Part of me pulled against the Cardinals because misery loves company. The Saints and the Cardinals were among a small handful of teams (Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, and Jacksonville being the others) that have never made the Super Bowl.
Misery has less company now.
Another part of me is selfishly happy for the Cardinals. If they can do it, why can’t the Saints?
There are many parallels between the Cardinals and the Saints.
First, take a historic look at the two franchises. Since 1967, the Saints’ first season, let’s just say that neither team has been a force in the NFL. During the past 42 seasons, the Cardinals have had 10 winning seasons and the Saints have had eight.
Both teams have been disasters in the playoffs. Since 1967 (or 1948 for that matter), the Cardinals and the Saints had a combined three playoff wins prior to this season.
Fast-forward to the present and the similarities are stunning.
Both teams are run by offensive-minded head coaches. During the regular season, both teams threw the ball more than 60 percent of the time. They are led by quarterbacks who had prolific passing seasons.
The Saints were the top scoring team in the NFL. The Cardinals were third. The Saints were tops in the NFL in throwing the ball. The Cardinals were second. Both teams, however, were among the worst in running the ball.
The Cardinals and Saints were among the worst defensive teams in the NFL. I don’t think that the casual NFL fan could name more than three defensive players between the two teams.
Personnel-wise, the Cardinals have two advantages over the Saints.
One, they have a game-changer at wide receiver. While one could make the comparison of Anquan Boldin to Marques Colston, the Saints don’t have a receiver like Larry Fitzgerald.
Two, the Cardinals have a playmaker at safety, in Adrian Wilson. You couldn’t trade the Saints’ safeties for a pair of Mardi Gras beads and a king cake.
Other than that, the two rosters are pretty similar.
There is one other well-noted advantage that the Cardinals were fortunate to have this season: a weak division.
The NFC West, collectively, was one of the worst divisions in NFL history. The NFC South was statistically the best division in the NFL this season.
In this regard, I think the Saints should be optimistic for next season. I think that all three of the Saints’ division rivals will slip a little bit in 2009.
The Panthers are going to have to digest a Jake Delhomme charity event that was the NFC divisional playoff game. Julius Peppers does not want to return next season—at least not long-term. In their short history, the Panthers have never put together back-to-back winning seasons.
The Falcons are going to have a tough time repeating this year’s great season. Historically, when a team rises from the ashes to have a playoff season, they slip a little bit the next season. Look at the Rams in 2000, the Patriots in 2002, and the Saints in 2007 as just a few examples.
As a Saints fan, I am confident that New Orleans will make the necessary changes to improve the team enough to make a Super Bowl run. The pieces are in place on offense. They made a great move to hire Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator. I think he will acquire the right players to fit his attacking scheme and coach up the players currently on the roster.
2009 can be the year of the Saint. If the Cardinals—the Arizona freakin’ Cardinals—can make the Super Bowl, so can the Saints.