The first season, it was the resurgent 49ers led by Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens. After that, it was the Rams, who still had a lot of weapons left from their “Greatest Show On Turf” days. Then came the Seahawks, who built a solid team and then built up multiple division titles.
Now, it would seem to be the Cardinals – even if they don’t think so.
“We did it last year and won and yes, we’re on top of the division at this point,” wide receiver
Statistics seem to say otherwise, not that the Cards are necessarily locks to win a division title, but certainly equipped to be the favorite. Heading into Sunday’s game against the Rams, the Cardinals have won nine of their last 10 games within the division and have beaten former nemesis Seattle four straight times.
Even with the Cards losing to the 49ers to begin the regular season, they hold a two-game lead in the standings over San Francisco. The weekend brings about another chance for more room if the Cardinals can defeat the Rams and the Niners lose in Green Bay.
Recently, 49ers coach Mike Singletary insisted he wasn’t paying attention to what the Cardinals were doing. And Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt insisted that, given his team has won just one division title thus far, the Cards don’t have favorite status.
“I just don’t think other teams in the division are thinking they have to catch us,” Whisenhunt said. “Until we do what the Rams did or Seattle did for a number of years and prove you are that consistent team, then maybe there can be that perception.”
It’s difficult to think it doesn’t already exist.
“The hardest thing, the biggest thing, is getting that playoff bid,” Rams running back Steven Jackson said, adding that what the Cards did last season “was legit.”
“(The Cardinals) are a talented football team. I expect that they will be talented for quite some time.”
To stay in complete control requires wins in games like Sunday’s, against the 1-8 Rams. Under first-year coach Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis almost upset undefeated New Orleans last week and has been able to move the ball – but just haven’t been able to win.
The Rams are far enough out of contention that chasing the Cardinals isn’t a realistic ploy.
“This game is about results,” Spagnuolo said. “The league we’re in is about winning football games. It’s not about trying hard and ‘Atta boys’ and moral victories.”
The Cardinals have gotten their share of victories so far. Winners of five of six since their bye weekend, the Cards are 4-0 on the road and will attempt to go 5-0 on the road for the first time since their NFL championship runner-up season of 1948.
They’ve maneuvered to this point by not worrying about a division race – yet – or by their place in the NFL universe. They don’t want to change now.
“We are just playing good ball,” linebacker
“Hey, if teams are getting more excited to play us, so be it.”