It seems like a good time for a Friday edition of The Lookaround.
Most of which will be spent on looking at the first place Arizona Cardinals and asking ourselves the same question that their former head coach once opined, "Are thine noble team of gentleman, truly the men of valor that we think thine are?" ... Or it was something like that.
The Cards are definitely good, definitely a favorite to win the NFC West due to their two-game head start, but when we break down the schedule through seven games and look ahead to the final nine, is the gap inevitably going to be closed? And even if it is, will it matter since the St. Louis Rams are clearly headed to the Super Bowl?
Let's ... Lookaround.
Arizona Cardinals (5-2) (DVOA Rank: 2nd)
This week: @ Cleveland Browns
Next week: Bye
The Cards are surprisingly neck and neck with the New England Patriots in DVOA, only being overtaken by the Pats for the number one spot this week. (New England's blowout win on Thursday night could give them a bigger advantage by next week regardless of the outcome of AZ-CLE) So, is Arizona arguably the best team in the NFL, if not at least the NFC?
Honestly, I don't quite get it.
The Cardinals are obviously very good, but let's look at the common opponents between Arizona and Seattle.
- Chicago Bears: AZ 48, CHI 23. SEA 26, CHI 0
The Seahawks obviously got to face Jimmy Clausen rather than Jay Cutler, but in the Cards game, it was 14-14 in the second quarter and 28-20 at half. In the Seahawks game, Chicago was completely inept. They gained seven first downs, compared to 18 first downs against the Cardinals. I would think it fair to say that given the Clausen/Cutler difference, both teams played the Bears equally well, at least.
- San Francisco 49ers: AZ 47, SF 7. SEA 20, SF 3
Seattle missed some opportunities to win their game by 40 points also. The biggest difference here is that the Seahawks game was on the road, whereas the Cards beat them at home. Again, this is at least an equal showing due to that fact.
- St. Louis Rams: AZ 22, STL 24. SEA 31, STL 34 (OT)
Both teams lost to the Rams by close margins. However, the Seahawks blew their game against the Rams and it was on the road. The Cardinals were down 24-15 until a touchdown with 4:38 left in the game made it a close game, but they weren't able to get into field goal range on their final drive. Plus, this game was also in Arizona. This one has a definite advantage for Seattle.
- Detroit Lions: AZ 42, DET 17. SEA 13, DET 10
Both teams beat the Lions, but the Cards blew them out on the road and the Seahawks nearly lost at home. Definite advantage for Arizona.
So among common opponents, they actually have the same four outcomes in terms of wins and losses. Overall, I'd say these four games show that they're playing pretty much equally well. What about the other three games?
Well, you probably know about the Seahawks schedule, so let's look at the Cards.
They beat the Saints at home, 31-19. Though that game was 24-19 with two minutes left.
They lost to the Steelers on the road, 25-13. The Steelers started with Michael Vick before switching to Landry Jones. The Seahawks haven't lost by 12 points to anyone since 2011, let alone Landry Jones.
They beat the Ravens, 26-18. Baltimore (1-6) was at the Arizona nine-yard line trying to setup a game-tying two-point conversion with seconds left when Joe Flacco was intercepted.
But don't just take my word for it...
According to FootballOutsiders, the Cardinals have had the second-easiest schedule in the NFL so far. Despite those four common opponents, the Seahawks have the 16th-hardest schedule in the league, because the three not-so-common opponents were the 6-0 Panthers, 6-0 Bengals, and 6-0 Packers. So the combined record of Seattle's other three opponents is 18-0, compared to 8-13 for Arizona.
But these teams play almost identical schedules over the course of the season, so you know what that means. Eventually what goes around for the Seahawks will come around for the Cardinals.
Arizona's strength of schedule for their remaining games is the eighth-hardest in the NFL. Seattle's gets a bit easier at 18th. Of course, 2/9ths of the remaining schedule for both teams is each other.
I think what this proves is that the Seahawks and Cardinals aren't so different this year. After all, Arizona is second in DVOA and Seattle is sixth. Over the course of 16 games, when the Cards have played some of those tougher opponents, I think things will begin to even out. What will really matter is if one of the two teams can sweep their head-to-head. Obviously, at this juncture that will benefit the Seahawks much more than Arizona due to their two-game head start.
If the Browns (23rd in DVOA) can pull an upset at home this week, and Seattle can do what it's expected to do against the Dallas Cowboys (26th), then they'll be just one game out headed into the bye week, with a home game against the Cardinals that could tie them up in the standings in Week 10.
Now That's What I Call Football, Vol. 50
St. Louis Rams (3-3) (DVOA Rank: 16)
This Week: San Francisco 49ers
Next Week: at Minnesota Vikings
Not that I want to gloss over the suddenly-scary, probably-going-to-be-4-3, can-you-put-a-hyphen-in-a-word-when-you're-including-win-loss-record Rams, but I spent so much time on the Cardinals that I'm gonna cut to the chase as much as possible.
St. Louis should beat the hell out of the 49ers this week based on everything we know about the two teams on paper but the Rams are never just paper. As our friend from TurfShowTimes Joe McAtee put it, they're "wet toilet paper." They always do what they're not supposed to do.
I still think that St. Louis will win this week because I try to think about the game logically, but with the Rams, you just never know.
By the way, the Rams have had the toughest schedule in the NFL, per DVOA. That's because they've had four games against opponents ranked in the top nine. They have the fifth-easiest schedule moving forward, and they didn't even have Todd Gurley for their first two games. Yeah, I'd be concerned.
Just remember that they're still 30th in offensive DVOA and that Nick Foles is still very not good.
San Francisco 49ers (2-5) (DVOA Rank: 32nd)
This Week: at St. Louis Rams
Next Week: Atlanta Falcons
Is this the dream come true we all thought that it would be? To see the 49ers suffer so much and be perhaps the worst team in the league?
Yeah. It is.
I said before the season that I saw 2-14 as a possibility for San Francisco, and I think it's certainly possible that they lose the rest of their games. If you have listened to 3000 NFL Mock Draft with me and Rob Staton (and please, please do), then you've started to get a sense of who the top picks in next year's draft could be. Maybe Trent Baalke's even been listening! Which would be unfortunate because I know we've got the best draft info around.
For the 49ers, that could either mean a defensive end like Joey Bosa out of Ohio State, or a quarterback like Paxton Lynch of Memphis or Jared Goff from Cal.
What they won't be doing is threatening to finish higher than fourth place this season.