Bart Scott: NFC Is Two-Team Race Between Cardinals, Panthers

The Arizona Cardinals won their seventh game in a row Thursday, beating a motivated Minnesota Vikings squad, 23-20, in Glendale. The Cardinals squandered a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit but got a 47-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro and a forced fumble from Dwight Freeney in the final two minutes.

Arizona (11-2) has now won eight of its last nine games, with the only loss coming against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

“I think the Arizona Cardinals are a team that can match up against anybody,” NFL Today analyst Bart Scott said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “They have scheme diversity. They can match up and play power football, but they can spread you out. On offense and defense, they have versatility. I think Tyrann Mathieu is a defensive player of the year candidate.”

Mathieu has 84 tackles, 15 passes defended, four interceptions, one touchdown, one sack and one forced fumble this season.

“The only thing about this team, they really can’t generate a pass rush without blitzing,” Scott said, “and sometimes that can put you in a predicament where you get one-on-ones on the outside. But then they have tremendous corners on the outside that can make plays. So it’s going to be interesting to see how they continue to mature and grow together. I think they’re the best team in the NFC and possibly the best team in the NFL. I think sometimes they play down to the level of their competition, but I think when they play against teams that they respect and they think is a real threat to beat them, I think they’ll raise their game.”

Scott was asked which conference – the AFC or the NFC – is more wide open right now. Which one is more unpredictable?

“I think the AFC,” Scott said. “I think the NFC is really a two-team race (between Carolina and Arizona). I think there’s more depth (in the AFC), especially with the Patriots being injured. You have the Broncos. We don’t know if Peyton Manning is coming back. Now with (Rob) Gronkowski hurt, the Patriots look vulnerable, and Cincinnati is the Wild Card.”

The Bengals (10-2) are atop the AFC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most dangerous team in the conference. In fact, the most dangerous team in the AFC might not even win its division.

“If I see a Wild Card in that conference, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Scott said. “That’s a team that nobody wants to see. If they can muster up enough defense, Ben Roethlisberger and that offense is explosive and they can turn the game on a dime. They have explosive players. Martavis Bryant, Antonio Brown, and now DeAngelo Williams – he’s turned the clock back. He’s staying healthy. It’s always weird: When guys are always injured, the first year when they go to a new team, they’re always healthy. Next year he’ll get hurt in training camp tying his shoe.”

The Steelers (7-5) face the Bengals in Cincinnati this Sunday. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET.

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