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Looking forward: Sorting the remaining Cardinals games into tiers

The 6-0 Cardinals have 11 games remaining. Let’s put them into tiers and try to see what our final record might be.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns
Like Kyler, the Cardinals are #1 right now. What will it take to stay there?
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

After clobbering a would-be AFC contender on Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals are still undefeated. We’re atop the NFC at 6-0 but have four 5-1 teams nipping at our heels: the Bucs, Packers, Cowboys, and our division rival Rams. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to hold these teams off if we want that single coveted bye week.

But how likely is it? Let’s take a look at the remaining schedule and do a little guesswork as to what our final record might be. I’ve sorted our final 11 games in to three tiers below.

Tier 1: Take Care of Business

  • Week 7 – Home vs. Houston Texans
  • Week 15 – Away vs. Detroit Lions

Combined Record: 1-11

Combined Point Differential: -143

There are no gimmies in the NFL, but these are two absolute doormat franchises. They do play hard for their first-year head coaches, there’s no question about that, but the talent disparity is just too extreme for these teams to give the Cardinals trouble. The Lions, who probably should have beaten both the Ravens and Vikings, give me a little more pause, but the Cardinals will be fired up for a Matt Prater revenge game. (Mostly kidding. Mostly.)

The Cardinals just have to take care of business in these games, which they should do easily.

Predicted Record: 2-0

Tier 2: Can’t Take Lightly

  • Week 9 – Away vs. San Francisco 49ers
  • Week 10 – Home vs. Carolina Panthers
  • Week 11 – Away vs. Seattle Seahawks
  • Week 13 – Away vs. Chicago Bears
  • Week 16 – Home vs. Indianapolis Colts
  • Week 18 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks

Combined Record: 12-17

Combined Point Differential: -7

If you want to quibble with the placement of a couple of these matchups, I wouldn’t argue too much. I almost put the Bears (3-3 but with a -26 point differential) and Geno Smith Seahawks in the tier above, and if Russell Wilson is back and the Seahawks have something to play for in Week 18, you could be that game in the tier below. Either way, all of these are teams that Cardinals cannot take lightly in their quest for the #1 seed. (Yeah yeah, you can’t take the Texans or Lions lightly either, but you know what I mean.)

Divisional road games are always tough, even if the Niners are still starting rookie Trey Lance, so the Cardinals will have to be on their toes in Santa Clara. The Panthers have cooled off after a hot start, but there’s a lot of talent on that roster and they’ve had our number in recent years. We’ve got two games left against the Seahawks, who are always a tough out with or without Wilson (as the Steelers just found out). The Bears don’t seem like a great or even good team, but no one wants to travel to Chicago in December. The Colts are just 2-4 but have a +8 point differential and can play with anyone—just ask the Rams and Ravens, who narrowly escaped with victories.

These will all be tough games. I don’t see us going worse than 3-3 in these games barring major injury problems. On the flipside, going 5-1 seems unlikely and a clean 6-0 sweep against competition like this seems next to impossible in today’s NFL. Let’s say 4-2 here.

Predicted record: 4-2

Tier 3: Bring Your A-Game

  • Week 8 – Home vs. Green Bay Packers
  • Week 14 – Home vs. Los Angeles Rams
  • Week 17 – Away vs. Dallas Cowboys

Combined Record: 15-3

Combined Point Differential: +111

The Packers are somewhat of an outlier here, who have a point differential of just +8 despite their 5-1 record. The got beat down by Jameis Winston(!) and the Saints in Week 1 and have narrow wins against the Niners and Bengals along with unimpressive victories against the Lions, Steelers, and Bears. They don’t exactly look like a juggernaut, although Aaron Rodgers make them a threat to win any game. But this looks like a team the Cardinals should beat.

The Bucs and Rams look like true juggernauts, though, both with point differentials over +50 and their only losses against other 5-1 teams (the Bucs lost to the Rams, who lost to us). Neither team seems to have a crippling weakness, although the Bucs are beatable through the air on defense and neither boast an impressive running attack. But it might not matter, as both have QBs who should be in the MVP conversation. The Cardinals might be lucky to split these two games.

Predicted Record: 2-1

Final Thoughts

My predictions above are probably at the upper end of the range of outcomes, but they’d put the Cardinals at 14-3, which should easily get them the #1 seed. (No, we’re not going undefeated.) I think the worst-case scenario would be going 3-3 in the Tier 2 games and 1-2 in the Tier 3 games, which would put us at 12-5 and probably out of the running for the #1 seed. Unless something fluky happens, I just don’t see a 2020-esque collapse for this team. This bunch is the real deal.

Agree or disagree? What do you predict this team’s final record and playoff seed will be? Give us your educated guesses in the comments.