the Seahawks last week. Can the Cardinals avoid the same fate?
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Like last week’s opponent, the Buffalo Bills come to the desert with a strong resume against NFC West teams. They beat the Rams in a 35-32 shootout back in Week 3, then impressively handled the Seahawks last week 44-34. However, both of those games were at home.

The Bills won’t be able to circle the wagons at State Farm Stadium this week, which explains why the Cardinals are 2.5-point favorites despite an inferior record. The surface stats seem to back that up as well, as the Redbirds gain more yards per game and score more points than the Bills. On defense, the yardage averages are about even, but we give up about 3 PPG fewer.

But the 2-5-point spread means Vegas views the teams as about even, with the Bills perhaps viewed as a shade better. (A home team is typically given a 3-point advantage, meaning the Bills would be favored by a half-point on a neutral field.) So this game could go either way, which is in keeping with the Cardinals’ season so far.

With the playoff race starting to shape up, today we’ll explore what a win versus a loss would mean for the Cardinals as we enter the second half of the season.

What a Win Would Mean

  • First, a win would remove the bad taste left in Cardinals’ fans mouths after last week’s disappointing loss to the Dolphins. The Bills are a better team than their AFC West division-mates, so beating them would make everyone feel better about this team after losing at home to a rookie QB starting his second career game.
  • Not to mention that a win would put Kyler Murray in a better mood. Side note: I thought the hubbub about Kyler’s post-game comments (or lack thereof) was a total non-story and agree with Walter’s take. I’m glad Kyler was pissed about losing—so was I! We need more guys like Kyler on our team, more “ballers.”
  • This would be a legitimate win, which we don’t have a ton of this season. The Seattle win is the obvious feather in our cap, but other than that, we don’t have another win against a team over .500. The Niners are 4-5, and the trio of Washington, the Jets, and the Cowboys are a combined 4-22. Yuck. The Bills are 7-2 and the #3 seed in the AFC at the moment. Beating them and the ascendant Josh Allen would help the national media take us more seriously.
  • Beating the Bills would give us some much-needed momentum heading into next week’s Thursday night tilt in Seattle. “Momentum” is always a nebulous concept that may or may not even be A Thing, but I know I’d rather we were heading to Seattle on Thursday coming off a victory than on a two-game skid.
  • Finally, a W would help us keep up in the NFC playoff race. We’re currently sitting at #6, right between the Buccaneers and Rams. Tampa has a winnable game against the Panthers, while the Rams host the Seahawks. We also have to keep the Bears (who host the Vikings on Monday night) and 49ers (who play the Saints on the road) in mind. A loss could very well put us out of the top seven. And don’t forget we (currently) have the division tiebreaker over the Seahawks, so we need a win to keep up there as well.

What a Loss Would Mean

  • The first thing I want to address is that, while there’s no such thing as a good loss, a non-conference loss is definitely less bad than a conference loss. Non-conference losses have very little impact on playoff tiebreakers, so dropping this game to the Bills wouldn’t sting as badly from that perspective as a loss within the conference or, worse, to a divisional foe. That would be cold comfort to the team and fans alike, but it’s worth pointing out.
  • While losing to an AFC team wouldn’t affect tiebreakers much, ideally you don’t even want those to come into play. So you want to pick up every win you can to avoid losing ground in the playoff chase. (#DeepAnalysis.) Like I said above, we could very well drop out of the top seven with a loss, and we’d be a full two games behind Seattle for the division lead with next week’s game in their house. Not a position you want to be in.
  • A loss would put us under.500 at home. We’re just 2-2 right now, with an easy win over Washington and that wild Sunday night win over the Seahawks counterbalanced by dispiriting losses to the Lions and Dolphins, two teams with inferior talent. Playoff teams, contenders, need to take care of business at home. Starting 2-3 at home would make it awfully tough to finish better than .500 at home, putting more pressure on tougher road games.
  • A loss would take a lot of the sheen off the Thursday night game in Seattle. I can already picture the narrative from the national media. We’d have lost two games in a row since what would now look like a fluky win over the Seahawks at home. (And, honestly, the win really does seem a bit fluky in actuality.) They’d hammer us on only having the one win against a winning team, and Seattle would probably be somewhat sizable favorites. Thank god that would be a short week, because the media would be insufferable that week.
  • With a loss, this season would start to look like something of a disappointment—even though most Cardinals fans would have taken being over .500 after nine games before the season. Making the playoffs seems to be the expectation at this point, which is what happens when you have an obvious Pro Bowler and potential MVP candidate at QB. Losing to the Bills would put us at 5-4 with precisely one win against a team over .500. That doesn’t sound like a contender to me. This team has shown that it has a higher ceiling than also-ran status, so it would chafe quite a bit to blow this chance to get a legitimate win and prove ourselves to the national media.

Final Thoughts

I was surprised both to see that we were favored in this game and that we rank higher than the Bills in a number of statistical categories. Although the Bills have had their struggles in some games, they still seem like a strong team—certainly better than us. Maybe that’s just my inherent Cardinals cynicism rearing its head.

I won’t offer any predictions here—I learned my lesson last week. But you can feel free to in the comments. What are you expecting out of this game? What do you think this game means for this team?