Last year: 10-6, third place in NFC West
Acquisitions: Antonio Cromartie, Deone Bucannon, Larry Foote, Ted Ginn, Jonathan Dwyer, Gears of War character Jared Veldheer
Departures: Karlos Dansby, Andre Roberts, Ryan Williams, Eric Winston, Yeremiah Bell
Already critical injury: Darnell Dockett
Already critical season-long suspension: Daryl Washington
Vegas 2014 win total over/under: 7.5 wins
Five things Arizona is doing to get ready to host this year’s Super Bowl:
— Making commemorative Super Bowl badges for local police departments.
— Preparing to ask for Mark Sanchez’s papers if the Eagles make it.
— Only allowing Antonio Cromartie’s kids to run concessions for the big game.
— Creating a “we’re a great place to watch the Patriots finish 18-1” slogan.
— Not putting any pressure on themselves to be the first host team to play.
Fan forecast by Will Leitch:
So here’s a depressing question: Was last year’s Arizona Cardinals team the best team the franchise has put on the field since Bill Bidwill moved the team to the desert in 1987?
No, no, that’s not the depressing question, because the answer is so obvious: The answer is yes. If you look at Football Outsiders’ Simple Rating System (SRS) – a quick and dirty way of understanding a team’s quality using drive stats and other complicated business no one gets but is probably the truth because it really would be a lot of trouble to go through to end up getting the numbers wrong – last year’s Arizona Cardinals had a SRS of 6.4. A league average SRS is 0.0, which means last 2013 Arizona Cardinals would have beaten an average team on a neutral field by 6.4 points.
This is an impressive number: This number marks last year’s Cardinals as the sixth-best team in the NFL. The top 10:
1. Seattle Seahawks 13.0
2. Denver Broncos 11.4
3. San Francisco 49ers 10.1
4. Carolina Panthers 9.2
5. New Orleans Saints 8.8
6. Arizona Cardinals 6.4
7. Kansas City Chiefs 6.1
8. New England Patriots 5.9
9. Cincinnati Bengals 5.3
10. Indianapolis Colts 4.0
Impressive! The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals basically would have been the second best team in the AFC last year. Now, let’s compare that 6.4 number to other Buzzsaw seasons since they moved to Arizona.
1. 2013 Arizona Cardinals 6.4
2. 1993 Phoenix Cardinals 3.9
3. 1988 Phoenix Cardinals 0.5
4. 2009 Arizona Cardinals -0.3
5. 2008 Arizona Cardinals -1.9
Can you believe that? The two years the Buzzsaw made the playoffs with Kurt Warner? Worse than average teams, even that Super Bowl one. (That Super Bowl one is fifth. There were 20 better NFL teams than the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2008/ , and they damned near won the Super Bowl that year.) The Arizona Cardinals have been playing in the state of Arizona for 26 seasons, and they’ve only had three seasons in which they would beat an average NFL team on a neutral field. And in two of those three seasons (1993 and 1988), they didn’t even finish with a winning record.
So the depressing question isn’t whether last year’s Arizona Cardinals were the best in desert history, because they so obviously were. (In you’re wondering, only one team in the history of the franchise, going back to 1950 and the Chicago Cardinals days – which is as far back as Pro Football Reference goes with SRS – was better than last year’s team: The 1970 St. Louis Cardinals.) No, the two depressing questions are:
• How did the best Cardinals team in 44 years miss the freaking playoffs?
The answer to this one is tied up with the answer to the second question:
• Is last year actually as good as it’s going to get?
Looks like it! Because – and this was the problem last year – the last two NFC champions, and the defending Super Bowl champions, happen to play in the same division. Neither one of those teams looks like they’ll be worse next year – I’d argue they’re both improved – and the Cardinals, at best, are treading water. Having Andre Ellington (who might be the best back the Buzzsaw have had since … Christ, Stump Mitchell?) as the lead guy all year is a step up, but the injuries and suspensions on defense (to Darnell Dockett, to Honey Badger, to Daryl Washington) should more than pull that back down. Basically, everything had to go right for Arizona last year to have the best team in desert history (by far) … and they still didn’t make the playoffs.
The good ole days – the best year in 44 years – just happened, and we didn’t even notice. This year hasn’t started. But it already feels over. We’re pretty used to that.
Will Leitch is a senior writer at Sports On Earth, contributing editor for New York magazine, contributor to Bloomberg Politics and the founder of Deadspin. You can find him at @williamfleitch.