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

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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: 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

All In The Cards: Fitz Owns Philly (Week 15)

Welcome to a new edition of All In The Cards! This week the Arizona Cardinals play yet another primetime game, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles. This week I’m going to go over why the “City of Brotherly Love” doesn’t love Larry Fitzgerald. 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 take a closer look at how Larry Fitzgerald has become a nightmare for all Eagles’ fans:

Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles

Last Meeting: W 24-20 vs. Philadelphia (10/26/14)

For one reason or another, sometimes a player just performs very well against a specific team. There are many terms for this phenomenon, with the most common term being that “a player owns another team”. Well there’s no denying that Larry Fitzgerald “owns” the Philadelphia Eagles. Just look at the game logs from his seven career games against them:

  • 2005: 5 receptions, 93 receiving yards, touchdown (W 27-21)
  • 2008 (regular season): 5 receptions, 65 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns (L 48-20)
  • 2008 (postseason): 9 receptions, 152 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns (W 32-25)
  • 2011: 7 receptions, 146 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns (W 21-17)
  • 2012: 9 receptions, 114 receiving yards, touchdown (W 27-6)
  • 2013: 5 receptions, 72 receiving yards, touchdown (L 24-21)
  • 2014: 7 receptions, 160 receiving yards, touchdown (W 24-20)

Add up all seven games and it gives you these totals: 47 receptions, 802 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns. His 114.6 receiving yards per game against the Eagles are the second most he has against any team (trailing only the 115.3 receiving yards per game he averages against the Chicago Bears). His 11 touchdowns against the Eagles is the third most he has against any team, with the top two being against division rivals that he faces twice a year (16 vs. St. Louis and 14 vs. San Francisco).

The weirdest thing about this matchup is how reliably well Fitzgerald performs against the Eagles regardless of how he’s doing that particular season. In both 2012 and 2014, seasons where Fitzgerald failed to gain 800 receiving yards on the season or grab at least five touchdowns, he still had over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown against Philadelphia, with both games marking his single-game high for yards that season.

The best reason I can come up with for how Fitzgerald always seems to shine against the Eagles is because playing Philadelphia gives him extraordinary confidence. That confidence comes from the fact that Philadelphia was the opponent Fitzgerald faced in what is currently his biggest win of his career: the 2008 NFC Championship game. During the first half of that game, Fitz not only had his best half of his career, but possibly the greatest single half by a receiver in NFL history: 6 receptions for 113 yards and three touchdowns. That scoring outburst gave Arizona enough of a cushion to withstand the Eagles’ inevitable second-half comeback. With 10:39 left in the fourth quarter and down 25-24, Fitzgerald recorded all three of his second half receptions on Arizona’s 14-play touchdown drive that gave the Cardinals the lead for good with 2:53 remaining and punched the team’s first ticket to the Super Bowl.

You can now see why I’m so confident in the Cardinals winning this game. With one win away from clinching the team’s first NFC West title since the Kurt Warner-era, Fitzgerald (one of only three Cardinals left from that NFC Championship team) is facing the team that has brought him nothing but good fortune. I know the Eagles have played better as of late, but this game just seems destined to go Arizona’s way.

Prediction: Arizona 35, Philadelphia 17

How I Did With My Week 14 NFL Predictions:

  • St. Louis 31, Tampa Bay 23: (0-1)
  • New York Jets 27, Dallas 17
  • Jacksonville 31, Atlanta 17
  • Washington 24, Buffalo 20
  • Minnesota 23, Chicago 19
  • New England 38, Tennessee 13
  • Houston 27, Indianapolis 24
  • Kansas City 30, Baltimore 16
  • Carolina 31, New York Giants 30
  • Seattle 34, Cleveland 10
  • Oakland 28, Green Bay 24
  • Cincinnati 19, San Francisco 16
  • Pittsburgh 31, Denver 17
  • Miami 16, San Diego 13
  • New Orleans 37, Detroit 34

Week 14 Record: 9-7
Week 15 Record: 0-1
Season Record: 127-82 (.608)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

 

 

All In The Cards: Week 14 Recap

Welcome to the Week 14 NFL Recap! So many things happened this past week that I could a couple of paragraphs about each game. However, at this point of the season each team and each game isn’t created equally so for this week I am going to give my in-depth opinion on what I believe are the eight biggest storylines instead. 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 take a look at what happened this past week:

How I Did With My Week 14 NFL Predications:

