TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians scoffed at the notion that this week’s game against the Texans is a must-win if the Cardinals (4-4) hope to qualify for the playoffs.
“To say, ‘If we lose this game, we can’t go to the playoffs?’ No. That’s ridiculous,” he said. “There are way too many more games. If you lose this one and you went 11-5, I think you’d make it. This is not the end-all, be-all.”
The logic is sound until you look at the schedule late in the season. It doesn’t scream 11-5 possibilities, especially with the season finale in Seattle. It’s possible the second NFC wild-card team could qualify with a 9-7 record, and the Cardinals do own tiebreakers against the Panthers and Lions by virtue of wins over those clubs, but 10-6 is the more likely requirement, and it’s hard to see the Cards stringing together that many wins, even with their stout defense.
When you’re not an elite team and you get home games against struggling teams like the 2-6 Texans, those are games you can’t afford to let slip away if you have any hope of making the postseason. Especially when so many other teams — Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit, Carolina, Philadelphia, Dallas — also are in the mix.
So let’s call this a near-must-win.
“You always want to take care of the home games, and we’ve been pretty good at home,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “The road is a tough place in the NFL. Not to say we can’t win on the road, but you don’t want to make life more difficult on yourself.”
Statistically, Houston owns the NFL’s top-ranked defense (273.5 yards per game) and the NFL’s eighth-ranked offense (393.9 yards per game), so that 2-6 record appears confounding. But the Texans’ more telling numbers are not good, and they have blown a pair of big leads, squandering a 17-point fourth-quarter lead in a loss to the Seahawks and blowing a 24-6 second-half lead last week against the Colts.
The team is still finding its way with rookie quarterback Case Keenum, who went undrafted in 2012 and spent the entire season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum replaced Matt Schaub, who left an Oct. 13 loss to the Rams with torn ankle ligaments and hasn’t played since.
To compound matters, the team lost coach Gary Kubiak last week when he collapsed on the field at halftime of Sunday’s game due to a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a stroke-like condition. Kubiak could return in Week 11, but until then, Wade Phillips is serving as the interim coach.
“Obviously, you think about your coach and it will always be on your mind, but we’re professionals. We come in here and we know we have a job to do,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “Also, we know it would make Coach Kubiak smile a little bit if we could get a win for him.”
Houston has lost six straight games since opening the season with wins over San Diego and Tennessee. The Texans also are 0-3 against the NFC West.