Cardinals third-string QB Ryan Lindley has a chance to clinch the NFC West title and a first-round bye with a win tonight.
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Anyone who saw Ryan Lindley play QB for the Cardinals back in 2012 is likely feeling queasy at the idea that the fate of the Cardinals season rests in his hands in Sunday’s game against the defending Superbowl Champion Seattle Seahawks – a team that looks as good if not better than the team that won it all in 2013. The Cardinals have already clinched the playoffs but are not the same team on the road as they are at home, and that’s what makes this game so important.
While the winner of this game will be on the fast track to the NFC West title and a first-round bye, the loser will likely be stuck as a wildcard, forced to play all playoff games on the road. It’s a route that only a small group of teams have ever achieved and it’s why this game, more than any other in his career from this day forward, is why Ryan Lindley essentially carries Arizona’s playoff fate on his shoulders today.
Here are the top five games to watch in Week 16 of the NFL season:
5. Cleveland Browns vs. Carolina Panthers – Manziel on the road in a no-pressure situation? Cam Newton back from his car accident? A playoff chance somehow on the line for Carolina? This will be a very underrated game between two teams with a lot to prove, and that can lead to a very good football game.
4. Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints – While the Philadelphia Eagles are 9-6 yet on the outside looking in at the moment, the 6-8 Saints and 5-9 Falcons are still very much in the thick of the 2014 NFC South title race. If the Falcons win today and then win next week they will clinch the title with a 7-9 record – the second team to make the playoffs with a losing record since the 2010 Seahawks. If the Saints win, however, they only need the Panthers to lose one game to clinch the title. Sure this long-standing rivalry has lost some juice this year, but it still features two of the most explosive offenses in football.
3. Denver Broncos vs. Cincinnati Bengals – With Petyon Manning clearly hurting and the team needing just one win to clinch a first-round bye, it will be interesting to see if and how long the Broncos play their legendary QB. The Bengals on the other hand are fighting tooth and nail with the Steelers and Ravens for the AFC North title, and will likely have to play with the title on the line next week in order to get a playoff home game at all.
2. Indianapolis Colts vs. Dallas Cowboys – Two of the best QBs in football face off with plenty on the line – and two stars determined to play hurt in Colts WR T. Y. Hilton and Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray. The Colts are playing for a possibly first-round bye while the Cowboys are trying to clinch their playoff spot since 2009. Both teams will take a huge hit against those goals with a loss.
1. Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals – This might as well be a playoff game for both teams because the running theory is that neither of these teams will last very long in the playoffs without the NFC West title and a first-round bye – both of which are the likely prizes for the winner of tonight’s game. The Cardinals are 7-0 at home, but none of those games have been started by Ryan Lindley. It will be fun to see if the homefield advantage can save even Lindley from the terrible performances that have held back this Cardinals team.