The Cardinals can still make the playoffs — if 18 games go their way

It doesn’t really feel fair that the Arizona Cardinals are so close to joining the Bengals, Falcons, and Lions in the ranks of the officially eliminated.

The 3-7-1 Cardinals have a better record than a handful of teams, and were competitive in tough matchups, including one-score losses to the Ravens and 49ers. Kyler Murray is quietly putting together a fantastic rookie season and the future looks bright in the desert.

Yet, both 2-9 Giants and 2-9 Washington have a better shot at the playoffs than Arizona, as do the suddenly surging 4-7 Jets.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their chances are toast because they’re in the NFC West. Even if Arizona wins out to get to 8-7-1, that’s not enough to catch the 49ers, who are 10-1. Eight wins for the Cardinals also won’t be enough for the wild card with the Vikings and Packers at eight wins each, and the 9-2 Seahawks already out of reach.

Minnesota and Green Bay are vying for the NFC North title, and there’s a race between Seattle and San Francisco for the NFC West. Once those four teams officially can’t be caught by Arizona — something the 49ers and Seahawks already secured — the Cardinals won’t be able to get a wild card berth.

All that’s left is to hope either the Vikings or the Packers lose out, and the Cardinals pick one off. They’d also need middling teams in the NFC to not seize the opportunity to scoop up a spot in the postseason.

It’d take a miracle for Arizona to get in, but it’s a scenario we’re happy to dream up.

The 18-step formula for a Cardinals postseason berth

Minnesota or Green Bay need to lose out to get the Cardinals in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter which one, but a Week 16 meeting that’ll likely decide the NFC North means the two teams can’t both finish with eight losses.

The Packers have an easy schedule to finish the season, including games against the Giants and Washington in the next two weeks. So let’s imagine it’s the Vikings who bottom out instead. Minnesota ends the season with the Seahawks, Lions, Chargers, Packers, and Bears.

If that somehow happened and the Cardinals won five straight, Arizona would still need the Rams, Eagles, Bears, Panthers, and Buccaneers to slip up. That gives us an 18-game scenario that looks a little something like this:

  1. Week 13: Cardinals beat the Rams
  2. Week 13: Seahawks beat the Vikings
  3. Week 14: Cowboys beat the Bears
  4. Week 14: Lions beat the Vikings
  5. Week 14: Cardinals beat the Steelers
  6. Week 14: Seahawks beat the Rams
  7. Week 14: Giants beat the Eagles
  8. Week 15: Seahawks beat the Panthers
  9. Week 15: Cardinals beat the Browns
  10. Week 15: Chargers beat the Vikings
  11. Week 16: Cardinals beat the Seahawks
  12. Week 16: Texans beat the Buccaneers
  13. Week 16: Cowboys beat the Eagles
  14. Week 16: Chiefs beat the Bears
  15. Week 16: Packers beat the Vikings
  16. Week 17: Bears beat the Vikings
  17. Week 17: Saints beat the Panthers
  18. Week 17: Cardinals beat the Rams

… and voilà! We get Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury making offensive magic in January.

There’s a little flexibility to the scenario. The Rams, Eagles, Bears, Panthers, and Buccaneers don’t have to lose those specific games. Those matchups just seemed like the most likely missteps for each.

The most important part is the Cardinals can’t lose another game and the Vikings (or maybe the Packers) can’t win at all. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you, Arizona.

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