Playing For Next Year

No team appears to have less to play for in their final two games than the Atlanta Falcons.

With no chance for the playoffs, a .500 season or even a coach to impress for next year, the Falcons look to end a five-game losing streak Sunday when they visit the Arizona Cardinals.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Arizona -10 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 44 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 65% of bets for this game have been placed on Arizona -10 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

With two weeks left in the regular season, seven teams have clinched playoffs spots and eight more are competing for the final five berths. The remaining teams are left to the role of spoiler - or to play for pride.

Atlanta (3-11), though, can't even play for next season's coach because interim coach Emmitt Thomas is very unlikely to be in the same position in 2008. The Falcons had little choice but to install Thomas as head coach for the final three games following Bobby Petrino's sudden resignation on Dec. 11.

In desperate need of leadership, Atlanta appeared to be on the verge of hiring Bill Parcells as head of football operations on Wednesday, but Parcells turned down the position. Owner Arthur Blank said the team had an agreement in principle with Parcells, but after he told the Falcons he was considering an offer from the Miami Dolphins, negotiations fell through.

"We gave it our best shot, and it didn't work out," Blank said.

Parcells would have been put in charge of finding the next coach for a team rocked by the suspension and imprisonment of star quarterback Michael Vick and Petrino's resignation.

Atlanta is 18-28 while missing the playoffs for three straight seasons since going 11-5 and losing the NFC championship to Philadelphia on Jan. 23, 2005.

The 64-year-old Thomas wasn't treated too well in his first game as an NFL head coach as the Falcons put up little resistance in a 37-3 loss at Tampa Bay last Sunday.

It was the fifth straight loss for Atlanta, which has been outscored 161-53 during the skid. The losing streak is the Falcons' longest since they dropped seven in a row from Sept. 14-Nov. 2, 2003.

Atlanta managed a season-low 133 yards and Chris Redman was 4-of-15 for 34 yards and two interceptions in his second consecutive start. The Falcons were 0-for-9 on third-down conversions and only had the ball for 17:01 on offense.

"It's just been an emotional week with everything that has happened. And to try to come out and play a game, I can just tell you it was tough," running back Warrick Dunn said.

"We all were supporting each other and trying to go out with a clear mind, have fun and play the game. Sometimes you can do that, and other times you can't."

Redman, who is 3-5 as a starter with Baltimore and Atlanta, is expected to start again Sunday.

The Cardinals (6-8) are also two games away from completing a disappointing season, one that will see them miss the playoffs for the ninth straight year.

Arizona, however, can still salvage a .500 season with a win Sunday, and another at home against St. Louis on Dec. 30. The Cardinals haven't finished .500 or better since they were 9-7 in 1998, the last time they reached the postseason.

"We feel like we're improving, or we are improved," first-year Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "But 8-8 for us is not something that we're happy with. That's .500. We aspire to do better."

Every team has had injuries to deal with at this point of the season, but Arizona has been without some of its best players, including quarterback Matt Leinart, safety Adrian Wilson, defensive ends Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor, cornerback Eric Green and offensive tackle Oliver Ross

Close losses have been all too common this season for Arizona, and that was the case again last Sunday against New Orleans.

Kurt Warner threw for three touchdowns, but also fumbled, threw an interception and was sacked twice in the 31-24 defeat.

"It was just too many mistakes for us today," Whisenhunt said. "I really believe that we are on the right track. We're getting players in the right situations (but) we're not making those plays. ... Maybe we could use a little more confidence."

The loss was the Cardinals' second straight overall and sixth this season by seven points or less.

"We've lost a lot of games we should have won this year," Warner said. "The No. 1 thing we cannot allow ourselves to do is go backward. We can all sit around and say we're out of the playoffs. ... The bottom line is, if we are going to be a playoff team we are going to have to find a way to win."

The Falcons have won four straight against the Cardinals, including a 32-10 home victory last season. Arizona hasn't won in the series since a 29-26 home victory on Dec. 21, 1997.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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