The 6 Games That Will Determine the Arizona Cardinals' Fate in 2013
The Arizona Cardinals' success in 2013 will come down to six games that will determine the team's fate, and only two of them are in the division.
What makes these six games stand out are not only the opponent but where they fall on the schedule. It can make a big difference, for example, whether the Cardinals are playing the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2 or Week 12.
Start the slideshow below and see which six games will tell the tale for the Cardinals in 2013.
Week 3 at New Orleans
The first key test of the season for the Cardinals will come in Week 3 at New Orleans when the Cardinals meet the Saints.
The reason why this is such a key game is that it will truly test the Cardinals pass defense. The Saints can keep Arizona guessing with Drew Brees spreading the ball around. Will it be Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles or some combination of them that gives the Cardinals fits?
It will also mark the professional debuts of Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu in Louisiana since both starred at LSU.
Regardless, the secondary will have to find a way to slow down Brees. Over the past two seasons, he has thrown for 10,643 yards and 89 touchdowns. Arizona also has its share of difficulty playing in Louisiana. The Cards haven't won in their last three trips to the Big Easy, and the last win at the Saints came in 1996.
Week 6 vs. Carolina
The second key game for Arizona is a Week 6 tilt at home against the Carolina Panthers.
This game is going to test the Cardinals rush defense, and hopefully linebacker Daryl Washington is back in the lineup by then. Washington has a four-game suspension to serve at the start of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It remains to be seen as of present what additional discipline may come down as a result of allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
Arizona will have a shot at shutting down a mobile quarterback and test itself against the read-option, and it could use the Pro Bowl linebacker to help do so.
Additionally, the Carolina defense will be a good challenge for Arizona with linebackers Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason trying to snuff out the run. Carolina finished with the 10th-best defense in the league last season in terms of yardage. It was also right behind Arizona in terms of points per game as each team allowed 22 per game.
The other reason why this is a critical game is where it falls in the schedule. After Carolina, five of Arizona's next six games are against playoff teams. Its next two games are against division rivals San Francisco and Seattle.
Week 8 vs. Atlanta
Arizona's third key game is Week 8 when it takes on Atlanta at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cardinals will have just come off a pair of divisional games, including a Thursday night game at home against Seattle. Arizona will have 10 days to prepare for the Falcons and a bye week after the game.
The Falcons are going to provide a tough matchup with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, so Arizona will have to be ready for this game and their potent offense. Arizona has to be able to be mentally fresh and focused when this is its lone game in a 24-day span.
A bad loss here would linger over the team for an awful long time.
Week 11 at Jacksonville
The reason this one makes the list is that it screams trap game. Arizona takes on a Jacksonville team that finished 2-14 last season and is sandwiched between Houston and Indianapolis coming out of the bye. This is a game Arizona should win against a Jaguar team that hasn't been good for several years.
The other side of this is that Arizona will have three of the next four on the road following the game with the Jaguars. It will serve as a momentum-defining game. A win and the Cardinals should have confidence for three road games out of their next four after this one. A loss and it could be a very long four-week run for the Cardinals.
Week 14 vs. St. Louis
Arizona's first divisional game on this list comes all the way down in Week 14. It marks the start of the second half of the divisional schedule against the NFC West and could go a long way to determining if Arizona is a playoff team or not.
It's the only home game in a four-game stretch, and the Cardinals have three potentially tough games waiting at the end of the season (Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers), so this might be their last best shot at a win.
On the other hand, a loss here could spell doom for the Cardinals.
Week 17 vs. San Francisco
It could all come down to the final game for Arizona's postseason fate. Having the 49ers stand in front of them could be a curse or a blessing.
They're certainly a tough team to match up with and have given Arizona fits over the past five seasons. The Cardinals have just one win over San Francisco since 2008.
The other side of the coin is that the 49ers may have locked up their playoff seed and have nothing left to play for. Starters may not play the entire game and Arizona might get a chance at the end of a season to pick up a much-needed win.