The Vikings are the only thing standing in the way of the Cardinals' seventh straight win, a benchmark they haven't achieved since way back in 1974. Will Arizona overcome the hurting team from Minnesota? Don Banks makes his pick for Week 14 Thursday Night Football.
• Last week: 10–6; Season: 122–70 (.635).
• Best pick in Week 13: Green Bay 27, Detroit 23 (Actual score: Packers 27–23).
• Worst pick in Week 13: Minnesota 23, Seattle 20 (Actual score: Seahawks 38–7).
You have to be a very veteran Cardinals fan to recall the franchise’s most recent seven-game winning streak, because it took place in 1974, when Jim Hart was throwing passes to Mel Gray, and Terry Metcalf and Jim Otis were carving up defenses out of the backfield. Those Don Coryell-coached “Cardiac Cards” of that era were a fun and exciting team to watch, as are Bruce Arians’s Cardinals, who can claim their seventh consecutive victory Thursday night, against a suddenly vulnerable Minnesota team that is injury-riddled on defense and ineffective on offense.
Undefeated Carolina is getting all the attention these days among NFC Super Bowl contenders, but I love how the 10–2 Cardinals are positioned as the playoffs loom in the distance. Arizona is going to be playing big, significant games down the backstretch, and it should more than get them playoff-ready for the competition to come. The Cardinals could end the season facing four of the other five NFC playoff teams, drawing Minnesota, at Philadelphia on Sunday night in Week 15, and then ending the season with back-to-back home games against Green Bay and Seattle. They’ll know where they stand after running that gauntlet.
Arizona absolutely dismantled the woeful Rams 27–3 last week in St. Louis, with Carson Palmer throwing for 356 yards and two touchdowns, and the NFL’s top-ranked offense churning out 524 yards of offense. And the defense wasn’t too shabby either, holding St. Louis to a paltry nine first downs and 212 yards of offense. The Rams were so pathetic that Teflon-coated coach Jeff Fisher fired his offensive coordinator, Frank Cignetti, this week in response to Sunday’s beat-down.
All in all, a short-week road game against Arizona is pretty much the worse-case scenario for the Vikings, who have to be experiencing something of a crisis of confidence after losing 38–7 at home to Seattle on Sunday, just two weeks after Green Bay came into TCF Bank Stadium and throttled Minnesota 30–13. The Vikings apparently aren’t who we thought they were, and even their blunt-talking coach, Mike Zimmer, admitted that their reputation has out-distanced their production at this point in the season.
Minnesota desperately needs a breakthrough game from second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who presided over an offense that generated a season-low nine first downs and 125 yards against the Seahawks, never scoring a point. The 31-point blowout by Seattle represented Minnesota’s worst home loss in 31 years, and Bridgewater has yet to prove he’s more than a complementary piece in the Vikings offense, rather than a player who can carry the load and put the game on his shoulders.
With Minnesota (8–4) so banged up on defense and perhaps playing again without the services of defensive tackle Linval Joseph, safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr, look for Palmer to add to his 29 touchdown passes this season, which ranks in the NFL. The mini-bye that the Vikings get this weekend should help them heal up for pivotal home games against Chicago and the Giants in Weeks 15 and 16, but they’re nowhere near ready to slow down Arizona’s Super Bowl Express.