By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Redbird Ruffler
If you’ve got a 10-5 record against the second toughest schedule in the league -- and the best record vs. the spread (10-4-1) you might expect some respect.
Failing that, you’d at least expect the inside track for a playoff spot.
The Arizona Cardinals have neither.
Even their 17-10 win in Seattle Sunday was fairly quickly tossed into the dustbin, as the Seahawks clinched a playoff spot despite the loss and San Francisco clinched a playoff berth the following night.
And the Cardinals’ reward? They need to beat the 49ers Sunday and hope the Saints lose to Tampa Bay – at home – to make the playoffs.
Although the Cardinals' 2013 story probably isn't going to end well, it's a hell of a tale regardless.
This is a team that is currently getting nothing from any of its top six draft picks, stands 30th in interceptions thrown (21) and has been on national television only once all year (a Thursday night loss to Seattle that even seasoned NFL freaks don’t remember occurring).
Two weeks ago, we talked about Bill Belichick as Coach of the Year – a valid argument – but completely ignored Bruce Arians.
He won the award with Indy last year, and you could certainly argue that he’s done an even better job this year.
The Cardinals went from 15.6 PPG in 2012 to 23.9 PPG in 2013, while going from 22.3 PPG allowed last year to 20.1 this year. That’s a swing of 10.5 points a game, folks.
Ever heard of Steve Keim? He’s the Cardinals’ boss of player personnel, and here’s his complete Wikipedia entry: “Steve Keim is the general manager of the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League He was promoted to the position on January 8, 2013 after spending the previous 14 years in the Cardinals front office. He played college football at NC State.”
Only 62,000 words to go to catch Abraham Lincoln’s entry!
It’s pretty cool that an NFL lifer can get his opportunity after a decade-and-a-half as an unknown and then make the most of it – even despite a first draft filled with calamity.
The Cardinals lost their No. 1 draft pick, guard Jonathan Cooper, to a season-ending injury in August, and Cooper was joined by fourth-rounder Alex Okafor and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Tyrann Mathieu. Second-round pick Kevin Minter has barely seen the field (one defensive snap). Sixth-rounder Andre Ellington has been a spark at running back (5.7 YPC, 10.0 yards per catch), and is a nice piece of the puzzle.
But this is a team being led mostly by over-the-hill types.
What Keim did was add cheap-ish veterans like John Abraham (11.5 sacks), tackle Eric Winston, Karlos Dansby (116 sacks) and Yeremiah Bell to the mix, adding standout starters at a reasonable price. All four players have been legit, and given this team a big-time swagger.
The addition of Carson Palmer was huge, as we suspected it would be back in August. He’s not great (21 picks are a killer), but he’s also kept the offense moving all year and reinvigorated Larry Fitzgerald (10 TDs). Fitzgerald, by the way, isn’t the Cardinals’ leading receiver for the first time since Anquan Boldin 2006 – it’s Michael Floyd (950 yards).
But the Cardinals’ schedule, which turned out to be as tough as their 2012 schedule (No. 1 in strength) seemed like a deal-breaker when we looked at it in the preseason, and it has been. The NFC’s weakness in the North and East has produced a unique look to the conference, and as a result, charitably, the Cardinals are only about a 10-percent shot to make the playoffs this weekend.
And the future is also a mystery. They should have another good team in 2013, with Palmer still a legit option at QB, but the veterans will be a year older. The draft class still has a lot to prove. And the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams don’t figure to be trending way down.
It’s got to be frustrating for Cardinal fans, but when you’ve only made the playoffs four times since 1975, maybe you’re used to it.
It’d be fitting if they got the win over San Francisco and New Orleans beat Carolina (the games are simultaneous), giving them the honor of joining the 2008 Patriots as the only two teams to go 11-5 and miss the playoffs.
At least then they’ll be remembered for something.