  • Arizona 23, Minnesota 20: (1-0)
  • Carolina 38, Atlanta 0: (2-0)
  • Philadelphia 23, Buffalo: (2-1)
  • Washington 24, Chicago 21: (2-2)
  • Pittsburgh 33, Cincinnati 20: (3-2)
  • Cleveland 24, San Francisco 10: (3-3)
  • Louis 21, Detroit 14: (3-4)
  • New York Jets 30, Tennessee 8: (4-4)
  • Jacksonville 51, Indianapolis 16: (4-5)
  • Kansas City 10, San Diego 3 (5-5)
  • New Orleans 24, Tampa Bay 17: (5-6)
  • Seattle 35, Baltimore 6: (6-6)
  • Oakland 15, Denver 12: (6-7)
  • Green Bay 28, Dallas 7: (7-7)
  • New England 27, Houston 6: (8-7)
  • New York Giants 31, Miami 24: (9-7)

Week 14 Record: 9-7
Season Record: 127-81 (.611)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

8 Biggest Storylines After Week 14:

  1. 2015 Bengals = 2014 Cardinals: I’ve mentioned a few times over the past couple of weeks that I actually felt bad for the New England Patriots because I believe no team should ever have to suffer what happened to the Arizona Cardinals last year in terms of sustaining so many key injuries. Unfortunately the Cincinnati Bengals are now living the 2014 Cardinals’ nightmare with the recent injury to Andy Dalton. The parallels are uncanny: both were teams who were good the year before but seemed to take it to another level and suddenly found themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL, yet everyone doubted that the teams were as good as their record stated. Both teams used the doubt to fuel their motivation only to lose their quarterback who was in the midst of having a career year. Both teams were loaded at every other position so the idea of the team still succeeding with a backup quarterback was plausible enough that the team and their fans still held out hope. Well we know how it played out in Arizona, and the same ending looks to be coming Cincinnati’s way. While there is still a chance Dalton could return for the playoffs, there’s no guarantee he plays at the same level he did earlier in the season. I hope I’m wrong as I don’t want any team to go through that kind of heartbreak, but I’ve seen this movie.
  2. Peyton Manning Vs. Brock Osweiler Is Becoming A Lose-Lose Situation: I’ve seen enough of Brock Osweiler to make this statement: it doesn’t matter who Denver starts at quarterback during the playoffs as the Broncos will only go as far as the defense can drag them. While Osweiler did lead an offense that scored 30 points in a win over the Patriots, the Broncos have only managed a total of 29 points the past two weeks against two defenses (Chargers and Raiders) that each average 25 points allowed per game. Of course, Manning has been a turnover machine as he still leads the NFL in interceptions (17) by three despite not playing the last three games. However, the biggest reason the Broncos can’t win in this situation is the fact that they have to commit to one quarterback. Regardless of whom the Broncos chose, unless they win the Super Bowl they will be criticized for choosing the wrong quarterback when their season ends.
  3. The Panthers Deserve More Respect: I’ve always been a fan of the underdog or the team that doesn’t get the respect it deserves (how do you think I became an Arizona Cardinals fan?). So while I do think the Cardinals have good shot at making the Super Bowl, neither they nor the “red-hot” Seahawks should be favorited over the Panthers in the NFC. I can’t remember a team getting less credit for being undefeated as these Panthers. What does this team need to do to prove to the public that its a dangerous football team? Worries of this team not having enough offensive firepower should have been quelled weeks ago when this team started rolling off 30-point games. Also, let’s not forget that the offense has proven they can win games when the defense is having an off day (Remember when the Saints posted 38 points?). The remarks about an easy schedule are a little overexaggerated considering that by the end of the season the Panthers could hold wins over three division champions (the AFC South champ, the NFC North champ if it’s Green Bay, and the NFC East champ unless they lose to New York and the Giants win that division) as well as a huge comeback win in Seattle.
  4. Undefeated Or Not, Cam Newton Should Be The Favorite For MVP: I also feel that Cam Newton isn’t getting the respect he deserves, with most people saying Newton is only the favorite because you need to give MVP to the quarterback of an undefeated team. While I admit that quite a bit of his campaign is based on leading an undefeated team, people are acting like he’s just the game-manager of a juggernaut. His passing yards may not be on par with Tom Brady and Carson Palmer, but Newton has thrown 28 touchdowns this season without playing a single down with his best wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Newton has also rushed for 480 yards and has scored seven rushing touchdowns, which means he’s in the top ten of both passing touchdowns (tied for fourth) and rushing touchdowns (tied for sixth). There’s also the huge strides he has made as a pocket passer and the fact he has conducted quite a few game-winning drives. He basically is the Panthers offense, which makes him sounds very valuable to me.
