The Arizona Cardinals season has not gone the way that they wanted it to go, but I think it would have been reasonable to see this coming. In my preseason preview of the NFC, here’s what I wrote about the Cardinals season before I predicted them to finish 4-12:
The changes they made with the coaches and on offense all seem pretty good to me. It’s probably just 1-2 years away from being effective as they need to be. Defensively, they have some stars but likely some major weaknesses. They’re in competition for picking first next year and putting Nick Bosa next to Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, but I guess I could also see the upside that has them going 9-7. I don’t lean that way though.
Arizona is now one win away from making my prediction come true or one loss away from finishing with a slightly worse record that will guarantee them something that they’ve never had before: The number one pick in the draft and potentially, Nick Bosa. The team either standing in their way or rushing to get the door for them is of course the Seattle Seahawks.
As I wrote earlier this week, it is important for the Seahawks to win, as a guarantee of the 5-seed could be key to any playoff run. That’s why we should expect them to go about business as usual unless they get ahead early enough to start pulling starters and keeping them healthy for a wild card trip to Dallas. However, if Seattle should lose, it could also potentially change the Cards’ plans dramatically.
Rumor has it that the franchise is expected to fire first-year head coach Steve Wilks after the game, putting him back on the market for a job on defense. (Should Ron Rivera keep his job with the Carolina Panthers, a reunion may be in order.) Things have gotten to the point that Wilks is now openly joking about how he didn’t get a podium at the press conference this week.
Cardinals coach Steve Wilks, laughing as he walked up to the microphone for his weekly Friday news conference and noticed the podium he usually stands behind had been removed: "Man, you know you're getting to the end when they don't give you a damn podium."— Bob McManaman (@azbobbymac) December 28, 2018
But doomed or not, Wilks has one more game to coach. It’s a road divisional game against a playoff team with something to fight for and if Arizona’s management was being completely logical, then they already knew they handed Wilks a roster that could not compete for the playoffs. Not with Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon, and Josh Rosen at quarterback. Perhaps not with a GM who may be the real culprit, as he’s the one who handed a running back a $39 million extension before even securing a competent offensive line. He’s the one that continued to support Bradford’s great great great great grandchildren’s college fund despite zero evidence that he’s a quality starter and without a team around the quarterback that’s good enough to make him look halfway decent. He’s the one who hung back in the 2017 draft and took Haason Reddick at 13, as the Kansas City Chiefs jumped over them for Patrick Mahomes and the Houston Texans leaped ‘em for Deshaun Watson.
When they fired Bruce Arians, maybe they were doing him a favor.
All of which is neither here no there as it applies to Steve Keim, but what if Wilks takes Keim’s weak roster into Seattle on Sunday and wins? What if Rosen has his first game of the season with a passer rating over 90? What if the Arizona defense holds a team under 90 rushing yards for the first time all year and does so against the number one rushing team? After all, the Cardinals were a field goal away from potentially beating the Seahawks in their earlier matchup of the season.
Would that be enough for Wilks to get a second season, as most coaches do? As Jon Gruden will, not that the Oakland Raiders have any choice. As Pat Shurmur likely will. Kyle Shanahan’s certain to get a third season, and he’s likely on his way to a 10-22 career record, 4-20 without Jimmy Garoppolo.
Maybe the Cardinals will have that same Week 17 miracle magic that they had in 2003, when a 3-12 Arizona team defeated a 9-6 Minnesota Vikings team 18-17 on the final play, keeping the Vikings from the playoffs.
That throw by Josh McCown also kept the Cardinals from picking first overall in the draft for the first time. The good news is that they still got Larry Fitzgerald at three. It could still be argued that’s not as good as their other option at the time, Eli Manning, who the San Diego Chargers drafted and then immediately traded to the New York Giants for a nice haul of picks. Maybe Eli refuses to go to Arizona too, in which case, maybe they also get a nice haul of picks and then still get Fitzgerald or Philip Rivers, though they passed on Rivers once.
Should the Cards lose, they’ll be guaranteed the number one pick, and they can get Bosa, someone else, or trade down. Should the Seahawks falter, other teams will have the opportunity to move ahead of them in the draft.
Arizona can pick anywhere from one to three, making them the only team guaranteed a top-3 slot. However, if they win and the San Francisco 49ers lose, as they’re expected to against the LA Rams, then the 49ers could pick first. And if the Cardinals and Niners both come away with upset wins, while the New York Jets drop a game at New England, also expected, then the Jets will pick first. That is the best scenario for the NFC West and also the least likely.
A Seattle win keeps things simple: Arizona will pick first and if the rumors are true, will fire Wilks shortly after. I still think that Keim is potentially the bigger issue (or at least, the second-biggest issue after ownership), but it seems that they’re going to go on the hunt for the second time in a year.
A Seattle loss though and the Cards could potentially lose the number one pick and give Wilks a second chance. Arizona did fire Dave McGinnis after that McCown miracle, but he’d been trending the wrong way for awhile, having gone 13-28 in his first 2.5 years with the team prior to 2003.
This game means something for the Seahawks, but it potentially means even more for the Cardinals, and more than one person in the organization, certainly not Wilks, is rooting for a loss.