Goal Line Stand: Cardinals, Chiefs could be dangerous when postseason arrives

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Updated: January 2, 2016
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The 2015 NFL regular season will be soon coming to a close. Barring some type of miracle that would allow the Indianapolis Colts to clinch a playoff berth, we have a pretty clear idea of who will be headed to the postseason.

In the AFC, the New York Jets could clinch a spot with a win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday. But if they lose, they open the door for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who could then sneak in with a victory over the Cleveland Browns. Over in the NFC, all six playoff teams have been settled. But a lot could happen Sunday as far as positioning is concerned.

There are a few teams that we expected to be relevant as we entered 2016, but also a few surprising teams who will be making a trip to the playoffs — like the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and, for the most part, the Carolina Panthers — not many saw them having this type of success without their top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin.

This week on the “Goal Line Stand,” we’ll focus our attention on the Redskins’ improbable run to win the NFC East, the Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals‘ hot streaks, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ decision to fire Chip Kelly and the intriguing Sunday night matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.

 

First-and-Goal: The NFC East was bad as a whole, but the Redskins remained solid 

Washington is making a trip back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, thanks in large part to quarterback Kirk Cousins. And to take it a step further, thanks to head coach Jay Gruden, who made the controversial decision to start Cousins over Robert Griffin III during the preseason.

While they benefited from an NFC East division that was mediocre-at-best, to say the least, the Redskins were actually the one team who overachieved. They were projected to win just a handful of games — about five — and finish last in the division. They’ve already secured a home playoff game next week, but if they beat Dallas Sunday, they can also finish the season with a record above .500 (9-7). Their opponent has yet to be determined, but it will be against either the Vikings, Packers or Seattle Seahawks. The one team they may not want to see in the postseason is Seattle, who also beat them on the road during the wild card round in 2012.

But the Redskins are confident right now. They’ve won three games in a row, two being on the road, and four of their last five. Washington has been a resilient bunch all season. They’ve only lost back-to-back games once, Week 5 to the Atlanta Falcons and Week 6 to the Jets, and they’ve seemed to improve on a weekly basis. They’re currently in the midst of their first winning streak of the season, and would like to build upon that momentum heading into the playoffs — even though this week’s game against the Cowboys can’t improve their playoff positioning.

While the Eagles, Cowboys and New York Giants have all been in disarray this year, the Redskins are actually on the come-up. They have a ton of reasons to be excited heading into the offseason.

 

Second-and-Goal: Cardinals, Chiefs both heading into Week 17 on nine-game win streaks

The Chiefs began the season with a 1-5 record, and seemed to be dead in the water. While the Cardinals have been dominant all season long but, because of the Panthers, have been flying under the radar. Both teams are red hot at the right time of the year. The Chiefs have won nine games in a row, and have clinched a playoff berth with a 10-5 record. The Cardinals have won nine straight themselves, and have clinched a first-round bye in the NFC with a 13-2 record.

Kansas City will finish the regular season with a game against the Oakland Raiders, while Arizona has a matchup with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Both have the opportunity to improve their playoff positioning this week. With a Cardinals win, and a Panthers loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they can wrap up the No. 1 seed in the NFC. It’s not likely that Carolina will lose to Tampa Bay, but they are coming off their first loss of the season last week — which came in the hands of the Falcons. And if the Chiefs are able to defeat the Raiders, and the Denver Broncos lose to the San Diego Chargers, they’ll win the AFC West.

Carson Palmer and the Cardinals have the NFL’s top offense, averaging 420.1 yards and 32.2 points per game. They’ve been getting it done on the ground and through the air. The defense has also been stout, holding opponents to just 18.5 points and 319.5 yards per contest, both of which rank fifth in the league. Oh, and Kansas City’s defense is ranked second, giving up just 18 points per game. Yea, I think we can all agree that having a strong defense still matters in the NFL.

These are two teams that will be very dangerous come playoff time. They’re both solid on defense, and even though the Chiefs aren’t as high-powered offensively as the Cardinals, they can score points in bunches at times — averaging 25.5 per game.

 

Third-and-Goal: Eagles fire head coach Chip Kelly. Where do they go from here?

Before the season, there were several people out there who had the Eagles going to the Super Bowl. Not me.

In my NFC East preview, I had them finishing with a 7-9 record and missing the playoffs. There was almost no way they’d be able to make up for all the talent that was lost over the offseason. Not only did they part ways with running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, but they traded away Nick Foles, who was 14-4 in his last 18 games as the Eagles’ starting quarterback.

Who was the “mad man” behind these decisions? Yup, you guessed it, Chip Kelly. After the Redskins defeated them in dominating fashion Saturday night, the Eagles were officially eliminated from the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Philly decided to fire Kelly just three days later, and before the team’s final game.

So, what’s next for this franchise? They signed DeMarco Murray over the offseason, hoping he can replace McCoy in the backfield. But he didn’t live up to their expectations, and that seemed to be due to Kelly and his offensive system. They were decimated at wide receiver, while the defense was inconsistent all year long. And not to mention, they don’t have a solid starting quarterback — as Sam Bradford didn’t prove to be the answer this season.

There’s no telling who they’ll hire as their next head coach. A few names have been mentioned, like Bill Cowher, UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. and current Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who spent time coaching on the Eagles’ sideline from 2001-2010. But regardless of who comes in to run the show, the Eagles may be staring a rebuilding period directly in the face. Then again, they do reside in the NFC East — where anything can happen from season-to-season.

 

Fourth-and-Goal: Vikings and Packers meet with NFC North crown on the line

The first time these two met this season, the Packers cruised to a comfortable 30-13 victory — in Minnesota. This time, the game will be at Lambeau Field with the division title up for grabs.

The Vikings may be one of the surprising teams this year, as they’re 10-5 and have locked up a playoff spot. But I don’t think anyone thought they would have a legitimate chance of winning the NFC North. Teddy Bridgewater has been solid, but not great. However, he’s done just enough to help his team win games. Adrian Peterson missed all of last season due to off-field issues, but he’s back to being his dominant self, as he could finish the regular season with his third career rushing title.

But, there’s bigger fish to fry come Sunday night. The loser will be going on the road when the playoffs begin, while the winner will be hosting a home playoff game. If Green Bay wins, and Seattle defeats the Cardinals Sunday, the Vikings would have to take on the Packers, in Green Bay, again come playoff time. If the Vikings win, they’ll face the Seahawks during wild card weekend.

Minnesota is tired of looking up at the Packers in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers and company have won the division in four straight seasons, while the Vikings haven’t done so since 2009. In 2012, these two teams met in Week 17 with similar ramifications. Minnesota was able to clinch a playoff berth with a victory, only to lose to Green Bay in the wild card round.

The Packers were demolished by the Cardinals last week, so you can expect them to come into this game with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. But the Vikings could careless about any of that. They just want to get a win, and finish the season as NFC North champs.

Josiah Turner

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He is a writer for ESPN, and has written for Rant Sports and FanSided covering the Washington Redskins. He's also covered high school basketball for Virginia Preps (Rivals.com). Josiah is from Chesapeake, VA and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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