Why Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals are the Most Vulnerable Playoff Contender in the NFC Right Now

At one point, the Arizona Cardinals looked like the best team in the NFL. Lately, Kliff Kingsbury’s squad has appeared to be a really good bad football team. Kyler Murray and the crew are struggling right now, with the playoffs right around the corner. The Cardinals have the most questions of all the top teams in the NFC playoff picture, which could spell trouble for a Super Bowl run.

The Cardinals are reeling after 2 straight losses

The Arizona Cardinals were flying high to kick off the 2021 NFL season. They got off to a surprising 7-0 start, including victories over the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams.

The undefeated streak ended with a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football in Week 8. Arizona has since experienced ebbs and flows, mainly due to injuries and lack of preparation.

The Cardinals’ two most recent losses are particularly concerning, though.

The LA Rams exacted revenge on their NFC West foes in Week 14, to even the season series. Even though it was a one-possession game, it wasn’t as close as the score would suggest.

The NFL schedule gifted Arizona with a prime bounce-back spot in Week 15 against the Detroit Lions. However, things didn’t go according to plan. Dan Campbell’s crew smacked the Cardinals in the mouth from start to finish. Sure, it’s the NFL, but losing 30-12 to one of the league’s worst teams is unacceptable.

Red flags are emerging for Kyler Murray and company

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray knocked to the ground by Lions defenders
Charles Harris of the Detroit Lions sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray | Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

When assessing the Arizona Cardinals’ current struggles, there’s not one particular thing to point to for blame. They have several issues working against them as the season winds down.

As Arizona was rolling at the start of the season, so was Kyler Murray. The third-year quarterback was playing at an MVP level, and he was a huge reason for the team’s early success.

The Oklahoma product threw for 2,002 yards, 17 touchdowns, and five interceptions through the first seven games. Murray missed multiple weeks due to injury, but he’s thrown for three touchdowns and five interceptions in his last four games.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury admitted his role in the loss to Detroit. “Obviously pissed to come out, play like that,” he said per Pro Football Talk. “They out-coached us and out-played us. We got to be better.”

The Cardinals’ lack of preparation as a whole is concerning. This team is shades of the 2020 season when Arizona folded under pressure down the stretch and missed the playoffs.

With the postseason right around the corner, this team must do some serious self-reflecting.

Arizona should make the playoffs but could be an early exit

The Cardinals are sitting at 10-4, with an extremely slim lead in the NFC West. Arizona holds the tiebreaker over the Rams, who have the same record. However, things could easily change in the last three weeks of the regular season. The Cardinals could realistically drop from the 4-seed to the 5-seed in the NFC.

Kliff Kingsbury’s squad features plenty of talent, but it’s currently missing one of its best players. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins suffered a knee injury in the Week 14 loss to LA. According to ESPN, the All-Pro wideout will miss at least the rest of the regular season.

Hopkins’ injury is a massive hit for the Cardinals as they prepare for the postseason. He is one of the best receivers in the NFL when healthy. There’s a six-week recovery timetable, which would allow him to return by the NFC Championship. Still, there’s no guarantee Arizona will even make it that far.

Kyler Murray must continue playing without his favorite weapon, but this team has found ways to win without either player on the field. The offense may need to lean on the running game more heavily, led by Pro Bowler James Conner and Chase Edmonds.

For the Cardinals, it will come down to preparation and want-to. The team boasts a top-10 offense and a top-5 defense. There’s enough talent on both sides of the ball to make noise in the playoffs.

However, if Kliff Kingsbury and company continue down this path, they won’t be in the playoffs for long.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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