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The Arizona Cardinals’ long dream of a season continues, win piled upon win, and so far, at 13-2, this has been the finest year in franchise history. The dream rose out of a reverie fueled by last year’s stunted success—and the hope that this season, health and good fortune would merge with talent and hard work to elevate this team to elite status. And so it has.
Dutch children leave hay and a carrot in their shoes for Sinterklaas and his horse this time of year, which are replaced by a gift, often a marzipan figurine. On New Year’s Eve their parents make great bonfires in the streets out of Christmas trees, which helps purge the old and greet the new.
The new year in the Valley of the Sun is flecked with children draped in red, pint-sized jerseys emblazoned with names like Palmer, Fitzgerald and Peterson, courtesy of Santa. Long-suffering parents are now raising youngsters who believe Arizona victories are simply part of the natural order of things.
It’s a conundrum of quantum physics that the very act of closely observing something can change the behavior of the subject. Still, one is compelled to ask: How did the Cardinals get here? Nine straight wins—five on the road—in a sprint to the playoffs that began with an October 26 win over visiting Baltimore. In a 40-16 win over Philadelphia Dec. 20, star safety and inspirational leader Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending knee injury following an interception. The defense responded by sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times last week and returning two of his fumbles for touchdowns in a 38-8 blowout. “You want to play your best ball at the end of the season,” Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell said, “and I think this is the best game we’ve played.”
Arizona clinched a first round playoff bye with the win, and a home victory against Seattle today combined with a Carolina loss to Atlanta will give the Cardinals home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Tesla v. Edison, Mozart v. Salieri, Burr v. Hamilton—rivalries are born from the clash of two forces of abounding talent and ambition struggling to gain the same bit of ground. The scuffle between Arizona and Seattle for NFC West supremacy has risen only in the last few seasons but it figures to have staying power and it packs an NFL-sized punch. Coach Pete Carroll’s Seahawks reached the Super Bowl the last two years, and they won a ring with a 43-8 thumping of Denver in 2013. Now Arizona coach Bruce Arians wants to take that stage and bring home the prize, which he has voiced since training camp. And Arians is not one to make his feelings known in haiku form.
The Cardinals journeyed north to drop 39 points on Seattle in a Nov. 15 victory, and would like nothing better than to sweep the season series today. Pride and a clearer path to the playoff finish line are at stake. The Seahawks have surged in recent weeks, winning five of six to reserve their place at the playoff table. They will take to the road whether they win or lose today. Job one for Arizona? Slow down QB Russell Wilson, who has thrown for a scorching 21 TDs and only one interception since the Cards’ week 10 victory over Seattle.
The venerable Cardinals franchise has already begun updating its record book, and by the end of the day a few more entries may well be in order:
– QB Carson Palmer needs 73 yards to set the all-time single season passing yards mark.
– Larry Fitzgerald’s next catch will give him the single season receiving record at 104.
– Kicker Chandler Catanzaro will establish the franchise’s single season high for points if he scores four or more.
And for good measure, a victory over Seattle today will tie the 10-game winning streak of the 1948 Chicago Cardinals.
Coach Arians says he’s playing the starters today. He’s not one to ease off the throttle, as is often the case when the playoffs are imminent for teams that have already clinched. Certainly not with newly-minted rival Seattle in the building. Between calling plays and working the officials, expect a few flinty stares across the pitch between the head coaches.
The NFL has provided its share of coaching rivalries over the years. Think Lombardi v. Landry, Noll v. Shula and Madden v. Stram.
Arians v. Carroll? Believe it.
– Eric Forgaard
This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.