All In The Cards: The Top Ten Moments From An Amazing Cardinals Season

IMPORTANT NOTE: Thank you all for your support this season! Even the though the playing season is over, I will still be covering the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason so look forward to more content to come. For this article I’m going to focus more on recapping the Cardinals season, but I will have a few thoughts on the NFC Championship game at the bottom of the article. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for analysis of all Arizona Cardinals news.

The greatest season in Arizona Cardinals franchise history came to an abrupt end over this weekend, as the Cardinals were unable to write a happy ending to a storybook season. While this team failed to make the Super Bowl and win the Lombardi Trophy, it’s very hard not to consider this season a success. Along with breaking almost every single franchise record, the Cardinals also gained national respect, something the franchise lacked even during prior winning seasons. Part of the reason was that Arizona was 5-0 on nationally televised games before losing to the Panthers. It was a surprise in the past when the Cardinals succeeded but now it’s expected, and this season marked that transition.

For my season recap, I’m going to list the top ten moments from this unforgettable season. Some were great in the moment but will likely be forgotten with the passage of time, while others will be remembered forever. Here are the top ten moments from the Arizona Cardinals’ 2015 season:

10) Chris Johnson’s Cut-Back Run Against Ravens – Possibly the best run of Chris Johnson’s renaissance season. Johnson has always been known as a speedster who just outran every defender so for him to transform into an inside back who isn’t as fast but is fast enough to break tackles is pretty incredible. No run this season showed his new ability to break tackles then his cut-back 26-yard touchdown run when he went right, stopped on a dime and switched back to the left while breaking a tackle and beating everyone to the endzone.

9) Palmer Scrambles for Game-Winner Over 49ers – This past NFL season had a lot of instances of older, less-mobile quarterbacks having huge plays with their feet. Carson Palmer is no exception as Palmer scored the game-winning touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers when he escaped the pocket in the redzone and jogged into the endzone. I say “jog” but he actually ran but it didn’t look like it. Then Palmer nearly gave himself a concussion when he tried to spike the ball but fell over. It was like watching a middle-aged father getting a little too competitive at a family tow-hand touch football game and it was glorious to watch in the moment.

8) Cory Redding Stiff Arms Lacy, Scores TD – It’s always fun when a defensive lineman scores a touchdown, but what made this eve more great was that Packers running back Eddie Lacy made a real effort to stop Cory Redding but Redding just threw Lacy aside and kept rumbling towards the endzone. If it was any other running back that wouldn’t be a big deal but Lacy weights 235 pounds and is built like a linebacker. Redding made people forget that mometarily the way he stiff-armed him.

7) Palmer Leads Game-Winning Drive Against Bengals – One minute to go in a tied game with no timeouts. Palmer not only led a Cardinals’ drive that set up the game-winning field goal, but he did it against his former team. There were quite a few game-winning or go-ahead drives that Palmer led this season but this one was probably the most special one.

6) Fitzgerald Catches 5 TDs In 2 Games – After what was likely his worst statistical season last year, Larry Fitzgerald was a man on a mission to show he wasn’t done being an elite receiver. In route to what was likely his best statistical season, Fitzgerald had amazing back-to-back games during weeks two and three of the season where he scored a combined five touchdowns. Against the Chicago Bears Fitzgerald hauled in eight catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns, while against the 49ers he grabbed nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 109 receptions for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns.

5) Back-to-Back Pick-Sixes – That 49ers game in week three also produced another memorable moment when the Arizona secondary scored on two interceptions during the first six minutes of the game. Justin Bethal took his first career interception to the house at the 11:06 mark of the first quarter. Then on the very next drive, Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Colin Kaepernick and returned that one to the endzone at the 9:03 mark of the first quarter. Overall, the Cardinals intercepted Kaepernick four times and the Cardinals destroyed the 49ers 47-7.

4) David Johnson goes “Beast Mode” On Eagles – David Johnson had a fantastic rookie season and may finally give the Cardinals a workhorse back that they haven’t had in a very long time. He cemented that feeling when he ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles during week 15. Johnson had quite a few big runs in the game but none were bigger or more impressive than his 47-yard touchdown run near the end of the second quarter that quickly reminded many of Marshawn Lynch’s legendary “Beast Mode” run in the 2010 playoffs. Johnson broke through as many as five tackles as he sprinted down the sideline to give Arizona a 17-10 lead in a game where the Cardinals would never trail again.

3) Freeney Strip Sacks Bridgewater – Dwight Freeney showed this season that even at age 35 that his spin move is still unstoppable. No moment was the veteran pass-rusher needed more than when he strip-sacked Teddy Bridgewater to end the Minnesota Vikings attempt to send the game to overtime. On the play, Freeney executed his famous spin move and obliterated left tackle Matt Kalil so he was able to get to Bridgewater before he could throw it away. Calais Campbell scooped up the ball and the Cardinals earned a playoff spot thanks to that victory.

2) Ellington Seals Win In Seattle – Although he did have the same kind of numbers as the Johnson duo, Andre Ellington made an impact for the Cardinals when he did play. No run was more important than the one that sealed Arizona’s win over the Seahawks in Seattle. Holding onto a 32-29 lead after holding the Seahawks to a punt, Ellington at first converted a 3rd-and-4 near midfield but didn’t stop there as his tightrope act along the left sideline kept him in-bounds and let him get enough separation to beat a Seahawks defense to the endzone on a play they likely gave up on thinking he had stepped out of bounds. It sealed an important road win and caused Drew Stanton to have one of the greatest celebrations in history.

