When the Arizona Cardinals headed west in 1988, it had been five years since their last playoff appearance – and it would be another ten until they finally made a return trip to the postseason. A decade after that, they nearly won Super Bowl XLIII, but those Cards were still considered a fluke, a team that posted a 9-7 record and outscored their opponents by a grand total of one point over the course of the season.
But now that they’ve found the one thing they lacked for the majority of their haphazard history – a legitimately great quarterback – the Cardinals are serving notice that things have changed. After Carson Palmer led Arizona to a win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night (in Seattle, no less) the Cards have announced themselves as very serious, very dangerous contenders for the Super Bowl this season. Who’s going to stop them?
Certainly not the Seahawks. The former NFC tough guys blew their fifth fourth-quarter lead of the season and lost their second home game of 2015. It was the first time Seattle lost back-to-back games at home since 2011. The Seahawks also gave up the most passing yards in a game – Palmer threw for 363 yards with three touchdowns – since Week 6 of 2012.
It was almost as if Arizona went into CenturyLink Field with a mission to erase everything that Pete Carroll had built over the last few seasons and claim it as their own. That mission is very close to being accomplished.
The Cardinals are on the verge of ending Seattle’s two-year run of winning the NFC West, with a three-game lead in the division and a head-to-head win over the Seahawks. They’ve also proven that they are not afraid to play in Seattle, as they have won two of their last three games in that stadium. Arizona has also scored more points on the Seahawks than anyone has since 2010.
The biggest question left for the Cardinals – and the last thing that they want to grab from Seattle and claim as their own – is a Super Bowl championship. Thanks to a healthy Palmer, that seems more than possible. The Cards are 20-4 in Palmer’s last 24 starts dating back to 2013. Palmer has thrown a touchdown pass in 23 of those games. That includes a 10-2 record on the road, though it seems less and less likely that they’ll have to go on the road in the playoffs until perhaps the NFC Championship.
At 7-2, Arizona has a firm grasp on the second seed in the NFC, behind the 9-0 Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals are currently tied with a Minnesota Vikings team that’s benefitted from a soft schedule so far – and the Birds will play them in their house in Week 14. Same for the suddenly stumbling Green Bay Packers, who come to Arizona in Week 16. Next week’s showdown with the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals will provide the Cardinals with a stiff challenge, but there’s reason to believe that this Cardinals team won’t collapse like so many of their predecessors. In fact, this might be the best Arizona Cardinals team we have ever seen, and the NFC is theirs for the taking.
That’s because the Seahawks, whose season is almost certainly on the line this week as they host the San Francisco 49ers, have been loosening their grip on the conference since their near-loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship last year – and on Sunday, it seemed like they finally let go. The Cardinals are probably going back to the playoffs this year, and this time they could very well have their most important weapon.
Will Seattle be going back too? Not unless they can find out what it is they’re missing, and it’s not as easy as pointing to an injured player. They’re missing something far more intangible: The air of intimidation. That’s something else the Cards took back to Arizona this week.