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Looking ahead at the Cardinals’ potential playoff paths

We know we’re in the playoffs. All that’s left is to figure out what seed we’ll be. Here are the scenarios at play for the Cardinals in Week 18.

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys
The Cardinals are back on track after beating Dallas in Week 17. What lies in store in the playoffs?
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

With the Cardinals’ season trajectory back on the upswing after their impressive win in Dallas last weekend, I feel a little bit better about looking ahead to the playoffs.

We looked like a sure one-and-done team after the three-game losing streak, but going into Dallas and knocking off a talented Cowboys team has done wonders to improve the confidence of the team and its fanbase. The win was a strong reminder that this team can go on a run.

Earlier this week, Seth outlined the various playoff scenarios at play for the Redbirds in Week 18. They can land anywhere from the #2 to the #5 seed with the exception of the #4 seed. Today, let’s take a look at each and take a look ahead at possible opponents if the Cardinals do what they are capable of and win a game or two.

We’ll start with that unlikely #2 seed scenario and work our way down from there, using ESPN’s Playoff Machine to generate the scenarios.

#2 Seed Scenario

How It Happens: Cardinals beat Seahawks, 49ers beat Rams, Panthers beat Buccaneers

1st-Round Matchup: #2 Cardinals host #7 Eagles

Possible Future Matchups:

  • Divisional Round: #2 Cardinals host #3 Buccaneers/#6 49ers
  • NFC Championship Game: #1 Packers host #2 Cardinals or #2 Cardinals host #4 Cowboys/#5 Rams

Thoughts: This is the dream. Two home playoff games for a trip back to the NFC Championship game—possibly at home as well. We need help from the 49ers (plausible) and Panthers (you never know with the dysfunction coming out of Tampa these days) in addition to a never-easy win over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Cardinals fans will be doing a lot of scoreboard watching this weekend.

#3 Seed Scenario

How It Happens: Cardinals beat Seahawks, 49ers beat Rams, Buccaneers beat Panthers

1st-Round Matchup: #3 Cardinals host #6 49ers

Possible Future Matchups:

  • Divisional Round: #2 Buccaneers host #3 Cardinals or #3 Cardinals host #7 Eagles
  • NFC Championship Game: #1 Packers host #3 Cardinals or #3 Cardinals host #4 Cowboys/#5 Rams

Thoughts: This one is a bit more likely than the #2 seed scenario. The Niners already whooped the Rams once, 31-10 on Monday night back in Week 10. That was at home, though—can they go on the road and do it again? You never like to root for the Niners, but Cardinals fans will be doing so this week. If they can upset the Rams (-4.5) and the Cardinals (-6.5) can take care of the Seahawks at home, we’ll win the NFC West and host those very same Niners in the Wild Card round with a likely trip to Tampa to take on Bruce Arians in the next round. Think that matchup would get much media hype?

#5 Seed Scenario

How It Happens: Seahawks beat Cardinals or Rams beat 49ers

1st-Round Matchup: #4 Cowboys/Rams/Buccaneers host #5 Cardinals

Possible Future Matchups:

  • Divisional Round: #1 Packers host #5 Cardinals
  • NFC Championship Game: #2 or #3 seed host #5 Cardinals or #5 Cardinals host #6 or #7 seed

Thoughts: Okay, there are a LOT of permutations for this scenario, and I won’t go through them all. But it basically boils down to this: If either the Cardinals lose or the Rams win, the Cardinals will be locked into the #5 seed and a road playoff game regardless of the outcome of the other Week 18 games. We would most likely be traveling to Dallas or Los Angeles, but there’s a scenario where we’d go to Tampa if the Cowboys win and the Cardinals, Rams, and Bucs all lose. Whoever we play in the 1st round, we’d travel to Green Bay for a grudge match against the Packers with a win. From there, we could actually potentially host the NFC Championship Game if chaos reigns, similar to what happened on our 2008 Super Bowl run when the #4 Cardinals hosted the #6 Eagles. Perhaps history can repeat itself?

Final Thoughts

Of all these scenarios, the Cardinals landing at the #5 seed is most likely, but the #3 seed and the NFC West title is still very doable. (I wouldn’t hold your breath for the #2 seed, though.) But even if we wind up going on the road for a wild-card game, the Cardinals have proven themselves to be a very dangerous road team (8-1 this season).

But I know we all wouldn’t mind a little home cooking here in the relative warmth of the desert in January. So, let’s get a Rise Up, Red Sea—and don’t forget a hearty BEAT L.A.!