The Arizona Cardinals (12-2) are a very, very good football team. If it weren’t for the 14-0 Carolina Panthers, much more attention would be given to a Cardinals team that has rattled off eight straight wins.
The Cardinals are the only team in the NFL to be ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, as they have been dominant on both sides of the ball. Despite losing two games, Arizona actually has the biggest point differential at +176.
While much of this can be attributed to a rejuvenated offense under a fully healthy Carson Palmer, the defense has been remarkable as well. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu have both made compelling arguments for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, only one of them will be suiting up this postseason.
Leading 40-17 over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night, Mathieu intercepted Sam Bradford, but landed awkwardly on the play. An MRI confirmed Arizona’s worst nightmare, as the do-it-all safety tore his right ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
With five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 89 tackles, Mathieu was well on his way to his first All-Pro selection. As the undisputed emotional leader of the Cardinals’ defense, the team has already announced they are dedicating their postseason run to the heart and soul of the team (Mathieu).
Leaving Mathieu on the field up 23 points with three minutes remaining will likely haunt Bruce Arians for the rest of his coaching career. But sadly, the game of football oftentimes has non-contact injuries that are simply beyond anyone’s control.
It’s a devastating blow for the Cardinals, and one that greatly shifts the power balance in the NFC. Only time will tell if Arizona can overcome this massive void.