Buyer Beware: The Arizona Cardinals

Aaron KeelSenior Analyst IIISeptember 8, 2008

The opening weekend of the NFL season has passed, and we’ve seen a little bit of everything, from crazy finishes (Carolina’s last-second victory), devastating injuries (Tom Brady), and some surprises (Atlanta’s 34-21 victory over the Lions).

But one of the things that makes opening weekend so great for fans is that every team starts out 0-0, with at least the hope of the playoffs or maybe more. And for those fans whose teams have serious playoff aspirations, winning the opening game only adds fuel to the fire.

Take for instance fans of the Arizona Cardinals. In 20 seasons since coming to the valley of the sun the Cardinals have been to the playoffs a whopping 1 time. To put that into perspective 14 different teams have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in that time frame.

Thankfully for the Cardinal faithful, going into most seasons it was obvious that the losing trend would continue. But thanks to an 8-8 record last season, just the team’s third season of .500 or better, expectations were high, considering the commonly held perception that the NFC West was there for the taking.

Sunday’s victory in San Francisco has only boosted these expectations and has everyone in Cardinal land going to sleep with dreams of division titles and playoffs dancing in their heads.

Unfortunately, I have to deliver the rude awakening, so I will be as clear as possible.

The Arizona Cardinals are not winning their division, and they will not, I repeat, will not make the playoffs this season.

For those Cardinals fans who will undoubtedly question my sanity after watching their team beat the 49ers 23-13 on Sunday, I ask a simple question.

What did you see that makes you think the Cardinals will actually make the playoffs or (in case hell freezes over) win the NFC West?

Let me take a guess.

You saw a Cardinals defense that forced five turnovers.

An offense that held a 37:05 to 22:55 time-of-possession advantage, including a whopping 22:38 to 7:22 advantage in the second half.

A rushing game that dominated the fourth quarter and also produced a 100-yard day for Edgerrin James (a total he reached only three times last season and only six times in two seasons with the team).

And most importantly, you’ll say you saw the Cardinals do something they’ve done just three times on the road and just four times overall in the past 21 seasons.

Win on opening day.

Not bad, all decent points.

Now let me tell you what I saw.

A Cardinals defense that got shredded by a 'Niners rushing attack that averaged 5.4 ypc, including a 41-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore.

An Arizona offense that managed only two touchdowns in six red-zone trips (the seventh was kneel downs to end the game).

A rushing “attack” that averaged a pedestrian 2.8 ypc.

A team that, despite winning the turnover battle 5-0, all the above mentioned trips to the red zone, and having starting field position a head coach could only dream of, only managed 23 points.  

A team that was outgained 291-285 in total net yardage, yet they ran 28 more plays then San Francisco.

And lastly, I saw a team that will be watching the playoffs on TV, if they play like they did on Sunday.

What most fans missed from Sunday’s win was the golden opportunity that was flushed down the drain by the Cardinals. An opportunity to announce themselves not only to a very winnable NFC West but the rest of the league as a team not to be taken lightly.

With the Seahawks and the Rams getting crushed on Sunday, Arizona, with the beating they should have given the 49ers, could have staked their claim as the team to beat in the division.

Did you see the way the Eagles, Cowboys, and Steelers dominated their games? Arizona should have dominated the 49ers in the same manner, putting that game away before halftime.

Instead, they proved that, once again, they are not ready to make that leap to becoming a playoff team.

Can you honestly tell me they are one of the top eight teams in the NFC?

I can’t either, and with a brutal schedule ahead of them, the discussion may be over before it begins. Cardinals fans can go back to hoping that next season will be the one.