Cardinals have 66.9% chance of making playoffs, but easy part of schedule is over

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Beating the Seattle Seahawks gave the Arizona Cardinals' playoff hopes a sizeable boost but the rest of Arizona's schedule won't make chasing a playoff berth easy.

Arizona has a 66.9% chance of making the playoffs, according to the ESPN Football Power Index. That's up from 56.5% before the win over Seattle. That game increased the Cardinals' odds of making it to every step of the postseason -- including winning Super Bowl LV.

The Cardinals have a 33.3% chance of making the divisional round of the postseason, a 14.3% of making the NFC Championship Game, a 5.8% chance of making the Super Bowl and a 2.2% of winning it.

But the easiest part of their schedule is in the rear-view mirror.

The Cardinals' strength-of-schedule for the seven games they have played was 28th. For the nine remaining games, which include four against their NFC West rivals (two against the Los Angeles Rams, and one each against the San Francisco 49ers and Seahawks), the schedule is the ninth most difficult.

The ESPN FPI has given the Cardinals a 23.3% chance of winning the NFC West. But even if they don't win the division, the likelihood is still good that the Cardinals make the postseason. There's a 63% chance that three teams from the NFC West make the playoffs, according to ESPN FPI which used 20,000 season simulations to reach that figure. And the ESPN FPI has projected the Cardinals' final record to be 10-6.

The Cardinals host the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in their first games after the bye before traveling to Seattle for a Thursday night game.

Of Arizona's final nine games, five are against teams that currently own winning records, three against teams with losing records and one, the Dolphins, with a .500 record.

A few more numbers to consider heading into the bye:

Keeping Kyler Clean: One of the Cardinals' most significant improvements this season through seven games has been the offensive line's protection of Kyler Murray.

The reigning rookie of the year has only been sacked nine times in 2020 compared to 23 times through seven games in 2019.

"I feel like the game has definitely slowed down for him," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "When you look at the sack numbers at this time this year as opposed to last year -- the lost yardage from sacks -- it's incredible how much we've reduced it, and that's a credit to him and our offensive line and how they're playing.

"But I do think he's picking the right moments when to take off, and you saw [Sunday], checked it down a bunch and Chase [Edmonds] made things happen after. His decision-making will continue to progress, but I just think overall the game has slowed down for him a lot."

Murray's lost yardage this season, so far, has been a fraction of last year's: 38 yards lost to sacks in 2020 compared to 154 yards through seven games last season.

But to Kingsbury's point about Murray picking the right moments to take off, Murray has run for 437 yards this season compared to just 266 through seven games last year.

It's Chase Edmonds' time: With Kenyan Drake expected to miss a few weeks with an ankle injury, Edmonds will be thrust back into the role of Arizona's primary ball carrier -- one that he's flourished at when it's happened.

Last season in New York, as the primary ball carrier, he had 126 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries against the New York Giants. He's up again now. Heading into Sunday night's game against Seattle, Murray was more efficient with Edmonds on the field than with Drake since 2019, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. With Edmonds on the field, the Cardinals have had a plus-.15 expected points added rate per drop back. With Edmonds off field the field, it's minus-.08. With Drake on the field, the Cardinals' EPA is minus-0.09. With Drake off the field, it's plus-.05.

Not offensive: The 2020 edition of the Cardinals' offensive line set out to be better than its 2019 version, which was pretty good, setting a franchise record for yards per carry with 5.03.

Through seven games, it's already averaging 5.21.

On top of keeping Murray clean, the line is giving Murray more time in 2020 and dominating their individual assignments.

Murray is averaging 2.45 seconds in the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information, up from 2.32 last season. And the Cardinals lead the NFL in hurry probability, which calculates the probability that the team's passer will be hurried, defined as when a pass-rusher closes within 1.5 yards at any moment, before attempting a pass, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

But what's been one of the most important improvements for the Cardinals' offensive line in 2020 has been their protection of Murray overall. The Cardinals lead the NFL in Pass Block Win Rate in 2020, according to ESPN Metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats. That's led to Murray having the largest increase in Total QBR when not pressured vs. pressured at plus-78.7.

The Cardinals are also ranked second in Run Block Win Rate.

"I think we've just been coming to work and working hard every day," left tackle D.J. Humphries said. "Kugs [offensive line coach Sean Kugler] and Nat [assistant offensive line coach Brian Natkin) always keeping us dialed in and focused in on what we're supposed to be doing and guys in the room just taking ownership of exactly what we're supposed to be doing every day."