  5. The Cardinals DO Have Weaknesses, But They Aren’t Fatal: These Arizona Cardinals are a great team. I fully believe this team has what it takes to win Super Bowl 50. However, the idea that this team doesn’t have any weaknesses is a little overblown. Anyone who watched the Cardinals “closer-than-it-should-have-been” win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night could point out the key areas where the Cardinals could cost themselves in the playoffs. On offense this group can score from anywhere on the field but weirdly enough has a tendency to stall when they get in the redzone, trading touchdowns for field goals more often than you’d expect from the number one offense. On defense the Cardinals’ defensive line specializes more in run-stopping, which means that they rely on blitzes to create an effective pass rush. This type of play style has led to a lot of forced turnovers but has also left the defense vulnerable to certain plays such as the screen pass or slant routes over the middle in areas where the blitzers would usually cover. Any combination of those weaknesses will likely be the reason if the Cardinals don’t win the Super Bowl but the Cards have proven they can win even with these disadvantages. It will take fantastic execution of a fantastic gameplan to beat Arizona, but even then the Cardinals have shown that these weaknesses aren’t 100% fatal.
  6. The NFC East Is More Inconsistent Than Terrible: With two divisions likely to produce champions without winning records, it makes sense that we would compare the AFC South and the NFC East and discuss which division is worse. My take is not only is the AFC South worse, but the NFC East isn’t terrible but instead just fields four very inconsistent teams. The Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys have plausible reasons behind their inconsistencies: the Redskins play 10x better at home than they do on the road and the Cowboys have been good with Tony Romo and bad without him. However, I wish the best of luck to anyone brave enough to find the reasons behind the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles’ inconsistencies. The Giants treat each fourth quarter like a mad lib, making sure something unique and weird happens every single game, while the Eagles produce three-week spans where they give up 45 points each to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions only to find themselves up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Patriots in New England the following week. With how unpredictable this division is I wouldn’t get too comfortable if I was the fifth seed in the NFC.
  7. Seattle’s Offense Is Great But Its Defense Is Not As Good As You Think: I do believe that the Seahawks are one of the favorites in the NFC and they have a realistic chance to make their third straight Super Bowl. However, these aren’t the same Seahawks of the past two years. They may have the same players but this is a team that will go as far as Russell Wilson’s career-best run will lead them. It’s understandable to think the Legion Of Boom is back to playing like their old self again, as they rank sixth in passing yards allowed per game (225) but let’s take a closer look at the quarterbacks they have faced and how many yards they threw during those games. In order, the quarterbacks the Seahawks faced were Nick Foles (297), Aaron Rodgers (249), Jimmy Clausen (63), Matthew Stafford (203), Andy Dalton (331), Cam Newton (269), Colin Kaepernick (124), Matt Cassel (97), Carson Palmer (363), Blaine Gabbert (264), Ben Roethlisberger (456), Teddy Bridgewater (118), and Jimmy Clausen Act 2 (274). That equals out to allowing 199.9 passing yards in their eight wins and allowing 301.8 passing yards in their five losses. That’s right: when teams have beaten the Seahawks this season they’ve done it by throwing on their defense. The argument that they are playing better during their four-game winning streak isn’t true either. Sure they basically shoved Bridgewater into a locker, but that doesn’t counteract the fact they gave up 250+ passing yards to Gabbert and Clausen and gave up 456 yards to Roethlisberger, who didn’t even play the whole game. The Seahawks are talented enough to win in the postseason but they’ll likely have to win shootouts.
  8. Jacksonville’s Missed Opportunity: Nobody batted an eye when the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans in back-to-back weeks. I bet even Jaguars’ fans said something along the lines of “oh well I guess we are out of the race for the AFC South title. Didn’t really matter as there’s no way we were going to catch up with the Colts and the Texans anyway.” Now as week 15 rolls around, the Jaguars are retroactively grieving those two losses as just one win against those two terrible teams would have Jacksonville tied for the division lead and a win over both of them would have given the Jaguars a one-game division lead with three weeks to go. Take one look at both the Colts and the Texans and what you see are two teams that are battling for the chance to get utterly destroyed by Kansas City, Pittsburgh or the New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs. While the Jaguars probably wouldn’t win that game either, there’s no doubt that the game would at least be more enjoyable with Blake Bortles flinging the ball around to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.

