Larry’s lads are atop the scrambled NFC West
This has certainly been an interesting season so far for the defending NFC West Champions. Including the pre-season, Arizona has gone through three quarterbacks before Week 6, but the Cardinals may have found the quarterback of the future in Max Hall. Along with the spark Hall has provided, the defense has finally arrived and now there’s hope for the Cardinals going forward.
At this point, heading into the bye, it seems like a good time to take a broad view of the Cardinals season, especially the remaining schedule. Arizona (3-2), of course, is enjoying a half-game lead over Seattle (2-2). St. Louis (2-3), fresh off a 44-3 beating at the hand of Detroit, stands in third, with the winless San Francisco 49ers (0-5) bringing up the rear of the NFC West.
Arizona should be very pleased with three wins in the first five games, which arguably was the most challenging portion of the Cardinals’ schedule. Road games against Atlanta and San Diego never held much promise and of course the home win against New Orleans was huge for the Cards.
Going forward, Arizona’s schedule softens considerably. The lighter schedule and the understanding that they suffered through veritable turmoil to get their first three wins could provide the Cardinals with an edge that may propel them the rest of the way. Their defense made a statement against the Saints and the offense now has two weeks to really pull things together before they head to Seattle in Week 7.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE, WEEK BY WEEK:
- Week 7 – @ Seattle (2-2): A surprising team this year as I don’t think many people expected them to grab two wins so quickly. One win, however, came against the 49ers, who apparently are allergic to winning. The other was against San Diego who are going through their routine early season struggles.
- Week 8 – vs. Tampa Bay (3-1): Another surprising team thus far. QB Josh Freeman and WR Mike Williams give them a chance. Running game is nothing to get excited about. Two of their wins came against Cleveland and Carolina so the jury’s still out. The fact that the Cardinals are at home may be huge in determining the outcome of this game.
- Week 9 – @ Minnesota (1-3): They are a better team than they currently project. By this week, Randy Moss will be completely in the fold and they still have Adrian Peterson no matter how Brett Favre is playing. In addition, two of three losses came against the Saints and Jets, with the other loss being a 4-point affair against Miami. They will be a tough out no matter what, especially in Minnesota.
- Week 10 – vs. Seattle (2-2): A lot depends on how these two teams fare against one another in Week 7. If the Cardinals win on the road, they will certainly hold a huge edge when the Seahawks travel down to Arizona. This home game is pretty much a must win for the Cardinals. Arizona can’t let this chance to notch a division win at home slip away.
- Week 11 – @ Kansas City (3-1): Perhaps the glass slipper has broken already, though there’s no shame in losing to the Colts. Who knows where the Chiefs will be by Week 11? I certainly don’t. The defense, even in a loss, maintained their respect by only giving up 19 points. The run game is very adept, but their passing game is a joke. We’ll have to wait and see how they respond to their first taste of adversity this year.
- Week 12 – vs. San Francisco (0-5): I suppose the same uncertainty surrounds the 49ers. If everything goes perfectly, record wise, the 49ers could be 7-5 at this point, which would be a healthy record in the NFC West. Obviously, I don’t think they are going to run off seven straight wins, but maybe they win three or four of their next seven, which would place them around the 3-9/4-8 mark. I don’t see much changing in San Francisco, who are in a state of panic now, whether Singletary will admit it or not. It’s baffling why Alex Smith is given such a long leash. He’s the perennial “waiting to explode” candidate. It’s almost sacrilegious to say that he’s just not going to, ever. He leads the NFL in interceptions and is flat out losing games for his team. The bottom line is that if the 49ers don’t put a number of wins together very quickly, they will only be playing the spoiler in the NFC West at this point in the season. Interestingly enough, Week 12 starts a very important three-game home-stand for the Cardinals.
- Week 13 – vs. St. Louis (2-3): Wherever the Rams end up in the standings this year they have a lot to be excited about. They’ve already improved considerably this year and they can stop worrying about their quarterback situation because Sam Bradford has lived up to the hype. Having said that, the Cards should put the Rams away at home and chalk this one up in the win column. To not defeat a weaker division rival at home at this point in the season would be a major blunder.
- Week 14 – vs. Denver (2-3): The Broncos dealt with a lot of injury issues early in the year, but are getting great play from Kyle Orton. It’s difficult to say how strong this team will actually be at Week 14, but within their own division (AFC West) they could be in the thick of things if Kansas City takes a dive. In any event, the Broncos have to come into Arizona, where the Cardinals on any given Sunday can beat anyone, which they proved against the Saints. Week 14 concludes the Cardinals’ three-game home-stand before they return home to face Dallas in Week 16.
- Week 15 – @ Carolina (0-5): The Panthers are obviously rebuilding this year with Jimmy Clausen getting his feet wet as the starter. I doubt the Panthers will still be winless, but they shouldn’t be much better off than that. Still, a trip to the East Coast is never a fun venture for Arizona, even if they wiped the Panthers in a 33-7 Divisional Round game in 2008. That’s ancient history now.
- Week 16 – vs. Dallas (1-3): I can’t help but laugh at the Cowboy’s current struggles, but only because it’s obviously eating Jerry Jones alive. The Christmas tilt against Dallas will be a hard hitting, hotly contested affair as it always is between these two teams. I, at least, expect the Cowboys to be much better than their record indicates by Week 16 and it will be a tough match up for the Cardinals.
- Week 17 – @ San Francisco (0-5): Last game of the season against the 49ers. You really couldn’t ask for more. This game may have lost some meaning since San Francisco’s abysmal start, but if the 49ers put together a Titans-esque second half run, this game could mean the division.
OTHER “REST OF THE WAY” STATS:
- Opponents’ Combined Record – (16-31)
- The Cardinals will face only two 2009 playoff teams the rest of the way, Minnesota (away) and Dallas (home), but they currently have a 2-6 combined record.
- Arizona will play six of its remaining ten games at home. Three of those six are against each one of the Cardinals’ NFC West opponents.
- Only two of the Cardinals’ remaining opponents currently have winning records, Tampa Bay (3-1) and Kansas City (3-1).
BACK TO THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE:
It’s safe to say that things are looking up for the Cardinals, especially considering they are yet to play their best football, which Ken Whisenhunt believes is quickly approaching. “To think we have not played really good football and we’re at 3-2 is a really good sign because if we can continue to improve, we have a chance to be a really good football team,” Whisenhunt explained. Measured optimism is a sentiment that Larry Fitzgerald expressed also. “We know we still need to work on offense, we know we didn’t do the things we needed to do, we know we need to score more points,” Fitz remarked. “But we are proud to get the win [against New Orleans].”
Ken Whisenhunt will only hold one practice this week, on Wednesday, but Max Hall will certainly be a busy man over the next two weeks. Commenting on what it means to be a starter, Hall observed that “There is a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure. The better I can manage those responsibilities and put in the time, the better off I’ll be. That’s what I plan to do. It’s a good time for us to have a bye week and a good time for me to get reps in practice and watch a lot of film and get better.”
After the bye, the Cardinals will travel up to Seattle to greet the Seahawks for the first time in 2010. Depending on whether the Seahawks defeat the Bears in Chicago this week or not, the Week 7 match up could be for sole possession of first place in the NFC West.