With the Carolina Panthers no longer undefeated, the Arizona Cardinals can still leap over them to finish with the number one seed in the NFC and get home field advantage through the NFL playoffs.
The Panthers could have given themselves something of a two-week break and have something similar to a couple of bye weeks, but they lost 20-13 to the Atlanta Falcons. Was it not enough effort? Was it simply the Falcons giving more than we usually see from them because it was an opportunity to avenge a humiliating 38-0 loss and ruin a perfect, historic season for a division rival? Probably all of the above. But what does this say about that oh so important word, momentum?
That’s something the Cardinals certainly have. They’ve won nine games in a row, have the best scoring offense in the NFL with over 32 points per game, are giving up just 18.5 points per game and just finished plowing the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers into the ground with a 38-8 win. One of the common wisdoms about eventual Super Bowl champions is the issue of getting hot at the right time. Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs do exist in his universe, but it’s hard to argue about anyone playing better than the Arizona Cardinals right now.
And can the Panthers turn it on and off without losing whatever magic they had? They have the bye week already, but securing their home field advantage, potentially meaning hosting the Cardinals for the NFC championship game (hosted them last season in the Wild Card round too, but that was without Carson Palmer), would be nice, and quite the confidence builder. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to be in offseason mode by now, but maybe, like the Falcons, are saving something special for the season finale.
The Cardinals play the Seattle Seahawks on January 3. The Seahawks can’t win the division, and the only thing they’re playing for is the #4 or #5 seed, nothing else. It doesn’t really matter, and so, with the Cardinals having something to play for and not having to worry about rest, something the Seahawks do need to give their starters (probably), both the #1 and #2 seeds in the NFC have something to play for in the final week of the season. Home field advantage isn’t everything, but it never hurts to have one.