With the NFL playoffs just over a month away the playoff picture is becoming clearer each week. The AFC has the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers who have separated themselves from the rest of the conference. Meanwhile, the tightly contested NFC has several teams that could make it to the Super Bowl.
Two teams looking to make a final playoff push are the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Football Team. Currently, the Football Team is atop the NFC East after their Thanksgiving win over the Dallas Cowboys. As for the Cardinals, they would be the final wild card team if the playoffs started today.
Although, both teams could make the playoffs this year they’d be considered dark horses to make it to the Super Bowl.
For Washington its because despite being a division leader they’re only 4-7. Arizona however is 6-4, but they’re very inexperienced in terms of postseason play. The Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray have never played in playoff game.
Assuming both teams make the playoffs they’ll be expected to lose wild card weekend. However, here are some reasons why one of these teams could make a surprising playoff run to the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals have been a dark horse Super Bowl contender since the beginning of the season. After acquiring Deandre Hopkins in the offseason, Arizona was poised to be better in their second year under Murray and Kingsbury.
Arizona has proven themselves multiple times this season with some impressive wins versus the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. Yet, the Cardinals have some bad losses too, against the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers. The inconsistency is why the Cardinals aren’t considered a true title contenders.
One thing in the Cardinals favor is that their high powered offense will keep them close in any potential playoff game. Arizona has Murray who is playing at an MVP level. Hopkins is second in the NFL in receiving yards and proving again to be one of the best receivers in the league. Not to mention, the duo of Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds coming out of Arizona’s backfield.
The Cardinals have an offense that can truly do it all. With all this talent the Cardinals rank second in yards per game and eighth in points per game averaging 28.7. Arizona is well equipped to win a shootout in the playoffs if necessary.
On defense the Cardinals aren’t elite but have players who can take over the game. Budda Baker at safety is in contention for defensive player of the year. While rookie Isiah Simmons can make big plays, like when he had the game winning interception versus the Seahawks in Week 7.
Lastly, the Cardinals still have a chance to win the loaded NFC West. If Arizona can win the division they’ll have a home playoff game and possibly a first round bye to help propel them to a Super Bowl run.
Washington Football Team
Now, Washington is a true dark horse, as no team in the NFC East is seen as title contenders. Nonetheless, Washington has the makings of a Super Bowl roster.
First, Washington has an elite pass rush which would be a problem for any of the elite quarterbacks they’d face in the playoffs. Washington ranks second in total sacks behind the Steelers who are undefeated this season.
Unlike the Cardinals, Washington has postseason experience in both their head coach and quarterback. Head coach Ron Rivera led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015. Starting quarterback Alex Smith has played in seven playoff games including an NFC championship game.
The leadership of Smith and Rivera will ensure that Washington is well prepared for any playoff game no matter the magnitude of the game.
Washington’s only route to make the playoffs is by winning the NFC East. Therefore, do to the NFL’s playoff format they’ll host a home playoff game wild card weekend even if they have a worst record than their opponent. Home teams are 45-35 in wild card games since 2000.
A home playoff win could jumpstart a playoff run to the Super Bowl for a Washington team led by their elite defense and veteran experience.