The Arizona Cardinals were supposed to be the team to fear this season.
At NFL.com, 12 of 20 experts picked Arizona to win the division, the other eight picked Seattle; seven picked the Cardinals to win the first wild card berth. The only person who did not pick Arizona to make the playoffs — out of 20 experts — was Ike Taylor.
We may need to start paying closer attention to what Taylor has to say.
You will be hard-pressed to find many outlets or experts who didn’t have the Cardinals making the playoffs, many of them had Arizona going to the Super Bowl, and plenty had them winning their first championship since 1947. But four games into the season, those dreams are close to being crushed.
The Cardinals currently sit at 1-3 after their 17-13 loss to the LA Rams on Sunday. Previous to that, they lost 23-21 to the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots (at home) and 33-18 to the Buffalo Bills. Their only win at this point is over the atrociously-inconsistent Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the Bucs score totals this season are 31, 7, 32, and 7) but the news only gets worse.
Arizona was setup for a rebound game this Thursday night against the San Francisco 49ers, a team with three straight fairly ugly losses. But now there is a good chance that the Cards won’t have quarterback Carson Palmer, who is undergoing concussion protocol after being forced out of Sunday’s loss. He was replaced by Drew Stanton, who threw zero touchdowns, two interceptions, and averaged only 3.36 yards per attempt.
Over his last nine appearances dating back to last season, Stanton has thrown four picks on only 40 attempts. He’s been horrible and now he may have to start for Arizona with their season possibly on the line.
If the Cardinals lose and drop to 1-4, they’ll have to try and become only the 13th team since the merger to make the playoffs after doing so, though it’s happened a few times very recently; last season, two teams did it.
The Kansas City Chiefs actually started 1-5 before winning their final 10 games and then a road playoff win in Houston. The other team to do it: Those Texans, who started 1-4 and 2-5 before going on to win the horrible AFC South division. It also happened in 2011 with Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, who started 1-4 and 2-5.
However, there are some differences between them and Arizona.
For one, the Cardinals schedule isn’t lightening up, it’s getting more difficult. After the 49ers, they face the Jets, Seahawks, travel to Carolina, 49ers again, travel to Minnesota, travel to Atlanta, and then later have a Week 16 matchup in Seattle. What they needed to do was bulk up on wins vs the Brady-less Pats, Bills, and Rams, but they didn’t do that. A loss on Thursday would likely mean they need to win no less than nine of their last 11 games.
FiveThirtyEight has dropped their estimated win-loss record to 7-9 and their chances to make the playoffs at just 23%.
The fact that they might not have Palmer — who with a QB rating of 81.9 was already having one of the worst seasons of his career, a continuation though from the six interceptions he threw in two playoff games last year and a potential sign of his decline at age 36 — only exacerbates things. This is a team that has proven in the past that they could be among the worst teams in the NFL without Palmer.
The rest of the team seems to be fairly healthy, though running back Chris Johnson will miss a few weeks and they haven’t been using anybody else to spell David Johnson so far this season.
All of which might be something they could overcome but as mentioned before, the team isn’t playing well. The strong wide receiver corps have not been on the same page as the quarterbacks: Michael Floyd has caught only 12 of 31 targets, Jaron Brown just 7 of 15, and John Brown only 18 of 34. The offense has scored just three touchdowns over the last two games.
I can’t say that the Seahawks haven’t had offensive struggles for two-game stretches this year, but they also don’t have to come back from a 1-3 deficit. If the Cards lose on a short week on Thursday, they’ll drop to 1-4 and 0-2 in the division.
By Friday, Seattle fans may officially have to switch their division rival (again) over to ... the LA Rams?