1) Fitzgerald Wills Cardinals Over Packers in Overtime – Even though the Cardinals only won one playoff game, the way it was won was very special. While the winning touchdown on the shovel pass was both a great play call and executed perfectly by the players, it was the 75-yard pass reception by Larry Fitzgerald on the first play of overtime that earns the best moment from this past Cardinals season. Palmer executes a perfect spin move to escape pressure and finds Fitzgerald completely wide open and had a Cardinals first down at midfield. Yet, as described by Fitz himself, he said forget first down and cut back to the middle of the field and went for the walkoff. While he didn’t quite make the endzone he score two plays later but his decision to turn a 30-yard pass into a 75-yard pass showed how one player could will a team to victory.


Final Thoughts About Arizona’s NFC Championship Game Loss:

  • The stage was definitely too big for the Cardinals as many great players folded under the pressure. It’s hard to win when your stars aren’t performing well, and Calais Campbell (two false starts), Patrick Peterson (fumbled punt return), and especially Carson Palmer (six turnovers, many other bad decisions) were not playing like stars. Even Larry Fitzgerald, statistically the greatest wide receiver in NFL playoff history, dropped two passes on the night. When Fitzgerald drops a tipped pass that was still catchable and Ted Ginn does catch a tipped pass, it’s just not your night.
  • Piggybacking on the idea that the stage was too big for the Cardinals, I think in hindsight it was too much to ask this Cardinals organization to win a championship during the team’s first season as a contender when the role is so foreign for the franchise. I get the urgency because a lot of the key guys have only a limited time left in the NFL, building a winner is a step-by-step process and Arizona already completed a bunch of steps this season.
  • While there were still a few chances to come back later in the game, the Cardinals were destined to lose after Peterson tried to get a few extra yards out of a punt return and fumbled it back to the Panthers. Although the Cards were down 17-7, they had taken back momentum thanks to some excellent running by David Johnson and then immediately forced Cam Newton and the Carolina offense into a three-and-out. Then Brad Nortman, the Carolina punter, shanked a punt that only traveled 34 yards and was heading out of bounds. If Peterson had left the punt alone, things could have gotten interesting. I’m not going to claim the Cards definitely would have won but it would have been a much better game. Instead, the Panthers recover and proceed to score a touchdown.
  • Lastly I want to give major props to a Panthers team that has building towards this for three years and were without a doubt the better team. Because the NFL is a pass-happy league, Carolina’s run-oriented offense seems out of place and I feel that is part of the reason people have been skeptical of the Panthers. All I hear is “if you stop the run, can they pass to win?” The answer is yes because Cam Newton has improved so much with his passing that he’s making his receivers better instead of needing great receivers to bail him out. That’s the same trait that Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have in them. The Panthers are going to be a team to reckon with for the next five to seven years.

My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16 – Correct (NE 27-20) (3-2)
  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 27 – Correct (Ari 26-20 OT) (4-2)
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23 – Correct (Car 31-24) (5-2)
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13 – Correct (Den 23-16) (6-2)

My Conference Championship Picks:

  • New England 24, Denver 16 – Incorrect (Den 20-18) (6-3)
  • Arizona 31, Carolina 29 – Incorrect (Car 49-15) (6-4)

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-4 (.600)
Total Record: 165-101 (.620)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Arizona-Carolina Playoff Preview

All season long the talk coming from the Arizona Cardinals has been championship or bust but even those with the utmost highest of expectations should understand that there would be no shame in losing this weekend to the Carolina Panthers. However, despite the disadvantages that await, the Cardinals will still have that “championship or nothing” mentality when they take the field at the near-freezing Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. For this week’s preview of All In The Cards, I will list all of the Carolina Panthers advantages heading into this game and explain how the Cardinals will try to counteract them. Plus I will give some matchups that favor Arizona. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now let’s preview the Cardinals playoff match against the Panthers:

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

Last Meeting: L 27-16 at Carolina (1/3/15)

Carolina advantages and how Arizona plans to counter them:

  1. Panthers have won 12 straight at home: In a season where it seemed that home field advantage meant nothing, the Panthers have been amazing at home. What’s even more unusual is that the Cardinals, a franchise that once threatened the record for the longest road losing streak just a little over a decade ago, finished this season 7-1 in road games and actually averaged better stats than they did at home. The advantage still goes with the Panthers, but these aren’t the Cardinals that historically have played terrible on the road so expect the Cardinals to play just fine.
  2. Cam Newton has thrown 19 touchdowns against the blitz this season: This seems like a big problem for the Cardinals because they blitz more than 45% of the time, the most in the NFL. However, the Cardinals will not shy away from blitzing for two reasons. The first reason is that just like their injured all-pro safety Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu, Bruce Arians doesn’t care about your stats against the blitz because they’re still going to blitz you. The second and more reassuring reason for Cardinals fans is that they have an X-factor in safety-turned-linebacker Deone Bucannon. Bucannon could either use his speed to generate a faster blitz from the linebacker position than what Newton would be used to or the Cardinals could use Bucannon to drop back into coverage and send a corner or a safety on a blitz.
  3. Panthers have rushed for 100+ yards in 30 consecutive games: Despite the Cardinals being a top-10 run defense, the Cardinals have struggled against the run in all three of their losses. That’s a huge advantage for a Panthers team that consistently runs the ball at a high level. Yet there is a way for the Cardinals to at least slow down the Carolina running game and that would be putting an extra defender in the box and trusting your secondary to shutdown the receivers on any play-action passes. Arizona has more than enough practice putting its cornerbacks on an island as that basically happens every time the Cardinals blitz. The Cards secondary is more than talented enough to blanket the Panthers subpar receivers to let Arizona commit to stopping the run game.
  4. The weather and field conditions: The game temperature is expected to be in the high 30s at kickoff and the playing field, which has been terrible at times this season, is expected to be pretty bad. However, the Cardinals took some advice from the Seattle Seahawks (who just played at Carolina last week) and will bring a couple different pairs of cleats to see which will work best so they don’t slip and fall on the grass like the Seahawks did a week ago. As for the temperature, that narrative is a little overblown as many of the Cardinals’ key players have more than enough prior experience playing in freezing weather (including players like Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald).

