The Cardinals had been sitting pretty as the potential No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs for most of the season. But after being shocked in an upset road loss to the NFC-worst Lions, they suddenly may need to settle for a wild-card berth.
Arizona would have clinched at least a playoff spot with a win over Detroit. Instead, the NFC West leaders fell to 10-4 with their second consecutive loss. Overall, the Cardinals have gone 3-4 in their past seven games.
Here’s how the latest disappointing defeat impacts the Cardinals and the rest of the NFC contenders:
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The Cardinals started the day as the No. 3 seed behind the Packers (10-3) and Buccaneers (10-3). With the Cowboys (10-4) beating the Giants, the Cardinals fall to No. 4, as Dallas (8-1) has a much stronger conference record than Arizona (6-4) to hold the tiebreaker.
The Packers (with a win while favored over the Ravens) and the Buccaneers (with a win while favored over the Saints) can each go up a full game on the Cardinals with three games left to play. Arizona now has a slim chance of getting a top-two seed, let alone No. 1 and sole home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
The Cardinals now need to worry more about staying in the first place in the NFC West. Should the Rams, who beat them last week, defeat the Seahawks on Tuesday’s Week 15 game, they would pull even with a 10-4 record.
But the Cardinals cannot fall below No. 4 going into Week 16. In a tie with the Rams, they would still hold the division-record edge, 4-1 vs. 3-2. They would have their work cut out, however, to finish ahead of the Rams after the final three games. The 49ers, with a win over the Falcons, can only move within two games of the Cardinals, and should be considered out of the NFC West race as a potential wild-card team in first place.
The Cardinals’ remaining schedule is tough, with the Colts (8-6) at home next in Week 16 and a trip to the Cowboys in Week 17. That means they are looking at finishing anywhere between the No. 3 seed and No. 5 seed.
The good news is, Arizona will still end its five-season playoff drought in the NFC. Unfortunately, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals will now need to do it as a lower seed in the playoffs instead from the driver’s seat.