The Cardinals know they beat the Seahawks in Seattle this season, but work within the divison isn't getting any easier.
The message came across Twitter Monday morning, in this case from NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah but echoing a theme that had only built momentum throughout the season before being capped with the Seattle Seahawks' dominating Super Bowl victory.
Hopefully your favorite team doesn't play the NFC West next yr. That division is only going to get tougher. Good luck. — Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 3, 2014
Right now, it's hard to see the Cardinals, Seahawks, 49ers and Rams as anything other than the NFC "Best."
The oddsmakers have already installed the Seahawks as the favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champs, and the 49ers as second-most likely. The Rams won seven games and are equipped with two first-round picks, including the second overall. The Cardinals, meanwhile, won 10 games. Even as they didn't get into the playoffs, they had to watch what the Seattle defense did to Denver Sunday and think Todd Bowles' unit can do similar things to potent offenses.
The Cards were the last team to beat Seattle this season. They understand exactly what is needed to play in the NFC West. It will be difficult. To that, there is no debate.
"I knew how tough it was with the defenses that were in this division, with the young quarterbacks progressing the way they are,"
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, sitting in his office Monday. "You know it will be a difficult division for a long time."
After the season, Arians talked about the change the Cardinals face this offseason. The NFL year has just ended, yet Arians and his coaches have already been holed up for more than a week breaking down the roster to see where improvements can be made. The Scouting combine is in about three weeks, and with it, the unofficial start of the 2014 season.
The NFC West as a whole will deal with change. How much will be sorted out during free agency, which each team facing different challenges. From the Cardinals' perspective, however, the core of the Seahawks and 49ers will remain constant. That's why they enjoy the belief of oddsmakers, and why the intradivision climb will remain steep.
"We feel like we made good progress," Arians said. "We feel like we are on the right track to be able to win the division."
The Seahawks, not surprisingly, are enjoying the high of a championship and already talking about their ability to repeat.
"We won't miss the fun part of it, but that doesn't mean we can't set our sights on how this is going to go," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. "(Players) would be surprised if it was anything other than that. I think we are in a very fortunate situation. (General Manager) John Schneider has done an extraordinary job of structuring this roster contractually and with the vision of looking ahead so that we can keep our guys together.
"One of the things that happens every so often is teams have a big fallout after they win the Super Bowl. We're not in that situation. We'll be battling and competing. We don't need to be in that situation. We've done that with foresight with looking ahead so that we would be prepared."
If nothing else, the fading-but-still-memorable glow of knocking off the Seahawks in Seattle remains for the Cardinals, echoing further following Seattle's Super Bowl win. The beatdown the Broncos suffered has been endured by the Cardinals, but it was the 2012 version of the Cards. That team is long gone, overhauled and improved.
No one is going to come out in the locker room and declare the Cardinals favorites next season, but nothing has happened to dissuade them that they can't take on the Seahawks, 49ers and the Rams without having a chance.
That was the gist of Arians' training camp comment "I don't see the dominance that everybody else talks about." It wasn't meant as an insult to the Seahawks and/or 49ers. It was meant as a statement to his team that he expected to compete in the games.
He also said "one of those teams may be" and now that the season is over, the Seahawks, with their 16-3 overall record and crushing of the Broncos, can argue that point. Then again, the 49ers might have knocked them off two weeks ago had Colin Kaepernick's pass been six inches higher. And, of course, the Cardinals did beat them.
It will still be the NFC Best in 2014 and probably longer. Nothing is a given, however, and regardless, the Cardinals have to find a way to compete. There will be no moving back to the NFC East.
"Every year changes," Arians said. "Those young quarterbacks have to be signed to long-term contracts. That'll change the rosters. Each year is a different bag of worms. One injury here, one injury there, everything changes."