No matter what happens in Monday night’s final game of the opening round of the playoffs, the NFC West will be the only division with two teams in the final eight next weekend.
That was assured when the 49ers defeated the Cowboys Sunday afternoon and Pittsburgh lost to Kansas City Sunday night.
It’s also no surprise considering the division won more combined games (40) than any other. The NFC West was 40-28, followed by the AFC West (38-30), AFC North (35-32-1), AFC East and NFC South (34-34), NFC East (32-36), NFC North (30-37-1), AFC South (28-40). Only three divisions had winning records.
The Cardinals success in 2021 was fueled by their 4-2 division record. Consider that in 2020, they were 2-4 in division games and 6-4 outside the division for an 8-8 record. This season they were 7-4 in non-division games to finish 11-6.
The excellence in the division also resulted in the Cardinals having the fifth-toughest schedule among playoff teams in the NFL at .490. The four teams with more difficult slates were Kansas City .538, Pittsburgh .521, Las Vegas .510 and San Francisco .500.
Arizona’s 11 victories came against teams with a combined .492 winning percentage and included successes in five games against playoff teams: L.A. Rams 12-5, Dallas 12-5, Tennessee 12-5 and San Francisco 10-7 (twice).
The losses were to six teams (.485) with only two against playoff squads: the Rams and Green Bay (13-4). The other four losses were to teams with a combined record of 24-43-1 (.360) with three at home: Indianapolis 9-8, Seattle 7-10, Carolina 5-12 and Detroit 3-13-1.
The Cardinals’ excellence on the road has been well-chronicled and it is largely attributed to protecting the ball and taking it away.
In nine road games, Arizona had a plus-18 turnover ratio to become the second team in the last 30 years (Kansas City, plus-19 in 2013) to have a turnover margin of plus-18 or better on the road. In NFL history, only the 2019 Saints (2) had fewer turnovers in road games in a single season than the Cardinals (3) in 2021. They had 21 takeaways in road games.
At home, the Cardinals managed only six takeaways and had 12 turnovers.
With the expectation that defensive end J.J. Watt will play Monday night, the game will feature four players with at least 100 career sacks in the regular season and playoffs combined. That has happened previously only two times in history.
Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones has 109.5 sacks, followed by Watt with 108.0. For the Rams, linebacker Von Miller has 122.0 and defensive tackle Aaron Donald 100.5.