Setting the stage
After last week’s drubbing at the expense of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Arizona Cardinals come back home to Glendale to host Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
At 6-4, the Cardinals have quietly fashioned themselves into the playoff contender role. With tiebreakers over Carolina and Detroit, Arizona’s destiny is ultimately in their control, despite sitting at seventh in the standings right now.
While the win-loss total is one story about their contender status, another is the quality of competition the Cards have faced thus far. Their wins have been against teams with a combined 20-40 record, and although wins against Detroit and Carolina have been convincing enough, Arizona’s inconsistent performance against the Saints, 49ers and Seahawks shouldn’t be ignored.
Against Indianapolis, Arizona has a golden opportunity to silence some of those critics. If they want to be taken seriously as contenders, Arizona needs to win some of these types of games; against legitimate, playoff-caliber teams such as the 7-3 Colts.
This very same Colts team has already made worm’s meat of the Seahawks and the 49ers, but fell enormously short against the Rams in week ten, dropping that contest 38-8. Arizona represents the end of Indy’s NFC West swing, and hopefully Arizona can defend their conference’s honor while getting a win to stay in the playoff picture.
Here are some matchups to watch out for in Sunday’s tilt:
Bruce Arians vs. Chuck Pagano
Although he has said the game against his old team wouldn’t faze him, you can bet Arizona head coach Bruce Arians circled this date on his calendar. After winning the 2012 Coach of the Year Award stepping in for the leukemia-stricken Chuck Pagano, the Cards head coach will most certainly be filled with emotion when he hosts his old team.
Beyond the off-field dynamic, this matchup may be one of the more interesting chess matches to watch. What kind of tricks will they have waiting for each other? Because the two know so much about the other guy’s philosophy, we may see some exotic playcalling at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The LSU Boys vs. the Stanford Boys
The two biggest threats on the Colts offense for the Cardinals happen to hail from the same college, Stanford University. Alas, both Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener don’t promise to be an easy matchup for the Arizona Cardinals, who have struggled against the pass catching tight end all season. With Reggie Wayne out for the Colts, Luck will look to his college teammate early and often to generate some offense.
Arizona has a pair of college teammates to counter with, former LSU Tigers Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
In a sense, Sunday will pit the two philosophies against each other: the big, physical power of the Stanford Cardinal against the speed, athleticism and electricity of the LSU Tigers. Whichever duo has the bigger night will more than likely be celebrating a win in the locker room after the game.
Bradley Sowell vs. Robert Mathis
It seems that every week, Bradley Sowell faces off against some new freak of nature, facing Osi Umenyiora, JJ Watt and Jason Babin in the last three weeks alone.
None of those players have sacked the opponent’s quarterback more than Indy’s Robert Mathis, whose NFL-leading 13.5 sacks is a career high for the long time Indy man. While the Cardinals offensive line has held up pretty nicely these last couple games, Mathis promises to be the biggest pass rush test to date.
That’s a lot to ask of the undrafted free agent Sowell, but if Palmer gets comfortable throwing the ball, Arizona’s offense is as deadly as any in the NFL..
The important thing about this game is who comes out hot. Indianapolis has struggled to start games lately, falling behind in their last three games. Arizona’s defense is one of the tougher defenses in the NFL, and can hold on to a lead better than a lot of the other defenses in the league, even with Luck at quarterback. If Arizona can find themselves up by 10 points at halftime, then I think they can cruise to the victory, ARZ 27-24 IND.
Kickoff is at 4:05 ET on CBS, broadcast from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.