Arizona advantages:

  1. Larry Fitzgerald is set to have another big day: In his illustrious career, Larry Fitzgerald only has more receiving yards against the Philadelphia Eagles and the three other NFC West teams than he does against the Carolina Panthers. However if we were only looking at Sunday’s game, Fitzgerald still has a big advantage. The Panthers are missing half of their starting secondary and their all-pro cornerback Josh Norman doesn’t cover slot receivers. Expect Fitzgerald to get a lot of playing time in the slot on Sunday and a lot of targets when he does line up in the slot.
  2. Revenge from last season’s playoff loss: The Panthers eliminated the Cardinals from the playoffs last season so there is definitely a revenge factor. Also important is that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing that game and Arizona still had a chance to win late in the game. It’s up to Palmer to prove he was the difference in last year’s loss by being the difference in a win this time around.
  3. All the pressure is on Carolina: There is a lot of pressure on Palmer to prove he was the reason for last year’s outcome between the two teams, but other than that all off the pressure is on Carolina. Like the Cardinals, the Panthers have also had a magical season where the expectations are championship or bust. On top of that, the Panthers have the added pressure of being expected to win because they are the home team, they just finished a 15-1 regular season, and they have the probable MVP in Cam Newton. The Panthers have thrived as the “no one believes in us” team and now have the added pressure of being the favorite while the Cardinals are finally back in the comfortable role of underdog. Even if the Cardinals deny it, they do have an excuse if they lose while the Panthers do not.

Nothing will come easy for the Cardinals but they know that. This has been a resilient team all year and this will be their toughest test. I would not be that surprised if the Panthers won this game but after following the Cardinals so closely this season, this just seems like a team of destiny that will find a way to win. I have the Cardinals barley holding on for the win to advance to Super Bowl 50.

Game Pick: Arizona 31, Carolina 29


My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16 – Correct (NE 27-20) (3-2)
  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 27 – Correct (Ari 26-20 OT) (4-2)
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23 – Correct (Car 31-24) (5-2)
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13 – Correct (Den 23-16) (6-2)

My Conference Championship Picks:

  • New England 24, Denver 16
  • Arizona 31, Carolina 29

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-2 (.750)
Total Record: 165-99 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Recapping The Stupidly Crazy End To Arizona’s Win Over Green Bay

Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. If someone ever questions that fact, show them the Green Bay-Arizona game from this past weekend. The amount of insane things that happened in that game still boggles my mind and the mind of many other football fans even a few days removed from watching the spectacle. So for part one of All In The Cards’ coverage of the Arizona Cardinals this week, I will go over every crazy situation, one by one, from the fourth quarter and overtime of Saturday night’s thriller. Prepare yourself for some strong opinions, especially about a certain coin toss. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Let’s go over the weirdest hour of sports I can remember:

Start of the 4th Quarter: Green Bay 13, Arizona 10

Palmer’s 2nd INT: This drive started late in the third quarter  and the first play was yet another reminder that the NFL desperately needs to properly define a catch. I personally think that four steps and a knee down should constitute a catch regardless of if the ball came out at the end. I know that in a similar situation last playoffs that Dez Bryant was called for an incompletion but the differing of calls only illustrates why this needs to be fixed, not that the call was wrong.

Now to the interception. While the pass was much shorter than it needed to be, the real cause behind this interception was the fact that Green Bay wasn’t afraid of Arizona running the ball. The play started as a play-action pass that immediately got snuffed out by a blitzing linebacker. It was a good risk considering the Cardinals only rushed for 40 yards on 19 rushing attempts. With the added pressure, Carson Palmer threw off his back foot and was unable to put enough behind his pass as Damarcus Randell incepted a pass that should have been out of his reach. Palmer had some bad throws Saturday night, but this one was a little more understandable. (Green Bay 13, Arizona 10 – 14:10 left)

The tip-drill, go-ahead score: This entire drive was a soap opera. The first play was a miscommunication between Palmer and Andre Ellington, not a great first pass after a back-breaking interception. What does Palmer do the next play? Throw a picture-perfect pass just above Packer linebacker Jake Ryan’s outstretched arms to John Brown. At this point we have now entered into “full gunslinger” mode for Palmer. Two plays later Larry Fitzgerald shakes two defenders and reaches out the ball for the first down marker and barely gets it by the narrowest of margins. Then during the Cardinals’ first play in the redzone, Palmer forces a pass to Michael Floyd that cornerback Sam Shields lets bounce off his hands. That pass was much worse than the endzone interception the previous drive and probably would have ended the game. Yet the game didn’t end as a pass between two defenders to David Johnson gets the Cardinals another first down, this time by an even smaller margin than Fitzgerald’s first down.

