DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns racing to break title droughts

Nov 23, 2021, 5:31 PM
Owner Michael Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals reacts after the team beat the Seattle Seahawks 23-1...
Owner Michael Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals reacts after the team beat the Seattle Seahawks 23-13 at Lumen Field on November 21, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Cardinals are the best team in the NFL. The Suns have won 13 consecutive regular season games. Lit City is coming to life.

Who gets to a championship first?

Pick one. Call your shot.

Both are sentimental favorites. When the Cubs finally won a World Series in 2016, the Cardinals inherited the throne of shame. They now own the longest major professional drought of any North American sports franchise. They haven’t won a title since 1947, approximately the last time they changed their uniforms.

The Suns are the Valley’s first love. Al McCoy is a legend. The Gorilla is an icon. The franchise has more than its share of stitches and scar tissue, suffering horrific heartbreaks along the way.

The Suns have gone 53 years without a title, which seems significantly less than the Cardinals’ winless streak of 74 years. But the Suns were also here 20 years before the NFL arrived in Phoenix, and 55% of the Cardinals’ streak occurred elsewhere.

The Cardinals have an easier path. If they retain and secure the NFC’s No. 1 seed, they need to win just two home games to reach the Super Bowl in nearby Los Angeles.

They will possess the fastest lane to a championship in any major sport.

The Suns need to win 16 games, navigating a marathon grind of playoff series in the arduous Western Conference.

The Suns have a big advantage in experience. They return almost every significant piece from last year’s run to the NBA Finals, adding two fresh pieces to the mix. The collective experience gained by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges is a priceless asset for their franchise, as all three have lengthy careers in front of them. And now that Chris Paul has stood two victories away from basketball’s Holy Grail, I’m guessing he better understands the concept of pacing himself.

The Cardinals don’t have the same experience. They added significant veteran leadership and big-time playmakers to their mix in 2021, resulting in a team that has performed exceedingly well in its biggest moments. But Kyler Murray has never tasted the NFL playoffs, where the speed and intensity increases dramatically.

Yes, Murray is a proven winner. He played on a huge stage in the College Football Playoff against Alabama, where he was sensational in the second half. But the NFL playoffs are the ultimate proving ground, a place where nothing is to be assumed.

The Suns also have a big edge in coaching. Monty Williams has created an elite basketball culture in Phoenix while their general manager is nicknamed “Champ” for a reason.

Kliff Kingsbury will be new to this game. He might rise to the occasion. His renovated offense is much better suited for a championship run, no longer resembling an Air Raid attack. The Cardinals rank No. 3 in rushing attempts; No. 6 in rushing yards; No. 1 in rushing touchdowns; and average nearly 32 minutes a game in time of possession.

But once again, the NFL playoffs can bring out your best and your worst, especially if you’re a first-time head coach.

The Suns have one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA. The suffocating din at Footprint Center tilted games and altered player psyches all throughout the 2021 postseason. Meanwhile, the Cardinals endure some of the worst bipartisan yuck-fests in the NFL at State Farm Stadium, which helps account for their lack of energy at home and their indomitable spirit on the road.

That said, the current Cardinals players might be in for a pleasant burst of adrenaline if the crowd turns up the noise and turns in the favor down the stretch.

Both teams can beat you with offense and defense. The Suns are making a 13-game winning streak look easy, a team still playing well below its ceiling. The Cardinals just beat a pair of division rivals on the road with their backup quarterback, a team that is now readying for their big push.

So who ya got?

I’m going with the experience, and the team that has been there before. For now.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta Mornings weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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