(Photo by the International Business Times)
The Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1) received good news this week after head coach Bruce Arians was released from his hospitalization for chest pains. Their most recent case of bad news, however, is their road trip to the Georgia Dome where they will play the surging Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and a meteoric offense look to take advantage of a Cardinals secondary that is currently awaiting the return of its other phenom, Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu has missed the team’s last two games with a shoulder injury, and that could be encouraging for the Falcons. What could also be encouraging is their home-field advantage against a team that seems to have trouble when it is operating opposite its normal body clock.
Since Arians took over as head coach, the Cardinals have been 7-5 in regular season games in Eastern time zones, and the results do not get better considering that their only two postseason losses were against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. With the Falcons currently at 6-4, the losses out East could not only pile up but expose a great weakness in a team that is reputed to be a continuous threat.
From 2013 to 2015, including the postseason, the Cardinals have been 1-4 on the road against playoff teams in Eastern Time zones. After winning all their East Coast road games to losing teams under Arians, the Cardinals have now become mortal in that region as their only two Eastern road games in 2016 have resulted in losses to the Buffalo Bills and Carolina, again. The latter two combine for a record of 9-11, and with the Cardinals’ inability to change their body clocks, their 0-3 record out East and an increase in the Falcons’ playoff closeness will be a fait accompli.
The Falcons currently average an NFL high of 32.0 points, and, based on history, they look playoff bound. The last two teams to miss the playoffs despite leading the NFL in scoring were the 2002 Kansas City Chiefs and 2008 New Orleans Saints, and every team that leads the NFL in scoring has made the playoffs since 2009. However, all six of Atlanta’s victories were against teams that allowed an average of 25.0 points and, as a result, it averaged 37.8 in all six.
In their two losses against the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles, it faced two teams that allow a combined average of 18.0 points and were limited to a combined total of just 39. Granted, the missed pass-interference call against Richard Sherman unfairly took a scoring opportunity away, but defenses of their caliber can cause the Falcons trouble.
The Denver Broncos are similar by allowing 18.9 points per game and limited the Falcons to score 23. Had they not let points get scored off a turnover and six sacks and allow running back Tevin Coleman to score a 31-yard touchdown, the Broncos may have limited the Falcons to score a maximum of just 19 points.
With Mathieu, the Cardinals allow 17.5 points per game from opponents, and if he returns, the Falcons could score 21 or fewer points and finish 1-3 against defenses that allow less than 20.0. However, the Cardinals have allowed 28.5 points per game with and without Mathieu on the road, and that could create another advantage as the Falcons’ averaged at least 40 points against teams that allow at least 25.0. Ultimately, the best way Arizona can win is if its exploit the Atlanta defense. With the Falcons allowing sixty plays of 20 yards or more, quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson will have to exploit that weakness. If they do, the Cards may be back in the playoff hunt while the Falcons could stay afloat but face the risk of losing their division title and missing the playoffs for the second straight season.