Every team in the NFC West is above .500 after seven weeks of play. And that includes Kliff Kingsbury’s much-improved Arizona Cardinals.
We saw it twice in both 2017 and 2018. Three years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars won the NFC East and AFC South, respectively, after finishing last in their respective division one season earlier. The latter would go onto reach the conference championship game. Meanwhile, the Birds wound up in Super Bowl LII and came home with a Lombardi Trophy courtesy of a victory over the New England Patriots.
A year later, the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears also went from last place in 2017 to first in ’18. It’s just the nature of today’s league and the effects of an NFL with free agency and a salary cap. Of course, no team was able to turn the trick in 2019. But there’s at least one team this season that bears watching when it comes to going from the outhouse to the penthouse.
Winners of their last three games, the Arizona Cardinals own a 5-2 record just one year after finishing 5-10-1 under first-time NFL head coach Kliff Kingsbury. That puts the team in the desert one-half game out of first place in the highly-competitive NFC West. And speaking of the divisions, the Cards already own wins at San Francisco and last Sunday night, handed the Seattle Seahawks their first setback of 2020.
Second-year quarterback Kyler Murray hasn’t been perfect but he has certainly been hot as of late. The team has scored at least 30 points in each of their last three games. This season, the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is hitting on 66.8 percent of his throws for 1,847 yards and nearly twice as many touchdown passes (13) as interceptions (7). He’s lost just one of two fumbles and has already run for 437 yards and seven TDs. And thanks to better offensive line play, he’s been sacked only nine times.
Last season, the Cardinals’ defense with a major liability. But it has certainly made some strides this season although it is still far from perfect. A year ago, Arizona gave up the second-most yards in the league and no team was easier to throw on. That despite a pass rush that produced 44 sacks (19 by Chandler Jones, who is out for the season). The club allowed 38 TD passes and 47 offensive touchdowns as well as 442 total points. But in seven games this season, the Cards have allowed just 16 offensive TDs. And a team that managed only 17 takeaways a year ago has already forced 10 turnovers.
Still, the most impressive number for Kingsbury’s team may be that 2-0 within the division. This was a club that was 1-5 vs. their divisional rivals a season ago, swept by the 49ers and Rams. They will face Los Angeles twice in the final six weeks of the season.
The Cardinals are off this Sunday but they have certainly opened some eyes around the league so far this season. Could we see another worst-to-first campaign in 2020?