In 2021, the Arizona Cardinals came blasting out of seemingly nowhere, winning their first seven games of the season and looking like the National Football League’s newest elite team.
After their hot start, however, they lost steam, dropping four of their last five games, which included inexcusable losses to the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.
Once in the playoffs, the Cardinals didn’t even mount a challenge, as they were run off the field by the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, 34-11.
The way their season ended was a reality check for them, and it was instructive in the sense that it taught them they weren’t quite ready to contend for the world championship.
The question is whether Arizona should be considered a legitimate title contender this coming season?
Championship Contenders Finish The Season Strong
A fluke team can get off to a good start, like the one the Cardinals had, but when the regular season is winding down and everyone is fighting for optimal playoff seeding, true contenders start to take flight.
Instead, the Cardinals played like they had their wings clipped.
After playing so well in September and October, quarterback Kyler Murray tailed off in the final six games of the campaign, posting a passer rating of at least 100 in only two of those contests.
That came in contrast to the first eight games, in which he had a passer rating of over 100 in all but two games.
Not coincidentally, Arizona’s offense also went south, as it failed to score over 30 points in any of its final five games after doing so seven times in its first nine contests.
Arizona Cardinals point totals this season
Week 1 – 38
Week 2 – 34
Week 3 – 31
Week 4 – 37
Week 5 – 17 (vs 49ers)
Week 6 – 37
So far DeMeco Ryans and the 49ers defense have been the only unit that’s been able to slow down Arizona’s high powered offense
— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) October 17, 2021
On one hand, a bit of a drop-off in terms of wins and losses was expected after superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins missed the team’s last four games and star defensive end J.J. Watt was unable to play in Arizona’s final 10 games after a shoulder injury.
But how does a team with the weapons Arizona has lose to the Lions or even the Seahawks?
Good Health Will Help, But Arizona Has Lost Too Many Key Men
After Hopkins tore his MCL last season, the hope is that he’ll be good to go once the 2022 regular season starts.
Hopkins is considered one of the best wideouts in the NFL and perhaps Murray’s favorite target.
A healthy Watt, even though he’s not the monster pass rusher he used to be, will also help a defense that had pretty big problems down the stretch of the 2021 season.
However, the roster looks weaker than it did months ago.
But Kirk opted to get paid more money with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Green is currently a free agent.
In their absence, the team is counting on Zach Ertz and young wideout Rondale Moore to step up and carry more of the load.
But perhaps Arizona’s biggest loss was Chandler Jones, the team’s Pro Bowl linebacker.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) March 15, 2021
As a result, Super Bowl contention seems more remote for the Cardinals in 2022 and depending on when Hopkins returns, the team may have an uphill climb to simply reach the playoffs.