In a year where the NFC has been the dominant conference, the NFC West is still among the weaker divisions in the NFL with three of the teams jockeying to play second banana. The NFC West and AFC East aren't that entirely different in structure right now, each division has a powerhouse with a history of winning championships dominating while the rest fight for long shot wild card berths and draft picks.
In a larger statement about the AFC, the 2012-13 New York Jets have yet to be eliminated from the Playoff (Playoffs?!) hunt, with a 5th seed playoff berth still within reach. It will take some help, but if the Jets can't run the table on one of the softest remaining schedules in the league than they deserve to be in the post season even less than we think. There isn't a single team left on the Jets schedule even close to .500. This has the potential to be the very beginning of a historic and unexpected run, but I'm not exactly booking hotel rooms in New Orleans quite yet...
Where Each Team Is
The Arizona Cardinals and the NY Jets both sit at 4-7. Both teams have two QB's that are potential starters or team leaders. Both teams struggle with the QB they traded for being unable to usurp the struggling home grown talent. The Cardinals are deep in the throes (with sincere thanks to RotB user 'hadrarius' for the correction) of a serious losing streak, seven straight to be precise. Although the Jets losses are more widely spread out, the record remains the same between both the struggling franchises. Playoffs are deeply unlikely for the Jets and nearly impossible for the Cardinals at this rate as they would require more help in a stronger conference. These are two offensive disasters on similar courses and only one can come out of Sunday and still have a season to play for.
Sister Site: Revenge of the Birds
Location: Metlife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ.
Field: Open air, artificial turf.
Coverage: FOX. DirecTV 707. Sirius XM 94.
Weather: Partly Sunny. Temps in the mid to high 50's.
Record: All time series is 5-2 in favor of the Jets.
Who is favored?: Jets by 4.5.
What happened last time? Jets beat the Cardinals by a score more fit for Arena football, 56-35 in September 2008.
A quick aside, does anyone else remember the helmet to helmet hit from Eric Smith to Anquan Boldin after being pushed from behind by Kerry Rhodes (who would go on to become a Cardinal a short time later) with 27 seconds left in the game? The hit fractured Boldin's sinuses and would cause him to miss three weeks of action. It was one of the scariest football hits I've ever seen on live television and raises the debate about forcing the ball to receivers in a game where you're down by nearly 20 with a few seconds to go.
Offense: The Jets are 28th in overall offense, 22nd in points, 28th in passing and 15th in rushing. Arizona is 31st in yards, 31st in points, 24th in passing and 30th in rushing.
Defense: The Jets are 26th in points allowed, 19th in overall yards allowed, 7th against the pass, and 30th against the rush. Arizona is 11th in points allowed and 4th in passing yards allowed, 7th in total defense and 23rd against the run.
Attacking the Cardinals
By all measures this is an interesting matchup between two underperforming teams. The Jets are actually offensively superior to the Cardinals in almost every facet except a dangerously similar output in passing yards. On the flip side, the Cardinals are far and away defensively superior to the Jets in terms of yards and points allowed. The Jets are favored both by bookies and history. The best plan of attack is for the Jets to play tight defense against one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and simply limit the mistakes against a superior performing defense. If Rex and friends can keep the offense from "butt-fumbling" or other such embarrassments then the Jets D should contain the horrendous Cardinals O and make outpacing the NFC West team easy.
Arizona Cardinal to Watch: Ryan Lindley
It's as simple as this: The game rests of Lindley's shoulders. As bad as the Jets have been, they have outdone the Cardinals in almost every aspect of offensive performance this years sans one. First, Third, and Fourth down conversions as well as yardage output all handily favor the Jets. NY is averaging more yards with less plays.
Now consider that the Cardinals are on their third passer this year, and he is a rookie who is currently one of the worst passers in the NFL in terms of results. While his stats are unimpressive, a mid-50 completion percentage and 47 QBR, these are comparable to the passers he has been playing behind on the depth chart until this point. If Lindley can't pack some punch behind the Cardinals O and take it to an uncharacteristically low-ranked Jets defense, then the Jets will win the game of inches.
Jets X-Factor(s): Shonn Greene & Bilal Powell
The only weak spot in the Cardinals armor is their running defense. It's very unlikely that Mark Sanchez will be having a breakout game or silencing any critics against the Cardinals defense. The tone of this game needs to be established early: bruising and on the ground. Greene and Powell have shown signs of promise in committee, especially against weaker NFC teams. The Jets can outpace and handily beat Arizona if they keep pounding it into the dirt and winning field position.
Bro's Bottom Line
The Cardinals are a really bad team, no offense to our friends at Revenge of the Birds as this is shaping up to be a painful season for the Jets as well. As erratic as this season has been, and as bad as some of the breaks this team has caught are, there is no reason why a competently run Jets squad (asking for quite a bit, I know) cannot neutralize the young Cardinal QB and simply play not to lose on offense. That should be enough for this week. If the team gets enough of a push to take even a nominal lead, it's unlikely their rookie QB can bring them back.
Prediction: The Cards' growing pains will be more apparent than the Jets' on Sunday. 24-17 Jets.