Greater Challenges Ahead for Arizona

Following a win against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals are now 7-3 on the season and are off to their best start since 1977. While Arizona has surpassed expectations, the road to the playoffs won't be easy in the coming weeks as they face off against two straight NFC East opponents. Brad Wilbricht analyzes the Cardinals upcoming schedule and potential playoff match-ups down the line.

Due to struggling competition in the NFC West, Arizona has all but locked up its first division title in 33 years. Although the Cardinals will likely host their first playoff game since 1947, their remaining schedule will be vital to team's post season success. The New York Giants head to the desert this week, followed by a road game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving night. Furthermore, the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots remain on the schedule.

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
(Getty)

While many of the Cardinals faithful are thrilled about the prospect of a playoff game being held at University of Phoenix Stadium, a rematch against Dallas or Washington would be no easy task. Both teams feature solid running attacks and could keep Kurt Warner and the explosive Arizona offense on the sideline for extended periods of time. With New York holding a significant lead in the NFC East, chances are Dallas, Washington or Philadelphia will be the Cardinals' first obstacle in the post season.

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 brad.wilbricht@gmail.com

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