There’s a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, one of the best centers in the league, and a cornerback who came up with one of the most important plays in Super Bowl history. And they are all now members of a franchise that owns the longest current championship drought in the league.
But if recent history is any indication, the Arizona Cardinals have the ideal credentials to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.
Now it’s far too early to be making any kind of predictions, much less than a bold one. This past season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a Super Bowl one year after finishing 7-9. In 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles were last in the NFC East with a 7-9 record and the following season hoisted a Lombardi Trophy by dethroning the New England Patriots in Minneapolis (LII). All told, five of the last six teams to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl were coming off an 8-8 campaign or worse.
The Cardinals have certainly made strides under head coach Kliff Kingsbury and improving two-year signal-caller Kyler Murray. The former Texas Tech sideline leader inherited a 3-13 squad and the league’s worst offense and improved the club by two wins in 2019. This past season, the Cards were off to a 6-3 start and owned an 8-6 record with two games to go. But they couldn’t close the deal and wound up missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. Still, the team made strides thanks to the addition of wideout DeAndre Hopkins while Vance Joseph’s defense found a way to rush the passer even with Chandler Jones missing 11 games.
So enter J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, Rodney Hudson, and Malcolm Butler. Watt has seen better days as injuries in recent seasons have diminished his once-imposing skills. But he comes off a year in which he started all 16 games, totaling 52 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception return for a touchdown. Green was a Pro Bowler in each of his first seven seasons. He missed all of 2019 due to injury and has caught a combined 93 passes (8 TDs) in the last 25 contests he’s appeared in dating back to ’18. Elsewhere, Butler knows something about making a big play in Arizona (Super Bowl XLIX) and Hudson upgrades the offensive line.
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Along with this aforementioned quartet, general manager Steve Keim also added veteran guard Brian Winters and two-time Pro Bowl kicker Matt Prater, who has specialized in hitting from long distance. Keim has added proven performers to the team with some talented young players. And the Cardinals still have the NFL Draft ahead of them.
As previously mentioned, it’s far too early to make any kind of predictions as this club and the other 31 franchises are very busy making plans these days. But it’s hard to ignore what’s going on these days in Arizona and with a well-traveled franchise that has waited far too long to capture another NFL championship.