Evaluating the Arizona Cardinals' playoff hopes

At 3-4-1, the Arizona Cardinals still have two different paths to the playoffs in the NFC.

When the Seattle Seahawks upended the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, the possibility of winning the NFC West became more difficult for the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals were hoping that a Seahawks' loss on Arizona's bye week could pull the teams within one game of each other headed into the latter half of the season, but now, if Arizona hopes to win its own division, it will need to overcome a two-game deficit.

There is a bit of positive news for Arizona concerning its tie with Seattle earlier this season: If the Cardinals defeat the Seahawks in Seattle, they'll own a tie-breaker over their division foe meaning that if the teams finish with the same record this year, then Arizona will hold a playoff edge.

The bad news? Winning in Seattle is much easier said than done. 

That's why it's important for the Cardinals to remain focused on the NFC wildcard race, where a fast start to the season for a handful of teams in the conference has finally evened out. 

Though Arizona still finds itself behind three NFC East teams, two NFC North teams and one NFC South team in the hunt for a wildcard spot, the Cardinals are no more than 1.5 games behind any team in the conference.

Furthermore, in upcoming weeks, Arizona will have a handful of make-or-break games that determine whether or not the Cardinals are worthy of securing a playoff bid in 2016.

Aside from having must-win games against division opponents Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles remaining on the team's schedule, Arizona has inter-conference battles with the Vikings, Falcons and Redskins between now and the first week of December. 

Two of those games, the contests against the Vikings and the Falcons, will come on the road, but fortunately for Arizona, both of those games will be played in domes where weather will not become a factor for the franchise based in a warm-weather market.

If Arizona finishes its next four games (San Francisco is its next game) with a 3-1 mark, then the Cardinals will hold an advantageous 6-5-1 record heading into the final quarter of the season. 

Perhaps the most challenging part of Arizona's quest for the playoffs this season will be finishing the second half of the season with twice as many wins as it recorded during the first half of the year. With 10 NFC teams already possessing at least four wins and only six playoff spots up for grabs, it's likely it will take at least nine wins to earn one of two wildcard spots this season.

So if Arizona goes 3-1 over its next four games, the Cardinals will then likely need to finish 3-1 over its final four games which includes much more manageable games against Miami, New Orleans, Seattle and Los Angeles. 

The most difficult part of the Cardinals' final quarter of the season is that three of the team's final four games are on the road, but if the Cardinals want any hope of advancing in the playoffs this year, it's increasingly likely the team will need to become accustomed to winning on the road.

While reaching the playoffs isn't out of the realm of possibilities for Arizona, the road to the postseason is straight uphill. 

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