by Brian Umbaugh, @NFLRosters
It’s that time of year; 13 weeks are in the books, and the hard core fans are starting to mull over the playoff possibilities. For the Arizona Cardinals, a 6-game winning streak has the season looking resplendent. After dismantling a struggling St. Louis team in Week 13, the team stands at 10-2, stuck behind Carolina in the #2 hole. With 4 games to go, the challenge is maintaining their status with a 1st round bye, and possibly try to usurp home field advantage if Carolina falters. While a playoff berth is not technically clinched, it is basically an inevitability. As the second team in our series of playoff simulators, using the NY Times Playoff Simulation model, let’s check out the last 4 games individually and how these games affect the Cardinals’ playoff chances.
As the situation currently stands (before Monday night’s game), the Cardinals have a 76% chance of locking up the #2 seed, with an 8% chance of earning the #1 seed, a 13% chance of hosting a wild card game, and a 3% chance of losing the division and hitting the road in the first round.
Rest of Season Odds
Remaining schedule: Minnesota, at Philadelphia, Green Bay, Seattle
If the Cardinals were to win their remaining games to finish 14-2, they have a 32% chance at pulling off the #1 seed. Carolina would have to lose 2 of its 4 remaining games to also finish 14-2, and Arizona would win the conference record tiebreaker to get that top seed. There’s a 68% chance that doesn’t happen based on Carolina’s schedule, but whatever.
If Arizona wins 3 of their last 4 games to finish 13-3, they would most likely be out of the running for the top seed (only 5-7% chance.) However, three wins would be enough to clinch the #2 seed and a 1st round bye.
Things get murky if the Cardinals were to lose 2 of their 4 remaining games to finish 12-4. If Carolina lost all remaining games, Arizona would still be in line for the top seed; however, let’s just not worry about that. The puzzle depends on which games Arizona won and which they lost. The best possible scenario would be to beat Minnesota and Green Bay, crushing any NFC North threat to the #2 seed. Since Green Bay is currently slightly ahead of Minnesota in tie-breakers, beating them (along with either Philly or Seattle) would create an 85-88% chance of locking in that #2 seed, with the possibility of falling to the #3 seed, if the NFC North champ gets on a roll. Beating Minnesota (along with either Philly or Seattle) creates a 61-65% chance of the #2 seed, as Green Bay would then have more of a chance of rising up. Merely beating Philly and Seattle would leave the door wide open for the NFC North champ to win all remaining games and claim that #2 seed instead, since that team would then own a head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona.
If things were murky before, winning only 1 of the last 4 games to finish 11-5 would make it downright muddy. If we knew the Cards would only win one game, which should it be? As mentioned before, beating Green Bay would create a 53% chance of still claiming the #2 seed; however, now we’re talking about the possibility of surrendering the division to Seattle if they were to win out. Beating only Seattle would pretty much assure the NFC North champ passes this team and leaves it in the #3 slot, but would guarantee the division. Beating only Minnesota or Philly in Week 14-15 might still net a #2 seed (especially if Minnesota wins the North), but most likely it would mean the #3 seed. If Seattle were to catch Arizona, though, this situation might lead to a #5 or #6 seed. In short, losing to Green Bay and Seattle could mean a road playoff game.
Even losing all remaining games, the Cards will probably still back into a playoff spot. Tampa Bay or Atlanta would have to win out, and some tie-breakers would have to go against Arizona (more likely if Tampa Bay wins out.) However, losing out would probably mean a road playoff game (76% chance), unless Seattle fizzles out with their easy remaining schedule.
The Cardinals are expected to grab that #2 seed, and certainly seem on the way to doing so. Arizona currently ranks above Carolina at #4 in the USA Today Sagarin Ratings, and they don’t face any superior opponents. Their last two games against an inconsistent Green Bay team and a surging Seattle team are both at home. Sagarin would predict they win their remaining games, but I can see them losing one of those last two. Prediction: 13-3, #2 seed in the NFC.