All In The Cards: Thursday Night Football Edition (Week 13 Recap and Week 14 Preview)

Because the Arizona Cardinals are playing on Thursday night I decided to yet again combine the previous week’s recap this this week’s preview. This week the Cardinals will be hosting a Minnesota Vikings team that was just destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks and is looking to bounce back in a huge way. 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 this week’s matchup, let me make a couple of comments about last week’s games:

How I Did With My Week 13 NFL predictions:

  • Arizona 27, St. Louis 3 – (1-0)
  • Green Bay 27, Detroit 23 – (2-0)
  • Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 19 – (3-0)
  • Buffalo 30, Houston 21 – (3-1)
  • San Francisco 26, Chicago 20 – (3-2)
  • Cincinnati 37, Cleveland 3 – (4-2)
  • Tennessee 42, Jacksonville 39 – (4-3)
  • Miami 15, Baltimore 13 – (4-4)
  • Seattle 38, Minnesota 7 – (4-5)
  • New York Jets 23, New York Giants 20 – (4-6)
  • Denver 17, San Diego 3 – (5-6)
  • Kansas City 34, Oakland 20 – (6-6)
  • Philadelphia 35, New England 28 – (6-7)
  • Carolina 41, New Orleans 38 – (7-7)
  • Pittsburgh 45, Indianapolis 10 – (8-7)
  • Dallas 19, Washington 16 – (8-8)

Week 13 Observations:

  • I understand that referees don’t want to get in the way of the final play of the game and thus let the players play in those situations, but if you just called a facemask penalty on the Detroit Lions that extended the game to an untimed down, you should stay consistent and call the holding and block in the back penalties on the Green Bay Packers offensive line during the “hail mary” throw. Maybe they were ticky-tacky calls but so was the facemask call.
  • Was it a fluky win that required everything to go right? Yes but I still give a lot of credit to the Philadelphia Eagles after a two-week span that looked like they had given up. Also, I can’t help but feel that what happened to Arizona last season is happening to New England this season. Patriots fans are literally putting all of their faith on players returning for the playoffs. News flash: it may take awhile for those players to get re-acclimated so even if they do come back they won’t be like their old-selves.
  • It’s weird how the media defines a team as “hot”. Two teams that are considered the hottest teams are the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks. The reason they are considered hot is because they are on long winning streaks, with Seattle winning three in a row and Kansas City winning six in a row. However, by that definition the Arizona Cardinals, winners of six in a row, should also be considered a hot team and the Carolina Panthers, who have won 12 in a row, should be considered the hottest team. Maybe a “hot” team is a designation for a good team playing great lately while the Cardinals and Panthers are great teams who have just won a bunch in a row? I don’t know the answer but that’s just my best assumption.
  • We have put up with division-winners making the playoffs despite not having winning records because the argument has been that it doesn’t happen very often. Well it’s going to happen for the fourth time in the last six seasons (2010 Seahawks, 2011 Broncos, 2014 Panthers, and the 2015 NFC East Winner as well as possibly the 2015 AFC South Winner). That list doesn’t even include the 2013 Packers who won their division at 8-7-1. This seems more like a problem than a coincidence and should be looked at by the NFL during this offseason.

Minnesota Vikings @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: L 21-14 @ Minnesota (10/21/12)

Due to the fact that the Minnesota Vikings were just obliterated by the Seattle Seahawks, there are mixed opinions on how that will affect the team when the Arizona Cardinals host them Thursday night.

One side of the argument is that the Vikings will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and will throw everything they have at the Cardinals to prove that they really are contenders this season. Crazy things always tend to happen on Thursday night (see the Hail Mary in Detroit last week) so this may be an instance where the Vikings just want this one more and so they will pull out the win.

The other side of that argument is that the Vikings were exposed against the Seahawks as a “good but not great” team that benefited from an easy schedule and can be easily shut down if you can contain Adrian Peterson and force Teddy Bridgewater to throw. The Cardinals will see that the Seahawks are rounding into playoff form and will want to clinch the division as soon as possible to prevent Seattle from making a last-second push. With the wounds of Sunday’s game still fresh, the Vikings will fall behind early against the Cardinals and will give up, clinching Arizona its second straight playoff berth.

As you might expect from me, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I do think this is a “kitchen sink” game for the Vikings as they have a lot to prove after being blown out their last two home games. Cardinals fans know how the Vikings feel as Arizona has been in this position before,  trying to recover from a Seattle beatdown. That being said, Cardinals fans also know how a huge loss like the one Minnesota had last week can affect a team. The Vikings will give it their all but if at any point during the game the Cardinals have a two-score lead, the Vikings will start to panic and things will fall apart again for Minnesota. As long as Arizona gets off to a quick start they should win this one, but the longer they let Minnesota hang around the better chance the Vikings have of pulling off the upset.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Minnesota 20

My Week 14 NFL Predictions:

  • Carolina 27, Atlanta 16
  • Buffalo 30, Philadelphia 27
  • Chicago 23, Washington 17
  • Pittsburgh 35, Cincinnati 31
  • San Francisco 20, Cleveland 6
  • Detroit 28, St. Louis 10
  • New York Jets 27, Tennessee 24
  • Indianapolis 29, Jacksonville 26
  • Kansas City 38, San Diego 14
  • Tampa Bay 31, New Orleans 24
  • Seattle 28, Baltimore 17
  • Denver 24, Oakland 20
  • Green Bay 23, Dallas 18
  • New England 28, Houston 23
  • New York Giants 24, Miami 17

Week 13 Record: 8-8
Season Record: 118-74 (.615)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2