Conventional wisdom would say a team that reaches the Super Bowl is better than one that did not even make the playoffs.
Sometimes conventional wisdom may not be correct.
Such is the case when comparing arguably the two best teams in Arizona Cardinals history: 2008 and 2013.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” former Cardinal and leader of the ’08 squad Kurt Warner said when asked if this year’s Cardinals were better than his. “I’ve said a million times, I don’t think we were really that good of a football team in ’08.”
Cris Collinsworth would agree.
That season, the Cardinals won nine games but had a point differential of just +1. They lost four of their last six games, and had losses of 28, 21 and 40 during that stretch.
What the Cardinals also had that year, according to Warner, were special players who came up big in the playoffs.
“To go through the season and we know that the division at that time was not very good, so we kind of walked through our division,” he mused. “And then you saw us when we played the playoff teams down the stretch, they destroyed us. We got beat by everybody by like 25 points. That was a good indication.
“I even remember sitting and talking to some of my teammates, once we had clinched the playoffs but then we were getting destroyed, and I was so frustrated because I’m like, ‘We’re finally going to get a chance to compete for this thing and we’re not very good, we’re not going to have a chance to win this thing.'”
Of course, the Cardinals got hot and beat the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. The team did have a chance to win it all, and came within minutes of actually doing so.
“Come playoff time, we had guys like Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby. [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] played huge at that time. I mean [Larry Fitzgerald], obviously, was enormous. We ran the football in the postseason; I played very well. That’s what we had,” Warner said. “We had some unique players that helped separate us because we all kind of came together at playoff time. We weren’t very good, though.”
The same really can’t be said about this year’s Cardinals.
They were 12th in the NFL in total offense and scored an average of 23.7 points per game while finishing sixth in total defense and allowing 20.3 points per contest. Their run defense finished first in the league, and they knocked off a trio of second-round playoff teams during the course of the year.
Unfortunately, winning seven of their last nine games was not enough to get the team through the very difficult NFC West and into the playoffs.
“I look at this Cardinals team and the way that they play defense,” Warner said. “If you would have put our offense with this defense, we would have won a Super Bowl no doubt in my mind.”
Warner added that the 2013 offense was good, too, with Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and an offensive line that improved as the season went on, which is not unlike what happened prior to the Super Bowl run.
But it’s the other side of the ball that really separates the two teams, in Warner’s opinion.
“Just that defense; anytime you put that kind of defense out on the football field,” he said. “To think that they went up to Seattle, Carson threw four interceptions, and they were able to beat Seattle? That’s incredible to even fathom with as good as they are at home, but I think it speaks to how good this defense was, and if this offense can continue to make strides and catch up, this could be a very dangerous team.”
But for the sake of the argument of 2013 vs. 2008, Warner said the only advantage his version may have had was a few more game-changers on the roster.
“I think overall, I would say that they were a much better team than we were.”