Last week’s game in Detroit proved several long time NFL adages. One being, ‘On any given Sunday'. The Loins showed in the 3rd quarter that even the weakest dog (cat?) can jump up and bite you. Yes, the Big Red came home with a ‘W’, but they did so sweating it out late in the game for what amounts to two breakdowns in the 3rd quarter.
As a fan of a team that spent decades stinking, I consider myself somewhat an expert on the subject. And one thing I’ve learned is that when you give a bad team a glimmer of hope, and a reason to believe in themselves, they can and often will pull off an upset.
Another thing is bad teams tend to play to their opposition. They often get ‘up’ for good, or ‘elite’ teams. This explains why, even as perennial cellar dwellers, Cardinals games against (at the time) NFC East division foes Dallas, Philly, Washington, and the Giants were often good games. Then the Browns would come in town and beat them by three touchdowns the following week.
The Cards' next opponent is the same team that they clinched their NFC West crown against last year in the same building. Having secured (all together now) -their first repeat division titles in consecutive years since 1975- last week, the possibility is there that a let down may ensue.
Not the tank job we all saw in 2008, when they lost five of six before stomping Mike Holmgren’s Seahawks in his first coaching swan song. But its takes a tough team to play hard for 60 minutes with not a whole lot riding on victory, and a 1-13 team rolling into town.
“But wait a minute,” you say, “They can still get the 2nd seed!” And thats true. In fact, something thought only to be a fantasy a month ago, enhanced after rolling over to the ‘Niners on MNF a couple weeks ago, actually has more legs now than at any time this season.
If the Cardinals win their final two games, against St Louis and the Green Bay Packers respectively, and the Vikings lose their last two games, chances are pretty good that the Big Red gets to take the Big Rest! They still have a decent shot to get the week off during 'Wild card’ weekend.
No one thought this possible a couple weeks ago. The Vikings got off the mat that the Cardinals flattened them on, and won handily the following week. This had people thinking the Cards victory and/or Vikings loss was an aberration. Those voices din only got louder when our gridiron hero's plopped the pig on the turf at Candlestick an amazing 7 times the following night.
But then the Cards won last week, ugly as it may have been. And the Vikings lost their 2nd game in 3 weeks by getting pounded in Carolina. And suddenly, the 11-3 Vikings look vulnerable. And the 9-5 Cardinals, and the faithful, see hope.
What was thought a ‘gimme’ game in Chicago a couple weeks ago could suddenly make this race a race again. The Bears aren’t a very good football team. But they are a division foe, playing at home, with nothing to lose, and going against a hated rival that's reeling of late. It's a potential recipe for disaster, and few people south of Green Bay would like to see the Vikings collapse more than the Bears and their fans.
The next week, Minnesota plays the New York football Giants. Another team that started hot, played the Cardinals, got spanked, and came back to earth. Only they seem to be heating up again. Not good news for a team that's not playing well, while dealing with coach and QB sideline-squabble questions that became the ‘news of the week’.
The final week featuring the Eagles and Dallas will most certainly eliminate one of those teams. And last week's win against the previously unbeaten Saints aside, I think Dallas is quite capable of doing themselves in before that, against Washington.
All this is mute, of course, if Minnesota goes into Soldier Field and comes out with a win. But it does give the Cardinals that much more to play for with the ‘lowly’ Rams coming into town, and that Bears-Vikings game not kicking off until Sunday night. A ‘let down’ in this case, is unacceptable.
The Rams have one weapon. Its a good one, but Steven Jackson, as his teams 1-13 record will attest, can’t do it alone. The Cardinals have the same game plan that every team has when they play the Rams. Stop Steven Jackson, and you stop the Rams.
Granted, this is an unenviable task. But one the Cardinals can most certainly handle. IF the ‘good’ Cardinals show up, that is.
This is a team that held All-Everything RB Adrian Peterson to 19 paltry yards a few weeks back. Its also the team that allowed the Panthers gouge them for almost 300 a couple months ago. Its a team that held 49ers RB Frank Gore to 30 yards on 22 carries in week one. Then allowed the same guy to peel off over 160 in the re-match.
But the Rams are so bad at other positions, there’s really little chance of them beating, or even competing against the Cardinals with anything BUT Steven Jackson.
I just don’t see it happening. True, the Rams played a few teams tough this year (inc last weeks 3 point loss to a good Houston team), and the Cards previous matchup in St Louis wasn’t a blowout by any stretch.
But the Rams have beat only one team, and that’s the equally lousy Lions. With a win ‘earning’ them a shot at losing Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh with the top overall pick, they may feel like a ‘statement’ game against a team that has already won the division, and beat them seven straight times, isn't ..well, in the Cards.
The Cardinals DO, on the other hand, have every reason to make this a statement game. Not so much for the masses, but for themselves. That 2nd seed looms larger than at any time this season for one. A win, combined with a Vikings loss to the Bears, sets up 3 huge season enders (including Dallas at Philly, Minn @ NYG, GB @ Az) come January 3rd.
For another, they couldn’t have felt good about last weeks win, no matter how many times coach Whisenhunt utters the ‘A win is a win’ refrain. The feeling here is that they will want to step on the Rams early, then stomp their throat coming out of the tunnel in the 2nd half.
While it may appear that the Rams come in with the hearts of the Lions, they will be leaving tomorrow night with the roar of a lamb.
The Brady Hunch:
---SCOTT Z BRADY
You can read this, and all my contributions to the Cardinals football lovin world at NFL.com/blogblitz/arizona-cardinals
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