All In The Cards: Avoiding The Trap Game (Week 8)

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals face a potential trap game against the Cleveland Browns with a bye next week and a Sunday night matchup against Seattle the week after. Can the Cards stay focused and take care of business against the Browns? I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for my in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns

Last Meeting: W 20-17 OT vs. Cleveland (12/18/11)

After their game this week against the Cleveland Browns, the Arizona Cardinals will have completed half of their 2015 regular season and will take a much deserved bye week. Despite a few hiccups against the St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate what the Cards have already accomplished as well as plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the second half of their season. Even though the NFL is currently boasting a record five undefeated teams heading into week eight, only the two-loss Cardinals have both a top five offense and a top five defense. This isn’t me being subjective; Football Outsiders’ well-acclaimed DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) has the Cardinals as the third best offensive team and the fourth best defensive team. Here is a link to Football Outsiders’ DVOA Rankings to see every team but let’s compare the Cards to the five undefeated teams:

  • Arizona Cardinals: 3rd in Offensive DVOA, 4th in Defensive DVOA
  • New England Patriots: 2nd in Offensive DVOA, 11th in Defensive DVOA
  • Green Bay Packers: 4th in Offensive DVOA, 7th in Defensive DVOA
  • Cincinnati Bengals: 1st in Offensive DVOA, 13th in Defensive DVOA
  • Carolina Panthers: 9th in Offensive DVOA, 6th in Defensive DVOA
  • Denver Broncos: 32nd in Offensive DVOA, 1st in Defensive DVOA

First thing I want to note is that only two of the five remaining undefeated teams have both a top ten offense and a top ten defense (though I should mention that all of this was calculated before the start of week eight, thus the Patriots’ ranking doesn’t include their performance last night against the Dolphins. They will probably be in the top ten defensively next week.) and the team closest to having top five on both sides of the ball (Green Bay) ranks lower than Arizona on both sides.

However, there is a reason the Cardinals have two losses: they rank an abysmal 21st in Special Teams DVOA. You don’t have to search very long to find an occurrence where the Cardinals’ special teams almost let them down. Just this past Monday, the Arizona special teams single-handily let Baltimore make a huge fourth quarter comeback thanks to a missed extra point (which kept it a two-score game instead of making it a three-score game) and then failing to pick up the blitz on a punt block that gave the Ravens the ball on the one-yard line. The Cards were able to salvage a win but that wasn’t the case against the Rams. David Johnson fumbled the opening kickoff and the Rams took possession of the ball in the Arizona redzone. From the 13-minute mark of the first quarter, the Rams took the lead and never let it go.

So why bring up special teams right now? Almost every statistical measure says the Cardinals should obliterate the Browns this week and while that will probably happen, there is one stat that gives the Browns some hope. While the Cards rank 21st in Special Teams DVOA, the Browns rank 3rd, easily the strength of the team. I’ve mentioned a few times that the Cards struggle when they don’t create turnovers, and if that happens this Sunday we are only one bad Drew Butler punt away from Travis Benjamin scoring his second punt return touchdown of the season and giving the Browns all the momentum and potentially the lead.

What the Cardinals have this week is a bona fide trap game. By definition, a trap game is “when a team faces an opponent they are expected to beat and thus they look past their current game and start preparing for the next game, which is usually against a bitter rival or a very strong team.” While there is a bye week between this game and the next one for the Cards, that next game is against the two-time defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. You can’t find a better example of a trap game!

Does this mean the Cardinals are doomed? While the Cardinals do seem to rely on emotions more than regular NFL teams (like needing to prove to themselves they could win close games), the Cards are led by a ton of veterans who have been in this situation before and thus would be able to identify if they felt the team was relaxing and then promptly let the team know. Plus, as weird as this might sound, it helps that this team has already lost twice this season.

There’s a common saying when a team going for an undefeated season gets its first loss: “It’s better that they lost now so they can learn from their mistakes and not lose in the playoffs.” While this statement is usually nothing more than fans and media trying to cope with the fact that a team can no longer go undefeated, getting a few losses does benefit a team if they aren’t accustomed to always being the favorite. Teams who are accustomed to winning, like New England and Green Bay, gain nothing from a loss, but teams not accustomed to winning, like the Cardinals, can find positives in losses.

The Cardinals just recently transformed from the underdog to being the favorite, and for a team that built itself on being the underdog this is new territory. Opposing teams are now counter-gameplanning you, with the hope that a win could jumpstart their own transformation to becoming a favorite. It takes awhile for teams to adjust to this switch and that usually leads to upsets.

Teams in the Cardinals position can take these losses one of two ways: either the loss humbles them and reminds them of how they got to this position in the first place, or the loss spreads doubt among the players and coaches which leads to the team ultimately collapsing. If the Cardinals really are title contenders they will take those losses to heart and remember never to overlook a team like the Browns, because just a few years ago the Cards were in the Browns position. I think the Cardinals are title contenders so I don’t see them falling in this trap game.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Cleveland 10

My other Week 8 NFL Predictions:

  • New England 27, Miami 14
  • Kansas City 23, Detroit 14
  • Atlanta 31, Tampa Bay 23
  • Minnesota 26, Chicago 13
  • Pittsburgh 30, Cincinnati 27 (OT)
  • Houston 23, Tennessee 17
  • St. Louis 27, San Francisco 10
  • New York Giants 28, New Orleans 27
  • Baltimore 34, San Diego 30
  • New York Jets 23, Oakland 13
  • Seattle 27, Dallas 17
  • Green Bay 24, Denver 13
  • Carolina 27, Indianapolis 23

Week 7 Record: 9-5
Week 8 Record: 1-0
Season Record: 70-36 (.660)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

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