Everyone makes mistakes.
Some, of course, are worse than others, but really, nobody’s perfect.
And while two games is not exactly enough of a sample size to come to steadfast conclusions, the Arizona Cardinals’ performance in wins over the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears, making them one of nine teams with a 2-0 record, has led Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz to recant on his preseason prediction for the team.
Back in August, he wrote the Cardinals would take a big step back in 2015. Actually, he wrote they would have the biggest regression of anyone.
Now, though, his tune has changed a little.
In an ESPN Insider piece meant to analyze which 2-0 teams are really contenders, he puts the Cardinals in the category of legit.
In fact, he begins the segment on Arizona by mentioning how their site predicted a precipitous drop for the team, before following it with, “Oops.”
Last year, despite their 11-5 record, the Cardinals ranked only 22nd in the Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings. This year, the Cardinals are the No. 1 team through two weeks. Last year, the Cardinals built up their 11-5 record with close wins. This year, Arizona dominated New Orleans more than the 31-19 final score would otherwise indicate, then went to Chicago and brutalized the Bears by a final score of 48-23.
According to DVOA, Arizona has been 85 percent better than average in its first two games, making it the best team through Week 2 since the 2007 Patriots. Except … that rating isn’t adjusted yet to account for Arizona’s opponents. Even when we thought Arizona was an average team before the season, these were still two games our simulations gave them a good chance to win. And while the Cardinals easily handled the Saints and Bears, so did Tampa Bay and Green Bay, respectively. New Orleans is a mess right now, and Chicago is worse. A dominating win over a bad team is often an indicator of a strong team, but not always. Ask yourself what we learned about Washington a year ago when it beat Jacksonville 41-10 in Week 2.
True, the Cardinals’ first two opponents leave plenty to be desired. However, there is something to be said for beating the teams you “should” beat, and the way Arizona did it — with good defense, an improved running game and excellent play from QB Carson Palmer — are certainly positive signs for the team going forward.
Their 79 points are the most of any team in the NFL so far this season, as are their 11 touchdowns scored. Their +37 point differential also paces the league, with the next closest team — the New York Jets — being at +34.
But of course, the Cardinals will at some point play a team with actual playoff aspirations, and at that point we’ll really start to learn how good they are. Until then, as Schatz notes, we don’t truly know everything there is to know about Bruce Arians’ team.
There are still legitimate questions about the Cardinals on both sides of the ball. It has been a long time since we’ve seen Carson Palmer play a top defense. Because of injuries, he avoided Seattle, Detroit and Denver last year. The two defenses he has ripped up so far are probably the two worst defenses he’ll face all season. He’s certainly not going to go the whole year without being sacked. The Arizona defense has been strong for years, but it has lost a lot of talent at linebacker over the past couple of seasons. The pass rush has not excelled early, with just four sacks against two weak offenses that were forced to pass in the second half.
The Arizona schedule will not be as hard as we expected before the season, especially if Seattle continues to have issues, but it is going to get a lot harder from here on out. Based on DAVE, a rating that combines our DVOA ratings with our preseason projections, Arizona has the seventh-toughest remaining schedule in the league.
Asked to give a conclusion, Schatz wrote that the Cardinals are more “for real” than they all thought before the season, but also are probably not the best team in the NFC.
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