The true madness began the next play. Arizona ran a pick play with Jaron Brown to get Fitzgerald open on a slant route in the middle of the field. Yet despite Brown’s best (and probably illegal) effort, a defender was able to get an arm and break up the pass. However, instead of the pass falling to the ground, the ball jumped into the air only to land in Floyd’s hands in the back of the endzone. In the span of a second, it went from being a touchdown, to a probable interception, to a touchdown. At this point it seemed that the Cardinals uncharacteristically lucky season after decades of heartbreak would continue. (Arizona 17, Green Bay 13 – 3:44 left)

Arians passes on 2nd down: Then Bruce Arians’ aggressive approach backfired on him. I was really disappointed in the numerous amount of people who questioned Arians and said the pass was a dumb play call after praising him for doing the exact same thing earlier in the season and succeeding. Should he have run the ball? Of course he should have but this is who Arians is and the Cardinals and their fans know and accept Arians’ aggressive approach. Palmer completes that pass to Fitzgerald (or draws a pass interference call) and the game is over. As Arians says, “no risk it, no biscuit.” (Arizona 20, Green Bay 13 – 1:55 left)

Rodgers throws two Hail Marys: After the Cards finally got their first and only sack of the game, it looked like it was over at fourth and 20. Then Rodgers escapes to his left and, with Calais Campbell chasing him, throws a laser to Jeff Janis who was able to get behind the defense thanks to Rodgers extending the play. Then Rodgers decides not to spike the ball and runs another play which not only runs 20 seconds off the clock but an illegal shift by Richard Rodgers stops the clock and backs the Packers up five yards.

At this point Rodgers has two shots at the endzone. Both times, the Cardinals sent seven men on the blitz to hurry up Rodgers’ throw. The first time it worked perfectly as Rodgers kept backpedaling until he threw it away. However the second time Rodgers escaped to his left and threw up a beautiful pass to Janis for the game-tying touchdown. It should be noted that the reason Janis beat Patrick Peterson to the ball was because earlier in the drive Janis got behind the coverage and played deeper so it wouldn’t happen again. That backfired as Janis was able to get in front of the pass to complete the hail mary.

One thing that should be discussed is whether or not Mike McCarthy should have gone for the win with a two-point conversion instead of opting for the extra point to send the game to overtime. To me, the decision should be based on whether or not you believe in momentum. If you do, then you should go for the kill now immediately with the Cardinals still trying to get their head around the fact that the Packers just scored. If you don’t believe in momentum, then you go with the sure bet and go to overtime. There isn’t really a right or wrong decision; it just depends on your philosophy. (Arizona 20, Green Bay 20 – end of regulation)

The overtime coin toss: This may be the most stupid controversy I have ever seen and the fact that some people think that the coin flip prevented the Packers from winning is so asinine that it had me tearing my hair out just reading and listening to this.

First off, in the NFL rulebook it is not stated anywhere that the coin needs to flip on a coin toss. The referee Clete Blakeman was not obligated to do-over the coin toss but did do it because he thought the first toss wasn’t fair. I personally was okay with doing another toss, but the Packers shouldn’t have acted like it was their right to have a do-over. It was a nice gesture by Blakeman and with the Cardinals winning both tosses, the situation should have ended there.

Then Rodgers made his postgame statements. I met Rodgers for a short time back when he was Brett Favre’s backup and from what I can tell he is a good person. Honestly, I think his remarks after the game were just a result of him being frustrated the Packers lost. That being said, I blame him for making this a bigger controversy than it ever needed to be in the first place. He may have just been letting off steam but he needs to realize that he is one of the key players in the NFL and if he complains about something the masses will respond to that complaint.

Rodgers said after the game that he was upset he didn’t get to choose which side of the coin he wanted on the retry. Rodgers said he chooses which side to call based on which side is showing. On the first flip heads was showing so Rodgers called for tails. Since the coin didn’t flip it landed on heads. When Blakeman went for the second toss, he flipped the coin with tails showing. Because of that, Rodgers said he wanted to change his call to heads. The coin landed on heads again and the Cardinals won the toss again.

Some people think Rodgers should have been allowed to change his call but that’s ridiculous. He was already given a gift in the form of a second toss, so also asking to change your call sounds greedy. Also I’ve watched the whole exchange numerous times and I still don’t see how Rodgers could have had enough time to notice the coin being turned over, think about his coin toss ritual, and try to ask for the chance to change his mind. To me this sounds like hindsight bias, with Rodgers  trying to come up with an excuse for the Packers losing. Again it probably wasn’t intentional but he can’t make those kinds of statements.

Fitzgerald takes over: Then Fitzgerald made overtime end so quickly that now people are complaining that this set of overtime rules are unfair because Rodgers didn’t get a chance to go back on the field. If Rodgers wants to look for an excuse for why the Packers lost, he needs to look no further than his defense letting Fitzgerald turn a 15-yard pass into a 75-yard completion. Fitzgerald is very shifty but for him to get so wide open and then have four defenders fail to tackle him is a complete defensive breakdown. You can be disappointed Rodgers didn’t get a chance to respond, but don’t ask to change the rules because the Packers couldn’t stop the Cardinals from scoring a touchdown.

Fitzgerald ended the game two plays later on unique play design where Palmer ran what looked like an option run but instead threw a shovel pass to Fitzgerald. It capped possibly his greatest postseason performance and that is saying something. Look at his playoff game log:

  • 2008 Playoffs
    • vs. Atlanta – 6 receptions, 101 receiving yards, touchdown
    • at Carolina – 8 receptions, 166 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • vs Philadelphia – 9 receptions, 152 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
    • vs Pittsburgh – 7 receptions, 127 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
  • 2009 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 6 receptions, 82 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • at New Orleans – 6 receptions, 77 receiving yards
  • 2014 Playoffs
    • at Carolina – 3 receptions, 31 receiving yards
  • 2015 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 8 receptions, 176 receiving yards, touchdown

His three games with 150+ receiving yards are already the most in NFL playoff history and he’s scored 10 receiving touchdowns in one fewer game than the great Jerry Rice, which is amazing considering two of those games were throwaways because of bad quarterbacks (three quarters of Matt Leinart vs Saints and a whole game with Ryan Lindley vs Panthers last year). Fitzgerald looks like a man on a mission and I don’t know if anyone can stop him.


