GLENDALE, Ariz. — Don’t hand the division title to San Francisco just yet.
Or Seattle. Or St. Louis, for that matter.
“I don’t see the dominance that everybody else talks about,” Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said Thursday. “One of those teams, maybe; but it’s still got to be played on Sunday.”
The NFC West, according to many, will be the toughest division in the NFL this season.
It’s certainly easy to see why that opinion exists: A year ago, San Francisco reached the Super Bowl, Seattle won 11 games and St. Louis, despite its sub-.500 record, actually won the most games within the division.
The Cardinals — after losing 11 of their final 12 games — have been left out of the conversation that for the most part has been centered on the Niners and Seahawks.
“I think they earned that respect with the way that they played last year and the wins that they had,” kicker Jay Feely said. “Obviously, San Francisco going to the Super Bowl and being on the brink of winning that game, so they deserve that respect.
“We have to go out and earn it,” he continued. “That’s the mindset of this team. That’s the mindset of this coaching staff. I like that position.”
The Cardinals, said Feely, don’t mind flying under the radar.
“Football is a sport that you go out and you prove yourself on the field,” he said. “Nobody gives you anything. It doesn’t matter what kind of stars you have. You’ve got to avoid injury. You’ve got to out there and you got to win games. You’ve got to make plays at the end of games in the critical moments. That’s what the NFL comes down to.”
Winning more often at home helps as well.
The Cardinals went 4-4 last season at University of Phoenix Stadium. By comparison, the 49ers and Seahawks finished a combined 14-1-1 on their home fields.
“You have to win at home,” Arians said. “You’ve got to win at home and scratch out a few on the road and you’re in the playoffs every year. But you have to defend your home field.”
Of course, that is easier said than done, according to the first-year head coach.
“With our division, it’s a physical division,” Arians said. “Those are teams that normally do well on the road.”