After playing like Super Bowl contenders through 11 weeks, the Arizona Cardinals (9-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) have lost two straight games. One of the teams will extend that losing streak to three games in Week 14 when they meet at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.
The Cardinals are tied for the best record in football, but their playoff chances are getting slimmer each week. They are only one game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, who find themselves as the first team out of the postseason, and it won’t be easy for Arizona to stave off the surging Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. The Cardinals have one game left with the defending champs, and they’ll close the season at San Francisco.
Arizona began playing poorly when Drew Stanton took over for an injured Carson Palmer as the starting quarterback. The career backup led his team to a win on Nov. 16 against the Detroit Lions, but he looked every bit like a second-stringer in the next two games, leading an offense that combined to score just 21 points. In a Thanksgiving loss in Seattle, Stanton threw for just 149 yards and a 54.8 passer rating. The following week in Atlanta, two Stanton interceptions led to another defeat.
While the Cardinals might be able to survive their losing streak because of a 9-1 start, the Chiefs find themselves in a much more difficult position. Trailing the Denver Broncos by two games in the AFC West, Kansas City will almost certainly need a wild-card berth to make the postseason. The Chiefs have the same record as the Miami Dolphins, current No.6 seed in the AFC, but they are also competing with four other teams who have seven wins.
The Chiefs have had their starting quarterback the entire season, but Alex Smith’s inability to make big plays has hurt Kansas City. He has yet to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver in 2014, and Kansas City totaled just 36 points in their back-to-back losses. Smith ranks just 20th in passing yards (2,364) and 29th in yards per attempt (6.75).
Because the Chiefs don’t have an explosive offense, they don’t win when their defense isn’t dominant. Kansas City has the No.4 defense in the NFL and the unit still hasn’t surrendered 30 points in a game, but the team is 0-5 when allowing at least 22 points. The over/under is 40.5 points.
The Chiefs had their poor run defense taken advantage of in the last two games. They let the Oakland Raiders, who have the NFL’s worst running game, total 179 yards on six yards per carry. Peyton Manning threw for just 179 yards against Kansas City, but Denver’s 214 rushing yards allowed them to win with relative ease.
The two teams have been mirror images of each other for much of this season, allowing the same amount of points per game (18.7) and relying on quarterbacks who can be successful game managers. Circumstances surrounding Sunday’s game, however, could give Arizona the edge.
Las Vegas betting odds have the Cardinals listed as one-point favorites at home, where the Cardinals are undefeated. Arizona has beaten opponents by an average score of 23-15 at home, and Stanton has played his best at University of Phoenix Stadium. He posted a 98.5 passer rating in a win over the 49ers, and threw for 306 yards and two scores in a victory over the Detroit Lions.
Perhaps most important, Larry Fitzgerald is expected to be back this week. A sprained MCL forced the wide receiver to miss the last two games, and Arizona’s offense has not looked the same without him. Fitzgerald leads the team with 46 catches for 658 yards.
Prediction: Arizona over Kansas City, 23-17