TEMPE, Ariz. — With one more victory, the Cardinals (8-5) will secure a winning season. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal — especially if the team doesn’t make the playoffs — but it means something to an organization that doesn’t taste such success too often.
“It does, because when you have a few of those, it means it’s expected,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “In football, there’s new guys in your locker room every year, so when there’s a history of winning, it’s mentally easier for a guy to step in and take over that ‘we’re going to win’ mentality.”
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Since the Cardinals moved to the Phoenix area for the 1988 season, no NFC team has recorded as few or fewer winning seasons than the Cardinals’ three — not even the expansion Panthers (four), who joined the NFL in 1995, or the Rams (four), who moved east from Los Angeles for the 1995 season.
On the AFC side, only the expansion Browns, who began play in 1999, have fewer winning seasons (two) over that time period. The expansion Texans, who began play in 2002, have three winning seasons, and the Raiders have posted three since moving back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995.
Clearly, the Cardinals are more concerned with a playoff spot. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald didn’t even want to talk about the idea of a winning season on Thursday.
“I’m too old for that,” he said. “Me and (Karlos) Dansby and (Darnell) Dockett and Carson (Palmer), we’ve been in the league 10-plus years. There’s no ‘that was a good season.’
“If we win out, we’re going to be in the playoffs. It’s as simple as that. It starts this week against Tennessee.”
It’s possible an 8-8 team could make the playoffs from the weak AFC this season, but with rare exceptions (we’re looking at you, 2010 Seahawks), you can’t have a playoff berth without a winning season.
“To be honest, that has been part of the problem here,” Sendlein said. “Our standards can’t be just winning seasons. It’s got to be better than that, especially now that we’re in such a strong division and conference that nine wins is probably not going to get you into the playoffs.”
Following Chicago’s 45-28 win over Dallas on Monday night, the Cardinals are all alone in seventh place in the NFC standings, one game behind the 49ers and Panthers for the two wild-card spots and one game ahead of the Cowboys and Bears.
Here’s a look at the remaining schedule for each team still in the realistic mix for a wild-card spot, along with their overall and conference records in parentheses.
San Francisco(9-4, 6-3): at Tampa, Atlanta, at Arizona
Carolina(9-4, 7-3): New York Jets, New Orleans, at Atlanta
Philadelphia(8-5, 7-2): at Minnesota, Chicago, at Dallas
Arizona(8-5, 5-5): at Tennessee, at Seattle, San Francisco
Detroit(7-6, 6-4): Baltimore, New York Giants, at Minnesota
Chicago(7-6, 4-6): at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, Green Bay
Dallas(7-6, 6-3): Green Bay, at Washington, Philadelphia
Green Bay(6-6-1, 4-5-1): at Dallas, Pittsburgh, at Chicago
Arizona owns head-to-head tiebreakers with Detroit and Carolina by virtue of wins over those teams earlier this season. The Cardinals lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia after a Dec. 1 loss to the Eagles.
The leagues’ website, nfl.com, has a look at some possible playoff scenarios heading into Week 15. The website sportsclubstats.com gives the Cardinals a 6.9 percent chance of making the playoffs.