How I Did With My Divisional Round Picks:

  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 20 (OT) (1-0 this weekend, 3-2 in playoffs)
  • New England 27 Kansas City 20 (2-0, 4-2)
  • Carolina 31, Seattle 24 (3-0, 5-2)
  • Denver 23, Pittsburgh 16 (4-0, 6-2)

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-2 (.750)
Total Record: 165-99 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Arizona-Green Bay Playoff Preview

It has been a magical season for the Arizona Cardinals, one in which almost every positive franchise record was broken. While they have accomplished so much already, the team knows that all of those records will be forgotten if the Cardinals don’t win a single playoff game. The Cardinals’ goal was and still is to win the Lombardi Trophy, but the unpredictability of the one-and-done format of the postseason means anything can happen. That being said, exiting without a single playoff win would be unacceptable. So the Cardinals look to achieve that first goal this Saturday when they host the Green Bay Packers. This week I’ll recap what has changed for both teams in the three weeks since they last played and how those changes will affect the rematch. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now let’s preview the Cardinals playoff match against the Packers.

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: W 38-8 vs. Green Bay (12/28/15)

Having played each other only three weeks ago, you would think that this week’s matchup between the Cardinals and Packers would go roughly the same way? While there are definitely more similarities in this rematch in comparison to say the Seahawks-Panthers rematch (those teams played back in October), this weekend has no chance of being a repeat of the Cardinals dominating 38-8 win.

Let’s take a look at what has changed for both teams, both positive and negative:

Green Bay changes:

  1. The Packers have a functioning offensive line: It’s no secret by now that part of the reason behind the Packers’ blowout loss last time they played in the desert was because their offensive line was in shambles and got gradually worse when other linemen left partway through the game with injuries. This time around the Packers could possibly have all starting five linemen back if left tackle David Bakhtiari (who didn’t play the first time) is able to play. While Green Bay’s starting offensive line is only average by NFL standard, it will still be a huge improvement over the disastrous group they played the first time.
  2. Aaron Rodgers is playing much better: I’ve written about Rodgers’ body language during the previous matchup more times than I’ve probably needed to, but it’s a fact that Rodgers was not himself during the second half of season. Over his last six regular season games, Rodgers had thrown an interception in all but one of those games and only tossed multiple touchdowns twice. Against the Redskins last week, Rodgers threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. He still completed less than 60% of his pass attempts (something he did in three of his last six regular season games) but the performance was still a net positive, giving Packer fans hope that Rodgers is beginning to play like himself again.
  3. Defense is creating pressure: While the Cardinals’ offensive line is much better than the Redskins’ front five, you can’t ignore that the Packers’ defense looked much sharper last week. Against Washington, the Packers sacked Kirk Cousins six times and hit him 13 times. Compare that to what they did in week 16 in Arizona (two sacks, four QB hits). The big difference between the two games was the play of Clay Matthews. Matthews got 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Redskins but was held without a single tackle against the Cardinals. Don’t expect another donut from Matthews this time around.

Arizona changes:

  1. Cardinals were humbled by the Seahawks: Coming off a blowout win over Green Bay and a Carolina loss, the Cardinals (winners of nine straight) became the talk of the league as possibly the Super Bowl favorite. Then the Seahawks slapped the Cardinals in the face, shoved them in a locker, and took their lunch money. How else do you explain being down 30-6 at halftime in your own building? Obviously the Cardinals are still very confident that they can win a championship, but at the same time it was a reminder that all it takes is one bad game and your season is over. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because Arizona can learn from its mistakes and that playoff success isn’t guaranteed, but it’s bad in that opposing teams now fear the Cardinals less.
  2. Pass rush shakeup: Over the playoff bye week, Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor found himself on the non-football injury list with a toe injury. While Okafor’s production can easily be replaced since his level of play was way down from last season, what it does cause is a depth shakeup at Arizona’s weakest position. Second-year pass rusher Kareem Martin will likely start but it may also mean more snaps for Dwight Freeney and newly-signed Jason Babin. While not the end of the world, the Cardinals would prefer to only play them in situational roles so as to maximize their impacts.
  3. Rashad Johnson is back: He missed the first game against Green Bay and if Rodgers is really back, the Cards will need Johnson in the secondary. Besides Tyrann Mathieu, no other player means more in the defensive huddle for Arizona, as Johnson is basically the quarterback of the defense. He’s also played extremely well, intercepting five passes to tie Mathieu for team-high. Whether or not he’s able to perform at a high level could be the difference between whether or not Rodgers can pass downfield on this defense.

Yet at the same time there are quite a few things that haven’t changed. Green Bay’s receivers still have a hard time creating separation. The Packers were able to manufacture some separation against the Redskins by running the ball effectively, but against Arizona’s sixth ranked rush-defense that’s tougher said than done. What happens if the Packers can’t get the running game going? Also the Packers still have a lot of trouble converting on third down. Green Bay went 3 for 11 (27.3%) on third down against Washington, which actually isn’t that far off from how the Packers did during the regular season (33.7%, fifth worst in the NFL). Arizona has only allowed its opponents to convert on 35.7% of third down attempts (eighth best in the NFL) so that remains a huge hurdle for the Packers.

Meanwhile for Arizona, forcing turnovers still dictates team success. In 13 wins, the Cardinals forced 33 turnovers, but the team didn’t force a single turnover in any of their three losses. While Arizona did generate four Green Bay turnovers during the teams’ first game, that looks more like an anomaly than trend as the Packers have only allowed 17 turnovers all season (fourth fewest in the NFL). Can the Cardinals still win if they can’t force any Green Bay turnovers?

