Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Without a doubt, the Cardinals need their fair share of lucky bounces to make the playoffs, but this first stage is completely in their own hands.
The Cardinals (7-7) simply cannot make the playoffs with anything less than a 9-7 record, as both the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions already have nine wins this season.
The Cardinals are now on a four-game winning streak, which has seen them knock off playoff hopefuls the Dallas Cowboys and division champions the San Francisco 49ers, so two more wins is not out of the question. However, fans who think their upcoming games are a gimme, simply haven't paid close enough attention.
The Cardinals next game sees them travel to Cincinnati to face a Bengals team whose own playoff hopes are still far from secure. Although the Bengals could remain statistically alive following a loss to the Cardinals—depending of course what happens elsewhere in the AFC—anyone expecting Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and co. to take it easy on the Cardinals and let up the pressure are kidding themselves.
The Cardinals are away from home, traveling east, places where West Coast teams often struggle, and traveling there without a clear picture of which QB will start hardly bodes well for the team either. However, the Cardinals will likely be unusually inspired by the prospect of winning five games in a row for the first time in 34 years. That's not a typo—even during the heady heights of their NFC championship season in 2008, the Cardinals didn't manage to string together a run of five back-to-back regular season wins.
The game is not a given, but the Cardinals will be motivated, so a win could very much be—you'll pardon the pun—on the Cards.
However, assuming the Cardinals beat the Bengals, things don't get much easier for their final game of the season on New Year's Day.
In Week 17, the Cardinals will look to atone for a tough loss to the Seattle Seahawks earlier in the season. The Seahawks may be eliminated from playoff contention by this point if they lose to the San Francisco 49ers this week—a much harder game to win than the Cardinals own Week 16 matchup. However, if you expect that to dent their resolve, then unfortunately, you're kidding yourself.
Win or lose against the 49ers, the Seahawks will have everything to play for against the Cardinals. If they win (and everything else falls into place) they will be playing for a shot at an NFC Wild Card spot. Losing to the Niners and beating the Cardinals are just as important—after all, if you can't make the playoffs yourself, knocking off your division rival is the next best thing. A win against the Cardinals would also give the Seahawks the second spot in the NFC West, on tiebreakers.
However, the Cardinals almost managed to beat the Seahawks in Week 3, and the team looks much improved today, so it also stands a real chance at home against the Seahawks.
Assuming that the Cardinals win out the season, they're home free, right? Not so fast there. Winning out isn't enough. The Cardinals also need their fair share of lucky bounces along the way, as we shall see.