Despite coming within a hair of winning the Super Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals have gotten little respect. Vegas rewarded their effort by putting them at 30/1 odds to win next year's Super Bowl, roughly the same odds received by the Bears and Buccaneers and about three times worse than the odds that were being given to the Cowboys.
This is a mistake. Last year's season was not an aberration. The Cardinals remind me of the Patriots after they won their first Super Bowl. People did not give them much credit, thinking they largely got lucky against the high-powered Rams.
But, they were more than ready to really take off and only got better. People were wrong about the Pats and they are wrong about the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have one of the best coaches in football in Ken Whisenhunt, a great quarterback (albeit probably only for a couple more years), and an all-universe and almost uncoverable receiver.
And they just added the best running back in the draft, who miraculously slid all the way to the Cards at 31. This addresses one of their biggest need areas from last year and will allow them to pound the ball more effectively next year.
They spent the next three rounds focused on upgrading their defense, adding a 3-4 outside linebacker in Connecticut's Cody Brown in the second round who should immediately help their pass rush. They also made a nice pickup in the third round, snagging Alabama safety Rashad Johnson, one of the draft's better safeties.
They have significantly improved their roster during the off season. They signed Steelers' cornerback Bryant McFadden as a free agent. This is the guy Steelers' fans did not want to see leave town, a young and very good cornerback in his playing prime.
He will immediately upgrade their secondary while being paired with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, last year's top pick who will likely continue to improve this year.
The Cardinals are Steelers West under Whisenhunt. He is implementing what he learned while running the offense in Pittsburgh, which is to bring in high character and versatile guys.
In many cases, he has literally targeted Steelers' players, with McFadden and Dan Kreider being the lateset in a string of former Steelers who will be suiting up in Arizona red.
They no longer have any glaring weakness on their roster. Their offensive line isn't one of the best in football, but it is serviceable. Their defense is far better than they played for much of last season and, with a new defensive coordinator, will likely improve this year.
Some sports writers are over obsessing on the Anquan Boldin contract situation. Even if Boldin leaves town, which appears increasingly unlikely, Steve Breaston is also an outstanding receiver. The Cardinals will not be left without weapons.
Anyone who thinks the Cardinals are a one year wonder are in for a surprise. They were a team that had to learn how to win. They've checked that box and are ready to move forward.
Historically, the Super Bowl losing team has not done well the next season, especially when it is an NFC team. The Cardinals (along with the Steelers) will also be battling the "Madden curse" since Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu will appear together on the cover of Madden 2010.
The Cardinals look to me like the team that will break that trend and if I was a betting man, I'd take those 30/1 odds.