Note: This column appears in the 9/18 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 9/19 issue of the Peoria Times
The “but…” in explaining how the Arizona Cardinals’ are atop the standings is that they are a product of their division. The NFC West is widely recognized as one of, if not the, worst divisions in the league, a perception made even more viable after the early-season injuries and underperformance of perennial division favorite Seattle.
Not that we should be looking ahead (coughASUcough) in crowning the Cardinals division champions just yet, but I don’t think it’s fair to diminish their early accomplishments based on the inadequacies of others. The Cardinals are 2-0 because they are a darn good football team, not because they are some indirect beneficiaries of the St. Louis Rams’ secondary. If anything, their inspired play has improved the NFC West’s reputation. And wow, yeah…that felt weird to write.
Speaking of divisions, when the NFL undertook its divisional realignment a few years ago, it promised to maintain any of the (not so) traditional rivalries lost in the process, which is why the Cardinals get to face-off against all of their former NFC East counterparts this season. (Quick interjection: The fact the Cardinals used to belong to the NFC East is made even more comical every time I have to hop on a 5-hr plane ride back home to New Jersey…that was quite the geographical error.)
The NFC East is perceived to be as good as the West is bad, which is why I consider the Cardinals’ trip to the Nation’s Capitol this Sunday to be a huge test for this football team. The Redskins are coming off a surprising win over conference favorite New Orleans, and the Cards arrive fresh off their undressing of the Miami Dolphins. For the Arizona Cardinals to go into hostile territory and take down a team from a “power” division would be quite impressive. I’m pretty sure people would stand up and take notice. People like the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles, for example -- all future Cardinals’ foes in ’08.
Not that the Cardinals’ intention is for people to take notice (although, ya’ know, it wouldn’t hurt when trying to sell out a home game before the 11th hour…I’m just saying). All they want is a win. Nevertheless, three weeks into the season, this game is as big a test as the Cardinals have faced. To pass it would be a testament to just how good this team can really be.
The Cardinals were always part of the reason the NFC West was considered to be so bad. Now they appear to be the division’s only hope at respectability. Personally, judging from the way this team has performed thus far, I think they could hang with anyone, anywhere.
Sure, judging divisions is quite overrated, and actually sort of pointless. After all, no matter how noncompetitive a division is deemed to be, its winner goes to the playoffs, every time. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers. (And yes, in the span of 400 words I just threw ASU and the Diamondbacks under the bus. I certainly don’t have a good grasp of my audience…sorry.)
It took about two minutes last Sunday for the Cardinals to send a message to the Miami Dolphins. Let’s see how successful they are this week in sending a message to the rest of the NFL. I think they will.