Arizona Cardinals miss shot at NFC West title, but starting playoffs on the road could be a blessing

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The NFC West was there for the Arizona Cardinals' taking.

They just couldn't get it done.

With the San Francisco 49ers beating the Los Angeles Rams in overtime, the Cardinals would've needed to beat the Seattle Seahawks to win their first division title since 2015. But Sunday was a home game. And Arizona can't win at home.

The Cardinals' 38-30 loss might have been their biggest blessing in disguise this season: It's sending them to Inglewood, California, to play the Rams in an NFC wild-card playoff game next Monday.

"It appears that way," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We haven't played very well here. Today, I just felt like they played like they wanted it more. Outcoached, outplayed us. So like I said, you've got to give them a lot of credit. They knew it was their last game, and they still played at a really high level."

Arizona was 8-1 on the road this season and just 3-5 at home, losing its last five at State Farm Stadium.

This season has been the ultimate tale of two places.

Sunday was no different.

Arizona (11-6) played the Seahawks (7-10) like it was any other home game in the second half of the season. It was ugly, undisciplined and uncoordinated.

"I just think it's an interesting position we were in," Kingsbury said. "A lot of guys haven't been in that (position) when you're in, and so the game matters. You want to win the division possibly, and you don't know what's going on in the other game, and I just didn’t think as a staff, or a team, we handled that well."

Sunday was an opportunity for the Cardinals to follow up on their win in Dallas last week with another all-around solid performance. It didn't happen. And now the Cardinals limp into the playoffs looking like the team that lost six of its last 10.

Arizona's self-inflicted mistakes continued to be a problem.

Penalties negated big plays, Kyler Murray was sacked five times and a major special teams issue handed the Seahawks a touchdown on a silver platter. Punter Andy Lee muffed the snap around the goal line at the end of the third quarter and tried to run it out of the end zone. He was hit and then fumbled. Seattle recovered at the Cardinals' 10. It scored three plays later with 13 minutes, 15 seconds left in the game, taking the lead for good.

Arizona's offense struggled in the first half, gaining just 89 yards. It showed sparks throughout but didn't put enough together to pull away from Seattle.

The Cardinals' depth issues, especially at cornerback, were also a factor Sunday -- and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson took advantage of them with two touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett.

For reasons that no one on the Cardinals have been able to explain this season, they're much better on the road than at home, where they haven't won since Week 7.

Whatever that reason might be, losing Sunday's game and starting the playoffs on the road seems to be the best-case scenario for a team that plays its best football away from home.

"It's another opportunity that I'm excited for," said Murray, who, like Kingsbury, feels like Arizona may be better suited to go on the road in the postseason. "I haven't played in the playoffs since I've been in the league. We haven't been to the playoffs in I don't know how long, so it's an opportunity for this team to go do something special."

Biggest hole in the game plan: The Cardinals once again had problems stopping Lockett. He had five catches for 98 yards and two first-half touchdowns.

Bold prediction for next week: The Cardinals won't look anything like the team that played Sunday against the Seahawks and will play more like the team that whipped the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Week 4.