By Kevin McGuire
The Arizona Cardinals may be in the NFC playoffs, but they limped across the finish line of the regular season. The Cardinals now take to the road to visit the Carolina Panthers for the NFC Wild Card. The odds are stacked against the Cardinals to go very deep in the postseason this year, but all that matters this week is getting out of North Carolina with a win.
The biggest question facing the Cardinals this week is who will be playing quarterback. With Carson Palmer on the shelf due to a torn ACL injury suffered earlier this season, Arizona will monitor the status of Drew Stanton in practice this week. Stanton will have to get through at least one practice without any problems, according to head coach Bruce Arians, in order to lead the offense against the Panthers on Saturday. The backup quarterback injured his right knee in a game against the St. Louis Rams and has not been able to take the field since. This left Arizona to move forward with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley. Lindley was unable to lead the Cardinals to a win in either of the last two games of the season against the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers, so the confidence level may not be very high if he has to take the field on Saturday against Carolina.
Whoever is leading the offense on Saturday, Arians is hoping the defense puts the offense in a good position on the field.
“You can’t turn it over,” Arians said, per AZCardinals.com. “(And) we need some short fields to score more points.”
Regardless of the situation under center, Arizona will hope to make plays elsewhere to get a win. For Arizona, that all starts on defense.
Arizona has been strong on defense for much of the season, but opponents found some success on the ground running the football against the Cardinals later in the season. Arizona will focus on preventing Panthers quarterback Cam Newton from beating them with his feet and forcing him to make throws to beat them. If Arizona can force Newton to take to the air, it will be up to the Arizona secondary to make some plays, and maybe force a turnover or two. Tyrann Mathieu has suggested the defense needs to play with a little more of an edge to regain some swagger back, and he could be just the player to give that spark and emotional edge if he can come up with a big turnover. Regardless of turnovers, Arizona simply needs to clean up the defensive basics, like tackling, because that has been lacking in recent weeks as well.
Does Arizona have enough in the tank to make a deep run and play in its second Super Bowl in franchise history? It looks sketchy at best, but this is why you play the games. Arizona has a tough road to travel to get to the Super Bowl, but it is pointless to worry about that for now. For now, it is all about beating Carolina.
For more Cardinals news and updates, visit Cardinals Central.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.