The race for the top spot and playoffs in the NFC has gotten quite chaotic.
The Arizona Cardinals shockingly dropped a game to a Detroit Lions team that had only won one game prior to Sunday, blowing the chase wide open. The Cardinals had been the NFL’s most dominant team and played quite convincingly after getting Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins back from injury, going 10-2 after their bye in Week 12.
Professional American football is pretty dynamic, as fans have come to learn. The Cards are again without Hopkins and will be for a while; they have since given up the top spot in the NFC via a home loss to the Los Angeles Rams. That was compounded by a surprising defeat to the previously 1-11-1 Lions.
While the Lions’ record doesn’t exactly do the team justice, losing to the 30-12 was nothing short of embarrassing for Arizona. And, looking back to that loss against the Rams, it would be fair to say that the Cards had the wool over our eyes for most of the season to date.
The NFL odds this week have tipped them to bounce back when they face the Indianapolis Colts on the weekend. Arizona has been given 5/6 odds for a victory while the Colts are 1/1.
The Cardinals are 7/1 to win the NFC, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the favorites to win at 13/5. The Bucs suffered a shutout 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The Green Bay Packers are 5/2 as the second favorites while the Rams and Dallas Cowboys are 5/1 and 6/1 respectively.
Arizona’s inexperience has certainly contributed to their late-season struggles. That they have been made to take to the field without Hopkins obviously hasn’t been helpful but Murray has been horrible over the last two games. Surely, the quarterback, as well as head coach Kliff Kingsbury, should have been able to avoid losing to the Lions in such a manner.
“Obviously pissed to come out, play like that. That’s not who we want to be or what we want to be. But I’ve got to tip my hat to Detroit. I thought they had a tremendous plan. They out-coached us and out-played us. We got to be better,” the coach said after the loss.
The Cardinals have scored just two touchdowns on their last eight red-zone arrivals and Murray has just the one passing TD in the last two games. He hasn’t scored any rushing TDs while also throwing three interceptions. The 24-year-old has suffered six sacks during said period and has simply missed a number of passes he should have made easily.
Murray was seemingly hesitant to attempt runs past the line of scrimmage as he’s known to do but, then again, he isn’t back to 100 percent.
Saying it was a really awful day for Arizona would be an understatement, especially when one takes the fact that the margin was the largest Detroit has won by since 2017 into consideration. Arizona’s once-formidable defense has allowed 30 or more points for the second time in a row and the third time in their last five games. Jared Goff could hardly do wrong on Sunday, while Craig Reynolds rushed for over 100 yards.
There’s really nothing the Cardinals are getting right at this moment but the slump should come as little surprise to fans. After all, they’ve proven to be untrustworthy, going 6-3 last season before losing five of their last seven games.
Murray, however, refuses to accept the comparisons.
“Not at all,” the QB said via Cardinals journalist Darren Urban. “Not at all. We’re still 10-4, still in first place. This is nowhere near where we were last year, and we’re not going to allow it to be.”
As mentioned above, they’re now set to play a Colts team that has lost just one game in regulation since Week 3. While they are the favorites, the odds are tight.
They’re also going to play the Cowboys, who lead the NFC East, as well as the Seattle Seahawks, who have been on the up lately and could be particularly aggressive in Week 18.
The Cardinals’ losses have opened the door for the Packers and Bucs to climb to the top of the NFC. The defending champions made it to the Super Bowl on the road last season so it’s safe to assume they’ll have an easier time with home-field advantage. They have an unblemished record at home this year, with the Packers boasting the same.
The Cards do have the ability to make an impact in the playoffs but they can’t afford to get any more wrong given that the game’s two best quarterbacks are now well in the mix. They also have problems in their own division. Should the Rams beat the Seahawks on Tuesday night, it would leave them tied at the top of the NFC West. It’s worth noting that Los Angeles has the better run of games to end the season.