Last year it was the Indianapolis Colts that surprised a lot of people by making the playoffs. After drafting Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick, the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5 and a wild card spot in the AFC in just one season. Could the Arizona Cardinals be the team that completes a miracle playoff berth in 2013?
It's certainly starting to look that way.
The Cardinals were 5-11 a year ago and that was after a 4-0 start. They have won 10 games in a season just once since 1976 but now in the middle of a three-game winning streak and currently sitting at 6-4, they're a lot closer to 10 wins than most people expected. By featuring perhaps the best defense in the NFL and getting adequate play at the quarterback position, Arizona is finally starting to pop up on the national radar for football fans.
But to keep their hot streak alive they are going to need to beat Luck and the Colts in Week 12. Can they do it?
Meet the Cardinals
Arizona hasn't posted a winning season since 2009, their last with Kurt Warner. The team fired head coach Ken Whisenhunt after six seasons and replaced him with Bruce Arians, a name very familiar to Colts fans.
When current Indy head coach Chuck Pagano had to miss part of the 2012 season due to cancer treatment, Arians took over on an interim basis and was a big part of their success last year. Now he's going to have to beat his former team in order to enjoy the same success with the Cardinals. If he's going to do that, he's going to need to see another great performance out of his defense.
Though Arizona is only ranked ninth in yards allowed, they are fourth in turnovers forced and second in yards-per-carry allowed. Opposing teams are throwing for over 266 yards per game against the Cards, but posting a passer rating of only 79.5. That's worse than even current Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, who has a passer rating of 79.7 in his first season with the Cardinals.
Meet the Colts
Pagano and Arians helped lead Indianapolis to 11 wins last year, but can Pagano do better than that this year? The Colts are currently 7-3 and Pagano would certainly like to win a playoff game this year after getting beaten rather easily by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 playoffs.
If the playoffs started today, Indy would be the number two seed and get a bye for the first week of the playoffs, but like Arizona, can hardly afford to lose. The New England Patriots are also 7-3 and the Cincinnati Bengals are right there at 7-4.
While the Cardinals are one of the best in the NFL in forcing turnovers, Luck and the Colts have coughed the ball up the second fewest times in the league. Something will have to give on Sunday.
Local Takes: Arizona Cardinals
Seth Cox from Revenge of the Birds breaks down what the Cardinals need to do to make the playoffs this year. What's a better explanation than "Just win, baby"?:
After the Panthers squeaked by the Patriots last night all we heard was about Carolina's current win streak, not that their last loss came at the hands of the Cardinals in a 22-6 beatdown. That's why the Cardinals have to continue to "just win" because winning ignites a passion within a town, a state, or a dormant fan base like the one "cheering" for the Cardinals week to week. Don't wait for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, or even the local outlets to tell you that this team is good, because if you wait too long you may miss the journey that takes place in discovering just how good this team can be.
Local Takes: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts acquired running back Trent Richardson earlier this year, but he has averaged only 2.8 yards per carry with Indianapolis. Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue commented on Richardson's statement that he's playing well, and noted the positive and negative of that assertion:
While I don't agree at all with his statement that he has been playing good football, I am glad that he hasn't lost confidence. As long as this doesn't keep him from working hard to improve, I'm happy he feels that way. I just hope that soon he begins to show us why we should also feel good about him.
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The Colts are perhaps the most inconsistent team in the league in terms of wins and losses. Despite beating the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos, they have also lost to the Dolphins, Chargers, and got blown out by the Rams. They are 4-0 when they don't turn the ball over, but 3-3 when they do.
That could be a mark extremely in favor of Arizona, a team that has forced at least one turnover in every game this season. They are 3-0 when they win the turnover battle, including being the last team to beat the Carolina Panthers.
With a 4-1 record at home, Arizona has more to play for this week than they've had in quite some time. They should be able to pull it off, as long as they can force a mistake or two from the Colts.
Cardinals 24, Colts 20
The Cardinals opened as 2.5-point favorites, but are now just 1-point favorites according to OddsShark.com.
The Cardinals travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles on Sunday, Dec.1, at 1 p.m. ET.
The Colts head back home to take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 1 p.m. ET.