A wise Cardinals fan would cheer for a loss in this final preseason game.
Although preseason performance is generally a poor predictor of regular season performance across the NFL, many individual teams show consistent trends over time. The Arizona Cardinals are one of those teams.
Over the past 11 years, the Cardinals have had winning preseason records (3-1 or better) just four times. The team’s performance over the course of those regular seasons has been less than stellar, with an average record of just 5-11.
During years with losing preseasons, the Cardinals have an average record of 7-9. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but recall that a record of 7-9 would have put the Cardinals into playoff contention in their division last year.
This trend has become even more pronounced with Ken Whisenhunt at the team’s helm. After he was brought on board in January of 2007, his team recorded a 0-4 preseason. Despite the bleak opening performance, his team went on to win eight of their regular season games. Coincidentally, 2007 represented the first time since 1998 that the Cardinals recorded a .500 season.
Since then, Whisenhunt’s teams have routinely posted losing preseasons and winning regular seasons. 2010 simultaneously represented Whisenhunt’s first winning preseason (3-1), and his worst regular season as head coach of the Cardinals (5-11).
Some may attribute the team’s success early in Whisenhunt’s tenure to Kurt Warner and his talented offense. When Warner retired and high-profile players such as Anquan Boldin flocked to other teams prior to the 2010 season, fans and experts alike made dire predictions about the upcoming season. As it turned out, they were right.
Despite their success in the 2010 preseason, the Cardinals spent most of the regular season playing quarterback roulette between Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton. The formula worked reasonably well for the first few weeks of the season, but after the Week 6 bye, the Cardinals could no longer hold it together. The team lost seven games in a row.
Looking back on Ken Whisenhunt’s only winning preseason, it is clear that part of their success was due to the competition for starting quarterback. With that roster slot up in the air, Anderson and Skelton weren’t just playing scrimmage games—they were playing for a promotion. The problem was that neither of them was at a point in their careers where they actually merited starter status for an NFL team.
This year, the Cardinals still have some positional weaknesses that will likely hinder their success. There will be losses to balance out the wins in the regular season. A mediocre regular season is to be expected of a team that is in the process of rebuilding, though.
The team has already taken a step in the right direction by settling on a first-string quarterback in Kevin Kolb prior to the start of the preseason. While the jury remains out on whether Kolb is the future of the franchise, the consistency of having a decent quarterback at the helm this year will certainly make a positive impact on the team’s overall performance this year.
The road ahead may be rocky, but the team is already clearly in a better position this year than they were in 2010. Given Ken Whisenhunt’s consistent track record so far, the Cardinals’ current preseason standing of 1-2 should serve as a good omen to fans hoping for better football this year. If history continues to repeat itself, the Cardinals can expect to win at least seven games this season—and quite possibly even come away with a winning record.