The point I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t expect a repeat of what happened during week 16. That game was a perfect storm for the Cardinals where everything went right and represents the best-case scenario for Arizona in this matchup. However, I really doubt things will go so smoothly this time around. Both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians still have to get the “first playoff win” monkey off of their backs. The Cardinals as a team will have to deal with being the playoff favorite for the first time after living in the underdog role for so long. Also, Rodgers has experience taking the Packers to a Super Bowl title when Green Bay was a wild card team, like the team is this season.

I still think the Cardinals will win but it will be dogfight, with the Cardinals possibly needing a fourth quarter comeback to win. Yet the Cardinals know that after the season they have had, losing this game is not an option.

Game Pick: Arizona 34, Green Bay 27


My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Other Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 2-2 (.500)
Total Record: 161-99 (.619)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Super Bowl Scenarios For All 12 Playoff Teams

The long, brutal NFL season came to an end for 20 teams this week but for 12 teams the season has just begun. In a one-and-done tournament anything can happen so it’s pointless to say that only these certain teams can make the Super Bowl because in reality all 12 of these teams proved they are good enough to win two or three games in a row. So for this week’s All In The Cards I’m going to list the best-case scenario for each team to make a run to the Super Bowl. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Before we get to the scenarios, here’s a look at how I did with my week 17 picks:

How I Did With My Week 17 NFL Predictions:

  • Seattle 36, Arizona 6 (0-1)
  • Buffalo 22, New York Jets 17 (0-2)
  • Miami 20, New England 10 (0-3)
  • Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 12 (1-3)
  • New Orleans 20, Atlanta 17 (2-3)
  • Philadelphia 35, New York Giants 30 (2-4)
  • Indianapolis 30, Tennessee 24 (3-4)
  • Cincinnati 24, Baltimore 16 (4-4)
  • Houston 30, Jacksonville 6 (5-4)
  • Detroit 24, Chicago 20 (6-4)
  • Washington 34, Dallas 23 (7-4)
  • Carolina 38, Tampa Bay 10 (8-4)
  • Kansas City 23, Oakland 17 (8-5)
  • San Francisco 19, St. Louis 16 (8-6)
  • Denver 27, San Diego 20 (9-6)
  • Minnesota 20, Green Bay 13 (10-6)

Week 17 Record: 10-6
Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2


Super Bowl Scenarios For All 12 Playoff Teams:

NFC

  1. Carolina Panthers: There are several ways the Panthers can make the Super Bowl but I’m looking specifically at the most optimal way. Well the most optimal way would be to avoid great vertical passing teams. While the Panthers do host a great secondary, the recent injury to Charles Tillman now means that half of the starting secondary is done for the season. Not to mention that since the loss of their other defensive back Bene Benwikere the Panthers have given up a lot more passing yards than normal. They still have Josh Norman but it would be better for this team if they avoided the Seahawks and the Cardinals and instead faced the Redskins and the Vikings over the next two rounds.
  2. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals were humbled last week by the Seahawks and should be focused against whoever they face in the playoffs. Having said that, the Cardinals would like to avoid the Vikings and Packers as both teams have extra motivation in the form of previous losses if they faced the Cards again. Instead, the Cards would probably want the Redskins. For the NFC Championship, I know the Cardinals want revenge against the Seahawks and want to have the game at home, but the better matchup is against Carolina. The Panthers may have homefield but they will be missing half of their secondary. Josh Norman may well be the best corner in the NFL, but not even he can cover Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown all at the same time.
  3. Minnesota Vikings: As a 3-seed, two-thirds of your playoff run have already been determined. The Vikings will need to defeat both the Seahawks and the Cardinals to advance to the NFC title game. In that game they would probably want to play at home so that leaves two options: the Packers and the Redskins. We’ve already seen the Packers come to Minnesota and it wasn’t pretty, plus the fact that the Packers would get this far means they have turned their offense around. Instead, the optimal matchup would be against a Redskins team that sometimes has trouble playing well away from home.
  4. Washington Redskins: It’s easy to find the Redskins’ best route to the Super Bowl as all they have to do is follow the same road that the 2008 Cardinals took for their only Super Bowl appearance. Both teams were 9-7 division winners stuck in the 4-seed and facing teams that were favored over them. The Redskins are more than capable of taking care of the Packers as long as Green Bay continues to play like it has during the second half of the season. Then the Redskins will need to catch the Cardinals napping and upset them in Arizona. That task will be harder considering the Cardinals will likely be very focused after getting annihilated right before the playoffs. Finally, despite the fact no one wants to face the Seahawks, the Redskins would favor that matchup for the sole reason of having another home playoff game, where Kirk Cousins has been at his best this year.
  5. Green Bay Packers: Like the Redskins, the Packers also have a blueprint for how to make a Super Bowl run but it will require Aaron Rodgers to perform on a 2011 Joe Flacco-level. After a win against the Redskins, the Packers will want to get revenge on the Cardinals and hope the team is still out of sorts from the Seattle loss. Then the Packers will want the Seahawks so they can host the game at Lambeau Field. It will be a difficult task to beat the Seahawks even at home but if Rodgers is playing like ’11 Flacco, he can lead Green Bay to another Super Bowl appearence.
  6. Seattle Seahawks: Unfortunately for the Seahawks, a trip to their third straight Super Bowl requires a win over the Panthers at Carolina after taking care of the Vikings. That leaves us with three potential teams for Seattle to face in the NFC Championship. While the Cardinals, Packers, and Redskins all play very well at home, only at one of those places does the Seahawks also play very well in and that’s University of Phoenix Stadium. Even though the Cardinals will likely be out for blood after the Seahawks destroyed them during week 17, the Seahawks need to play at a place they are comfortable in after playing two other tough road games.

