Arizona Cardinals 2009 Expectations: Super Bowl or Bust?

Tommy Messano@ULTMMAContributor IMay 21, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals runs for a touchdown after a catch against James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Well for the first time since the fall of 1948 the Cardinals are entering the regular season after a title game appearance. These aren’t your great, great grandparents Cardinals. Can the 2009 Arizona Cardinals make it back to the Super Bowl? Or will the Cards fall under the weight of their newfound expectations?

There are some major obstacles standing in the way of a repeat run to the Super Bowl. Starting with what has been the focal point of the offseason; contract spats. The elephant in the room wears No. 81 and goes by the name of Anquan Boldin.

For the time being it appears Q is not going anywhere. The question is will he be a good solider like he was in 2008 or will he channel his inner TO/Ocho Cinco in 2009? Defensive leaders Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby and Adrian Wilson are also all one good locker room quote away from stirring the pot on money issues.

Last year the Cards stayed relatively injury free for most of the season. More importantly they were healthy at the right time.

To go back to back years without a season ending injury to a star player is more luck than anything. A nagging hamstring injury to Larry Fitzgerald or the wear and tear finally catching up to the 37 year old body of Kurt Warner could significantly set the Cardinals back.

Despite all these obstacles the Cardinals are still the clear cut favorite to win their division and reap the rewards of at least one home playoff game.

The NFL scheduling Gods were also on Big Red’s side as the Cards only face five playoff teams from last season. An interesting scheduling quark works in Arizona’s favor as they do not have to play an outdoor East Coast game after a week seven face off with the New York Giants.

On the sidelines Linebacker Coach Bill Davis was promoted to Defensive Coordinator following the firing of Clancy Pendergast. The Cards ranked in the bottom half of the league in passing defense, rushing defense and total defense. Other than the playoff hot streak the defense as a whole underperformed.

With the free agent acquisitions of CB Bryant McFadden and S Keith Lewis the secondary has added depth and competition. While the burden of replacing the pass rush skills of departed DE Antonio Smith will fall on the broad shoulders of rookie second round draft pick Cody Brown.  

Balance is the magic word for the Cardinals offense in 2009. With coach Whisenhunt calling the plays and the drafting of Chris Wells the Cardinals will look to put more emphasize on running the ball earlier in the game.

Last year the coaching staff had little to no faith in the running game. This season the Cards anticipate the running game to become a strength, with a two headed monster at running back along with the continued maturation of the O-line, rather than the burden it was for most of 2008

In order to improve on their 9-7 regular season record the Cardinals are hoping that a new Defensive Coordinator calling the shots will turn around a unit largely left unchanged. No major changes to a high powered offense plus the addition of Ohio State running back Beanie Wells will make the offense even more dangerous in 2009.

The bigger question is how do you measure expectations of a historically underachieving franchise when it’s coming off a super bowl run? If, the Cardinals win 11 or 12 games but fail to make it back to the Super Bowl, have preseason hopes been reached?

Or is anything positive that happens with this franchise in 2009 just icing on the cake after a euphoric 2008 season?

The Cardinals are the defending NFC champions. Big Red is the new bully on the block. With those standards in place anything short of a division title coupled with a deep playoff run has to be considered a disappointment for Ken Whisenhunt and Co.