‘Twas the night of Christmas...and so on and so forth. Instead of sugarplums dancing in the heads of the players of the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys, all they are dreaming about are the thoughts of making the playoffs and/or winning their respective divisions. Dreaming is all they can do as both are out of playoff contention. Without Tony Romo, who was put on injured reserve because of a broken collarbone, the Cowboys come to town led by Jon Kitna, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Felix Jones to battle Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells, John Skelton and their Cardinals.
Dallas comes in at 5-9 and is perhaps the biggest disappointment in the entire NFL as they came into the season as a Super Bowl favorite. Their offense is still quite potent, seventh overall in the league at 25.3 points per game and in overall yardage, but their defense is what has failed them. They are allowing more than 28 points per contest, good for 31st in the league.
Jon Kitna has been more than serviceable in the place of Romo, sporting a more than respectable QB rating of 91.4, having thrown 15 touchdowns to accompany 10 interceptions. Felix Jones leads the rushing attack with 642 yards on 4.1 yards per carry.
While both Dallas and Arizona have been disappointing, on paper the Cardinals do not have much of a chance. They average just over 18 points a game, are 31st in total offensive yardage and have thrown only for eight touchdowns for the entire season, threatening for the lowest total in team history.
John Skelton makes his third straight start. His first one, at home, was okay. Last week was not terrible, but he looked like a rookie quarterback on the road. It will be fun to see how he responds in his second start at home against a team he grew up hating.
Larry Fitzgerald is 14 yards from another 1000 yard season, but needs 22 receptions in the last two games to reach the 100 catch plateau. Tim Hightower has had a solid season, averaging more than five yards a carry, but sitting at 683 yards for the season would have to average almost 160 yards in each of the final two games of the season to reach 1000 yards for the season. Considering that as a team they average less than 20 rushing attempts a game, this seems almost implausible.
It will likely be a long day for the Cardinals. Against top-ten offenses they are 1-2, their one win was when the Saints turned the ball over four times and the Cardinals defense scored two touchdowns. The other two games against the Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers? The Cards lost by a combined 82-17.
Dallas can put points on the board and are a terrible matchup for the Arizona defense. The team's leading receiver is tight end Jason Witten, who has 82 receptions and seven scores. Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes and the Arizona linebackers have all looked terrible in coverage against opposing tight ends.
Both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant have been big play receivers. The Cardinals have been susceptible to big plays.
The big positive for Arizona is that Dallas' defense has been terrible. Unfortunately, the Arizona offense has been worse. DeMarcus Ware has 11-5 sacks on the season and will probably harass both Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges all game long. Although if Skelton is given time to throw, he will have the chance to make them pay. Dallas has allowed 31 passing touchdowns on the season.
Injuries will play a factor for the Cardinals. LaRod Stephens-Howling is doubtful for the game, which gives rookie Andre Roberts kick return duties. Early Doucet was placed on injured reserve this week, so Roberts will be the number three receiver and undrafted rookie Stephen Williams will see time as the number four.
On defense, Jerry Porter may not play because of a triceps injury. As a result, rookie O'Brien Schofield may get the start. If this is the case, with the exception of the Cardinals' sixth-round pick, Jorrick Calvin, who was traded to Philadelphia, all of the Cards' 2010 draft picks will play a significant role.
First-rounder Dan Williams is getting important playing time and second-rounder Daryl Washington starts at linebacker. Andre Roberts, drafted in the third round, will return kicks and will start if they start in a three-receiver set. Schofield, taken in the fourth round, has been playing on special teams and may start if Porter cannot go. Quarterback John Skelton was drafted in the fifth round and Jim Dray, from the seventh round, has been getting most of the reps at tight end in recent weeks.
As the season has gone south, Ken Whisenhunt has quietly begun to move towards player development while still trying to win games. He has not wavered in his mantra of "playing the guys that give the team the best chance of winning." At the same time, he now has every single drafted player playing a major role.
It has been said many times before, but fans are hoping to be in a position in the 2011 Draft to choose a potential franchise quarterback. Currently they would have the fourth pick, which would mean no Andrew Luck but possibly Cam Newton or Ryan Mallett.
With the quarterback play this season, pretty much everything is left on the table for the offseason. It is unlikely that Derek Anderson will be back next season and Max Hall is certainly no certainty to be with the team. Only John Skelton will definitely be back. Arizona will explore all options (trade, free agency, draft) for their quarterback situation.
Getting back to the game (oh yeah, that is what this is about), it will be televised on the NFL Network and locally on UPN 45 (Cox Cable 9). The roof will be open for kickoff.
Could the Cardinals treat us to a Christmas gift (even miracle) and knock of the dreaded Cowboys? Maybe it could happen, but would it be more valuable than the gift of a great draft pick? That's left to be seen. We were already blessed with a "gift from heaven" in Matt Leinart. That didn't work out so well, did it?
Considering the uncertainty of a draft pick and the potential performance of some unknown player, the best gift to all fans would be to show up on Christmas evening and send the Cowboys home with their tenth loss of the year.
After all, who really wants to have to go to work on a holiday away from their family and then have a crappy day? It would be sweet to do that to Jerry Jones and his team.