The Cardinals have taken full advantage of a down year in the NFC West and currently hold a four-game lead in the division. Arizona is 4-0 against divisional foes, but is just 1-2 against the rest of the NFC. The team's signature win came against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6, but they dropped road games against the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals' remaining schedule is loaded with talented teams and their success should be an accurate gauge of the progress Ken Whisenhunt's team has made in his second season as head coach.
If the playoffs started today, New York and Carolina would receive first round byes while Arizona would draw the wild card team with the worst regular season record (Washington, Dallas and the Atlanta Falcons all currently hold a record of 6-4). Additionally, Philadelphia, the New Orleans Saints and a trio of teams from the NFC North all remain in contention for the final playoff spot. As of now, the winner of the NFC North division would square off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
QB Kurt Warner
The Cardinals' passing attack has been outstanding, but the team's lack of running game could be their demise in the playoffs. While Warner, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald all seem destined for the Pro Bowl, Arizona is averaging just 87 yards per game on the ground. Since rookie RB Tim Hightower was inserted into the starting lineup, he's compiling only 55 yards per game rushing. Following his breakout performance against the St. Louis Rams in Week 9, Hightower has been held to 77 yards in his last two outings.
Given the circumstances above, the next two games are crucial for the mindset of the Cardinals' coaches and players heading into December. If Arizona is able to defeat or simply compete with the defending Super Bowl Champions this Sunday, they'll gain the poise needed to prevail in the post season. However, if the Cardinals falter, it could be an uphill battle come playoff time.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at email@example.com