As a charter member of the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals have a long history. Winning has not been a big part of it, but that appears to be changing.
The surprising Cardinals look to win their third straight game and get off to their best start in 32 years on Sunday when they visit the Carolina Panthers, who are tied atop the NFC South.
The Arizona (4-2) franchise has been a member of the NFL since 1920, but its recent history hasn’t been pretty.
The Cardinals, who won their only championship while playing in Chicago in 1947, have not been to the playoffs since 1998—their first trip since 1982.
A playoff appearance could be possible this season, though, as Arizona owns a two-game lead in the weak NFC West and headed into its bye week playing some of its best football of the season.
After a 41-17 win over previously unbeaten Buffalo on Oct. 5, the Cardinals defeated Dallas 30-24 in overtime on Oct. 12. Arizona won when Sean Morey blocked Mat McBriar’s punt, and Monty Beisel scooped up the ball and scored from 3 yards out.
Although the Cardinals have looked solid at times, coach Ken Whisenhunt knows its still early and a lot can happen.
“I think we’re in a good position right now, but there’s so much work ahead of us,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s still only six games. I mean, we’re not even halfway through the season yet.”
The last time Arizona opened the season 4-2 in 2002, it went on to finish 5-11. The Cardinals have not won five of their first seven games since 1976, when the franchise was based in St. Louis.
“We’re in a good position at the bye, but we have a lot of work to do and a lot of games to win before we can be comfortable with where we’re at,” Whisenhunt said.
Coming out of their bye week with a road win over one of the best teams in the NFC would certainly be a boost.
Arizona is undefeated at home, but since winning at San Francisco in its season opener, it has been outscored 80-52 in losing its last two road games.
“We’ve got to take this home show on the road,” Whisenhunt said.
Winning at Carolina (5-2) won’t be easy, though, as the Panthers have won all four of their home games—outscoring their opponents 108-33. Carolina has not won five straight home games since Sept. 18-Dec. 4, 2005.
The Panthers are also coming off one of their best games of the season.
After giving up sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a 27-3 loss at Tampa Bay on Oct. 12, Carolina rebounded by defeating New Orleans 30-7 last Sunday.
“I don’t think it’s a statement game,” said wide receiver Steve Smith, who had six receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown. “It’s just another game that we get to put in the win column, and the closer and closer we get to 10, the easier and easier it gets and we can relax and start looking at games in January and February.”
The Panthers are trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and are off to their best start since opening that season 7-2.
“Ultimately we want to be 6-2 going into that bye and be ready to rejuvenate ourselves,” Carolina fullback Brad Hoover said.
The Panthers have been led by a defense that is third in the NFL in scoring (14.9 points per game), third in total defense (286.3 yards per game) and held the high-powered Saints to a season low in scoring.
The defensive unit will try and do the same thing against a Cardinals team that leads the league in scoring (29.5 ppg) and is sixth in total offense (377.0 ypg).
Arizona’s offense might have a big piece return Sunday, as standout receiver Anquan Boldin could be back.
Boldin, who was off to a terrific start with 27 catches for 366 yards and five touchdowns in four games, has missed two games while recovering from surgery to repair a sinus fracture. He was hurt in the final seconds of the Cardinals’ 56-35 loss to the New York Jets when he went up in the air to try to catch a pass in the end zone.
“I feel like I’m ready to go,” Boldin said. “That’s what I’ve been working toward these past couple of weeks, getting back on the field after the bye week.”
The Cardinals have lost four straight games to the Panthers since a 16-13 win on Oct. 6, 2002.
In their last meeting on Oct. 14, 2007, Carolina defeated the Cardinals 25-10, as quarterback Vinny Testaverde replaced an injured Jake Delhomme and Tim Rattay led Arizona for the injured Kurt Warner.
Delhomme and Warner are both off to solid seasons this year.
Delhomme is 10th in the NFL with 1,533 passing yards, while Warner is third in passing yards (1,708) and tied for fifth in touchdowns (12).