AFC 

  1. Denver Broncos: Looks like Peyton Manning is back at QB for the Broncos, but even if Brock Osweiler returns under center the Broncos will only go as far as their running game and their defense. Both the Steelers and the Chiefs have beaten the Broncos during the season and can do it again in the playoffs so the favorable first matchup would be against the Texans. Despite Houston’s improved quarterback play, I’d still take the Broncos defense 10 out of 10 times in that matchup and a heavy dose of the run game means fewer dropbacks where J.J. Watt can obliterate whoever is playing quarterback. In this scenario Denver would either face the Patriots or the Bengals and even though the Broncos have already beaten both of them I think they’d rather not have to go against Tom Brady again, especially considering Brady’s history over Manning in the playoffs. The Bengals, with a less than 100% Andy Dalton would be the slightly easier path to the Super Bowl.
  2. New England Patriots: Everything will depend on how healthy Julian Edelman and any other returning starter really are when they suit up in two weeks and whether or not they are rusty. If they are fine then it won’t matter who the Patriots face. However if they aren’t, things get a lot more difficult. At that point all five AFC teams would give the Patriots trouble so the best-case scenario would call on New England to win psychological matchups against teams and players who seem to fold in high-pressure situations. Andy Dalton would usually be the poster boy for this kind of situation but the Bengals’ main demon is winning a playoff game and they’d accomplish just that if they would eventually face the Patriots. So instead, the psychological matchup would be against Andy Reid, Alex Smith, and the Chiefs. That would leave a psychological matchup with Peyton Manning, Gary Kubiack, and the Broncos as the favorable AFC Championship opponent.
  3. Cincinnati Bengals: As I previously stated with Minnesota, there’s not much wiggle room for teams with the 3-seed. The Bengals already know they will need to beat the boom-or-bust Steelers and then they’ll have to beat the Patriots. Anything can happen with the Steelers so a little bit of luck will be needed to get past them but they’ll either need a 100% Andy Dalton or a rusty Patriots group to advance to the AFC Championship. In the AFC title game, they would love to face the Texans as one of that defense’s only weaknesses is the play-action pass and even at 80% Dalton is still one of the best play-action passers in the NFL.
  4. Houston Texans: Beating the red-hot Chiefs will be tough but after that the road to the Super Bowl isn’t that far-fetched of a possibility. You have to think that J.J. Watt would be licking his chops to get an opportunity to attack a patchwork Patriots offensive line in the next round. No one wishes to face the Patriots, but with many of their key contributors just coming back from injury it would be easiest to get them early when those players may still be rusty. From there the best matchup would be the turnover-prone Broncos, especially if Peyton Manning  is playing quarterback.
  5. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs may have the longer winning streak, but the Texans are playing better as of late. It will be a tough task for the Chiefs to advance but they are more than capable of winning this game. As I’ve already stated in other sections, you never wish to face the Patriots but if you’re going to face them, do so in the divisional round when the injured players may not be all the way back. While a rubber match with the Broncos would be an advantage for the Chiefs, an even bigger advantage would be having a home playoff game, which only happens if they face the Steelers.
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers will have the benefit of likely facing an Andy Dalton-less Bengals for their first game. From there the Steelers would have to face the Broncos, who the Steelers beat just a couple of weeks ago and would likely face Peyton Manning in a bad weather game, which always favors Pittsburgh. Then in the AFC Championship, the best best to advance to the Super Bowl would be drawing the Texans because unlike the Chiefs and Patriots, the Texans are more susceptible to turnovers, which the Steelers’ defense needs to thrive.

*Big shout out to Bill Barnwell’s article for helping me determine some of the best paths for teams to take.

All In The Cards: New Year’s Edition (Week 16 Recap and Week 17 Picks)

With so much going on I have to yet again combine my week 16 recap with my week 17 preview. However, like I did in a previous combo article I’ll give my thoughts on big stories in the NFL between last week’s and this week’s picks. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now here is how I did with my picks last week and what are picks this week:

How I Did With My Week 16 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 38, Green Bay 8 (1-0)
  • Oakland 23, San Diego 20 (2-0)
  • Washington 38, Philadelphia 24 (3-0)
  • Atlanta 20, Carolina 13 (3-1)
  • Buffalo 16, Dallas 6 (4-1)
  • Chicago 26, Tampa Bay 21 (4-2)
  • Kansas City 17, Cleveland 13 (5-2)
  • Detroit 32, San Francisco 17 (6-2)
  • Houston 34, Tennessee 6 (7-2)
  • Indianapolis 18, Miami 12 (8-2)
  • New York Jets 26, New England 20 (9-2)
  • Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 17 (9-3)
  • New Orleans 38, Jacksonville 27 (9-4)
  • St. Louis 21, Seattle 17 (9-5)
  • Minnesota 49, New York Giants 17 (10-5)
  • Denver 20, Cincinnati 17 (11-5)

