The Arizona Cardinals could finish this season with their best 16-game record in franchise history and still not make the playoffs. How could you not be frustrated with that as a Cards fan? Well, at the very least, they will still know that Arizona is trending upwards and playing great football. At the most?
Maybe even playing deep into January. But first the Cardinals need to beat the Titans in Tennessee on Sunday.
Can Bruce Arians lead his team to its sixth win in seven games or is Mike Munchak going to keep his job alive for another week? Those are the two biggest questions as these two franchises look for another win with only three games left to go.
Meet the Titans
Arizona isn't the only team looking to keep its playoff hopes alive. Though the odds are slim, the Titans are two games back of the wild-card spot and could potentially make the playoffs if they win the rest of their games. That would put them at 8-8, but not only would they have to win out, they'd need some other teams to lose.
With reports that the team could be planning to fire Munchak, release Chris Johnson and prepare for life after quarterback Jake Locker, Tennessee just needs to win its remaining games to keep hope alive in the Music City and perhaps not worry about the playoffs at this point.
With Locker on injured reserve, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well but the Titans have still lost four of their last five games and squandered their best opportunity to make the AFC playoffs. On the bright side, cornerback Alterraun Verner and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey are playing at an All-Pro level, while wide receiver Kendall Wright is nearing 1,000 yards on the season.
Those players will almost certainly be on the team in 2014, but will Munchak be their coach?
Meet the Cardinals
There aren't any plausible scenarios in which Arians won't be the coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2014 after the job he's done in his first season with the team. Taking over for Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, Arians has been a part of his second straight impressive turnaround in a row. Last season he was the interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts for a stretch as they won nine more games than they did the year prior.
The Cards stand at 8-5 right now after finishing 5-11 in Whisenhunt's final year.
With the hiring of Arians plus the trade to acquire quarterback Carson Palmer, Arizona is competing for a playoff spot, but getting there won't be easy. Even if the Cardinals win their final three games, they'll still have to hope that either Carolina or San Francisco stumbles in the final three games.
If that happens, they'll make the playoffs for just the fifth time in the last 30 years.
Local Takes: Tennessee Titans
Josh Gunnels at Music City Miracles takes a look at whether or not fans should want the Titans to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler in the offseason:
Cutler would be returning to his college town if he came to Nashville, and many would be excited to have a hometown big name leading the Titans every Sunday. Cutler is not a bad quarterback by any means and is above average in my view, but by no means an elite quarterback. Not unlike Chris Johnson, he has a boom or bust playing style that is often dependent on Brandon Marshall and his big play ability down the field. He can make all the big throws but can hurt you just as big as well.
Local Takes: Arizona Cardinals
Seth Cox at Revenge of the Birds wonders whether or not the success of the 2013 season will be something to build on or just a missed opportunity if they don't make the playoffs, due to some important contract questions:
(Fitzgerald's) cap hit in 2014 is an insane $18 million, including $10 million in dead money the Cardinals can't get out of. In 2015 his cap number goes up to a staggering $21+ million and if the Cardinals decide to continue on with Carson Palmer as their signal caller the combination will be getting paid over $33 million between the two of them in 2015, or 1/4 of the salary cap on two players in their 30's.
This isn't to discourage, say things are going down in flames or even take away from this current year, this is asking the question: With all the good that has come from this season, with all the building the Cardinals have done, will 10-6 or 11-5 and no playoffs be the start of something wonderful, or was this season a missed opportunity with the unknowns lurking ahead?
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The Titans have a pair of players on defense who are playing at an elite level, but will that be enough to shut down a red-hot Palmer? The veteran QB has thrown 12 touchdowns over his last six games as he continues to develop chemistry with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Meanwhile, Arizona boasts one of the best defenses in the NFL and Tennessee's offense leaves you wanting more. Is home-field advantage enough to sway it in the Titans' favor? Probably not.
Cardinals 24, Titans 17
The Cardinals are 3-point favorites, according to OddsShark.com.