Following up on a Super Bowl defeat is never easy. Ask the Eagles, Panthers and Patriots. In their respective seasons following an appearance in the big game, these perennial contenders failed to make the playoffs.
What does this say for the 2009 Arizona Cardinals? Who won just three games outside of their division and were dubbed by many "the worst playoff team in history" a season ago. While the "experts" were proven wrong, questions have continued to mount about whether the Redbirds can even come close to their improbable 2008 run.
"I'm not really concerned right now," Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt said of his team's chances. "I feel like we have good football players on this team, and whatever 45 we have out there on game day, we're going to have a great chance to win."
Winning the division is first on Arizona's agenda. The Cardinals ran the NFC West table in 2008 en route to their first division title since moving to the desert. Dominating the division will be key, but the Redbirds will want to improve on their 3-7 non-conference record from a year ago.
With no cold weather road games after early November and a lower opponent's winning percentage, nine-plus wins is well within the team's grasp.
To accomplish this, more consistency on the defense should be expected to improve on their 28th ranking in points allowed. Signing veteran cornerback Bryant McFadden and moving to more 3-4 schemes will be steps in the right direction, but minimizing the big play should be the focus.
To do this, the Cardinals will need their young players to step up, especially in the pass rush.
Continued success on the offense should also be a goal for the Redbirds in 2009. The passing game was monumental in the Cards' overall success last season. Receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Anquan Boldin have meshed with quarterback Kurt Warner to create arguably the most potent air attack in the league.
The running game came on in the postseason and, with the addition of Chris "Beanie" Wells, Arizona will look to be more balanced this season.
These expectations are certainly attainable, but as with any NFL team, injuries can derail any franchise's plans. The Redbirds were extremely lucky in 2008 to have all 22 starters active the entire season.
It is unlikely this will happen again. Players being out could limit the continued success or improvement of players on both sides of the ball.
The NFC West is improved and sweeping through a division two years in a row is difficult to say the least. If young players can step up for the 49ers and the Seahawks can stay healthy, they could give the Cards problems.
Last season was the first time in a long time most breaks went the Cardinals way. Coach Whisenhunt has certainly instilled a tougher mentality in his time in the desert, so even if everything does not go FOR the Redbirds, they now have an aggressive voice to get them through the rough patches.