NFL Thoughts Going Into Week 17:
  • While I’m very proud to see my Arizona Cardinals finally getting the respect they deserve, but all of this talk about them being the favorites over the Carolina Panthers is a little premature. While the Panthers did lose to the Atlanta Falcons, that loss isn’t worse than the two losses the Cardinals already had (vs St. Louis and Pittsburgh). However, if the Cardinals are able to wrestle away home-field advantage from the Panthers then you can slate the Cards as the favorites based on the two teams’ equal records and different ends to their seasons. One loss does not make a season unless that loss is in the playoffs or prevents you from making the playoffs and the Panthers’ loss to the Falcons was neither.
  • I would say that the Packers’ offensive performance against the Cardinals set the franchise back 50 years but the Packers were playing much better offensively 50 years ago. While the Cardinals defense had a lot to prove in their first game without Tyrann Mathieu, what really troubled me about the Packers is how much it seems Aaron Rodgers has checked out. Anytime there was a dropped pass or a missed block, instead of consoling or getting on the guy who made the mistake he just had this “I’d rather be anywhere else” look on his face and went right to the huddle. That’s not the look of a guy who wants to lead. Maybe whatever has Rodgers so lifeless can be patched up behind the scenes before the playoffs start but my guess is that this team probably just wants to start the offseason.
  • I’ll admit that I know 10x as much about the NFC West than I do about the AFC North so the St. Louis Rams’ upset over the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t surprise me nearly as much as the Baltimore Ravens’ upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I have said numerous times in this column, the Rams seemingly transform from a mediocre team into a very gritty and tough team when they face their divisional rivals, and the Seahawks in particular seem to bring out the best in the Rams. That’s why I was so surprised that the Cardinals beat the Rams very easily a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know the intricacies of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry but in my opinion the Ravens, a team that is pulling guys off the street just to field a team, win over the Steelers exposes Pittsburgh as a team that only plays to the level of its competition and to me those types of teams don’t deserve to make the playoffs. They could prove me wrong by destroying the Browns by 20 but it might be too late for them.
  • My biggest question about the Philadelphia Eagles getting rid of Chip Kelly has less to do with the move than the timing of the move. Why couldn’t they just do after this week’s games when most teams fire their underperforming head coaches? If the early firing was meant to give interim head coach Pat Shurmur a chance to demonstrate how he would do as the coach going forward, I don’t think a single game against a New York Giants team that has probably checked out is a good enough indicator to change an opinion on his candidacy. To me this was more of a message by owner Jeff Lurie saying that he wanted Kelly gone long ago and only put up with him as long as the Eagles were still in the playoff hunt. Kelly’s plan to rebuild the Eagles was unnecessary and made the team worse so Lurie wanted Kelly out before the eventual rebuilding job became too big. I guess it’s possible that the extra game is to see if the Eagles should keep Kelly’s acquisitions or if they should go out with the head coach that brought them into Philadelphia.
  • I can understand the Indianapolis Colts giving Josh Freeman a chance (the team needs a backup for Andrew Luck as Matt Hasselbeck isn’t going to be around much longer) as Freeman has shown in the past that he can be decent and they way his career ended in Tampa Bay was a little unfair. However, there are no words for the Colts also picking up Ryan Lindley. Ask any Cardinals fan about Lindley and they won’t say anything in return. Instead they will just curl up into a ball and try to find their happy place. Let’s just say I hope the Colts start Freeman this week.

My Week 17 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 31, Seattle 27
  • New York Jets 27, Buffalo 17
  • New England 38, Miami 10
  • New Orleans 31, Atlanta 30
  • Cincinnati 16, Baltimore 13
  • Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 16
  • Houston 27, Jacksonville 24
  • Indianapolis 15, Tennessee 10
  • Washington 21, Dallas 10
  • New York Giants 27, Philadelphia 23
  • Detroit 30, Chicago 19
  • Carolina 34, Tampa Bay 28
  • Oakland 24, Kansas City 20
  • Denver 26, San Diego 13
  • St. Louis 23, San Francisco 14
  • Minnesota 31, Green Bay 21

Week 16 Record: 11-5
Season Record: 149-91 (.621)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Christmas Edition (Week 15 Recap And Week 16 Picks)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! I’ve been very busy this week so I’m just going to give my picks for this week and show how I did last week. Next week I will return to regular format. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now here is how I did with my picks last week and what are picks this week:

How I Did With My Week 15 NFL Predictions:

  • Louis 31, Tampa Bay 23 (0-1)
  • New York Jets 19, Dallas 16 (1-1)
  • Atlanta 23, Jacksonville 17 (1-2)
  • Washington 35, Buffalo 25 (2-2)
  • Minnesota 38, Chicago 17 (3-2)
  • New England 33, Tennessee 16 (4-2)
  • Houston 16, Indianapolis 10 (5-2)
  • Kansas City 34, Baltimore 14 (6-2)
  • Carolina 38, New York Giants 35 (7-2)
  • Seattle 30, Cleveland 13 (8-2)
  • Green Bay 30, Oakland 20 (8-3)
  • Cincinnati 24, San Francisco 14 (9-3)
  • Pittsburgh 34, Denver 27 (10-3)
  • San Diego 30, Miami 14 (10-4)
  • Arizona 40, Philadelphia 17 (11-4)
  • Detroit 35, New Orleans 27 (11-5)

My Week 16 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 23
  • Oakland 27, San Diego 10
  • Washington 27, Philadelphia 24
  • Carolina 31, Atlanta 17
  • Buffalo 24, Dallas 20
  • Tampa Bay 33, Chicago 21
  • Kansas City 28, Cleveland 10
  • Detroit 27, San Francisco 16
  • Houston 23, Tennessee 7
  • Indianapolis 20, Miami 13
  • New York Jets 28, New England 27
  • Pittsburgh 38, Baltimore 13
  • Jacksonville 35, New Orleans 28
  • Seattle 21, St. Louis 17
  • Minnesota 32, New York Giants 27
  • Denver 23, Cincinnati 20

Week 15 Record: 11-5
Season Record: 138-86 (.616)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2