TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals finished the 2013 season winners of seven of their last nine games.
Unfortunately for them, their total of 10 wins was not enough to earn them a spot in the postseason, meaning that while they may have been playing as well as anybody in the league at the time, their season was over after Week 17.
A similar scenario would not be good enough this season.
“Win a championship,” coach Bruce Arians said when asked about the team’s goal. “That’s our goal. That’s our goal every year. Last year, 10 wins was not good enough, and we want to win the West.”
One year ago at this time, with the team coming off a five-win season and a coaching change, that type of goal would have seemed rather unrealistic.
Amazingly enough, with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks along with the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams residing with the Cardinals in the NFC West, the goal may seem even more unrealistic.
To wit: the LVH sports book in Las Vegas currently has the Cardinals’ predicted win total at just 7.5, which is no better than the Houston Texans, who are coming off a two-win season, and the Washington Redskins, who earned just three victories in 2013. It’s also tied with the Rams.
Did the Cardinals get worse from last season? By most accounts, the team is at worst the same, but probably improved. Any expectations of a down season would appear to be due primarily to the team having to play in the NFL’s toughest division. That won’t change, but the team’s 2-4 record against the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams can.
And if it does, the Cardinals may reach their goal. Of course, it’s a much easier sell, that of looking to win a championship, when the team is coming off such a strong finish from the year before.
“If we can take the second half of the season and continue to build off of it,” Arians said. “There’s a lot of confidence in our locker room, there’s a lot of camaraderie. And that’s what it takes to win again.”
It also takes talent, which the Cardinals appear to have, and a lot of luck, which is one thing we don’t know if they will have or not. At this point last season, teams like Texans, Atlanta Falcons and Redskins were projected to contend for playoff spots, but injuries and other factors led to them finishing at or near the bottom of their respective divisions.
So while all the talk now about playing for championships, both division and Super Bowl, is nice, nothing is really won in late May. If the Cardinals are to be the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in its home stadium, plenty is going to have to happen between now and February 1st. But compared to this time one year ago, things are definitely different for the Cardinals.
“Last year was kind of more we were trying to get to know each other, and then by the middle of the year we clicked and were like we’re good, we can play,” veteran linebacker John Abraham said, pointing to the various leaders the team had and helped make the team as good as it was. “I think we’re starting off now, in kind of like that mode already.”
Abraham, who is the NFL’s current active leader with 133.5 quarterback sacks — 11.5 of which came last season — believes what the Cardinals went through in 2013 has them prepared for a playoff run in 2014. But the veteran of 14 NFL seasons, six of which saw him reach the postseason, understands belief only gets you so far.
“All the stuff doesn’t mean anything until you get 16 games into the season,” he said. “All the stuff is real nice. Oh, you look good on paper, oh they got him, they got this — oh my God.”
Abraham reminisced about the 2000 Redskins, who spent a lot of money on big-name free agents such as Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith, which led to Super Bowl expectations.
“Then they won six games,” he said with a laugh.
To be fair, that Redskins team won eight games, but Abraham’s point is valid. It’s better to have people think you’re a good team than not, but none of moves a team makes in the offseason or expectations it has going into the regular season matter much.
“They had Hall of Famers all over the team,” he said. “But nothing doesn’t mean nothing on paper until you play on Sundays.”