This was supposed to be the Arizona Cardinals year. But instead, they’re 4-6-1 and practically eliminated from playoff contention heading into Week 13.
This is the year that should have, and could have, been for the Arizona Cardinals. They established themselves as a threat in the NFC with a playoff run last season that ended just one game away from Super Bowl 50.
They followed that up with a horrible season in which they currently sit at 4-6-1, and are now practically eliminated from the playoffs. It was clear from the season’s infancy that the 2016 Cardinals were just a little… off.
So, without further ado, what if?
It’s Week 12, and the Cardinals are gearing up for a game at home against the 6-4-1 Washington Redskins. The Redskins are playing some good football as of late, despite a 31-26 Thanksgiving loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cardinals might have their hands full, but with they way they’re playing, who knows?
Bruce Arians and his Cardinals are living right, thanks to a win against the Atlanta Falcons that improved their record to 7-3-1. Regardless of a Week 1 loss to the New England Patriots, the Cardinals proved they were still for real with five straight victories. Sure, they played well during that streak, but it was also due to their cakewalk of a schedule. Three straight games against the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and New York Jets? Too easy.
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Their 6-6 overtime battle with the Seattle Seahawks was frustrating since it was a game they could have easily won. Secondly, they weren’t able to distance themselves from the 4-1 Seahawks in the NFC West. With the tie, the Cards moved to 5-1-1. But still, five wins in the first seven weeks? Not bad.
The week later they were edged by the Carolina Panthers, 30-20. The Cardinals just really struggle against Cam Newton’s Panthers; they’ve been eliminated by them in the playoffs the last two seasons. Anyways, heading into the bye-week with a 5-2-1 record isn’t too shabby.
Fresh off a week of rest, the Cardinals just managed to squeak by the 1-9 San Francisco 49ers with a 23-20 win. Hey, a win is a win and they’d gladly take it. But, man, can you imagine if they lost to the Niners? Sure, it was a close game, but the Cardinals aren’t anywhere near the team the Niners are. Their 6-2-1 record looked awfully good heading into their match-up in Minnesota against the Vikings.
The Vikings were in a slump, but immediately bust out of it with a 30-24 win over the Cardinals. Regardless of that loss, it still would have been hard to bet against these Cardinals. They really are a good team, and will surely show it when it matters come January.
The Atlanta Falcons were no match for the Cards. A Calais Campbell-led sack party shut down Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Campbell had three of Arizona’s six sacks. Patrick Peterson had a pick-six, and the Cardinals cruised to a 31-13 win.
They needed to win at least one game on that tough road trip to Minnesota and then Atlanta, and they did just that. Now as they host the Kirk Cousins’ Redskins in Week 13, they’ve established themselves as a threat in the NFC for the fourth-consecutive season.
Carson Palmer is building off a strong 2015 campaign, David Johnson is one of the best running backs in the league, and Larry Fitzgerald is like a fine wine; he’s just getting better with age. Not to mention, the defense has been phenomenal thanks to Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Bruce Arians has something special going on in the desert, and this team is a legit Super Bowl contender. It’s going to be fun to see how this one ends.
It’s fun to dream isn’t it? Instead, the Cardinals are two games under .500 with just five games left on the schedule. They’re not playing for anything meaningful at this point except a draft pick.
The 2016 Cardinals could have been, and should have been, something special. They should have been playing for meaningful football at this point. They should be duking it out with the Seahawks for the best team in the NFC South. They should have been on their way to a third-straight season in which they reach the playoffs.
The ceiling was so high, and expectations were sure to be exceeded. They could have been one of the best teams in all of football, not just the NFC.
But instead, we are left to ask ourselves, “What if?”