It’s counterintuitive, but the Arizona Cardinals may see a golden opportunity if they don’t win the NFC West.
Not that they shouldn’t win the West. The Arizona Cardinals must treat their remaining games like playoff games and it’d be great to see the team end the regular season with an NFC West Championship plus a home game in the first round of the 2020 playoffs.
But if the Cardinals don’t win the NFC West, ideally if they finish second in the division and earn the fifth seed, then comes their golden opportunity. The reason? They will play the NFC East Champion barring some unforeseen sequence of events that isn’t likely to happen.
The two most likely candidates the team with the fifth seed will play are either the Washington Football Team or the Philadelphia Eagles unless the Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants embark on a late-season run. So whoever snatches the fifth seed, most likely an NFC West team, receives a favorable matchup in the playoffs.
But even with such a favorable matchup, this isn’t always a guaranteed win. In fact, it rarely is.
Let’s go back to 2010, when the 7-9 Seahawks upset the fifth-seeded New Orleans Saints. Just one year later, the 8-8 Denver Broncos knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers in a thriller. And Cardinals fans should recall the 2014 season when the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers upset the Red Birds in the wildcard round.
History throughout the last decade definitely tells us a different story. Especially when our own team is involved.
Now for the upside: At the time of this writing, the Cardinals sit at 2-0 against the NFC East, with matchups against the Eagles and Giants looming in December. In fact, the Cardinals have outscored their former division rivals 68-25, including a 38-10 thrashing over the Cowboys.
Given the weakness of the Eagles and Giants, the Cardinals could manhandle them, too, effectively sweeping the division in which they were once the weak link 90 percent of the time. So if the Cards win the NFC West, they’ll get their home game and a chance to play a lower seed. But if they can snatch the fifth seed, they have an opportunity to continue their revenge tour against the NFC East.