I recognize that this headline looks crazy but if Week 3 taught me one thing it is to not doubt the Arizona Cardinals. All offseason the predominant narrative has been that the Cardinals would be fielding the worst roster in the league and the main question being asked was if they would win any games at all.
This season was supposed to be a new low point for a fanbase all too familiar with them. The Cardinals opened Week 3 as a double-digit underdog to the Cowboys and finished Week 3 as double-digit winners. The Cardinals aren’t just meeting expectations; they are smashing them, and Jonathan Gannon has this team playing with a fire that hasn’t been seen since Bruce Arians was the head coach.
When stepping back and reviewing the Cardinals season thus far one can see that this is clearly a team that is better than its current record. Through three games they have the 8th best point differential in the NFC.
The offense and defense have each shown flashes of greatness and are regularly winning in the trenches. Despite missing their leaders on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball the Cardinals have played themselves in position to win every single game.
As remarkable as it sounds, anyone who has been watching the Cardinals knows that they are only a couple of plays away from being 3-0. Breaking down the ESPN play by play data, through three weeks the Arizona Cardinals have led or been tied with their opponent 87% of the time.
In the past two weeks, the Cardinals have trailed for a grand total of 19 seconds. Nothing has shown me that this team is tanking. The defense plays with too much passion and the offense plays with too much discipline for the Arizona Cardinals to be a bottom feeder.
What is most exciting is that this is the least talented the Arizona Cardinals are expected to be. The return of Kyler Murray looks to be on the horizon and Budda Baker could return as early as mid-October.
Young guns like Paris Johnson, BJ Ojulari, and Kei’trel Clark should also become more acclimated to the NFL game as the season moves along. The Cardinals look like they might have their best offensive line in years and as they continue to gel the Cardinals offense ought to improve.
When examining the NFC landscape, the playoff fringes appear to be wide open. The only teams where it would be shocking if they missed the playoffs are the 49ers, the Eagles, the Cowboys, and possibly the Lions. If we assume these teams are locks, then there are still two remaining wild card spots up for grabs.
The Cardinals would be competing with the likes of the Seahawks, Packers, Rams, Commanders, and the runner up of the NFC South. Would it really be that shocking to see a Cardinals team helmed by Kyler Murray keeping pace with this group of teams?
The Cardinals face a tall task against the 49ers next week, but the schedule could soften considerably depending on the status of a couple of players.
Arizona gets the Cincinnati Bengals at home in Week 5 and then face a divisional battle against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6. Joe Burrow has been dealing with a calf injury and one of the rumors floating around is that he may land on short term IR to fully recover. If true, this poses a great opportunity for the Cardinals to pick up a win where fans were expecting a loss.
The Rams look better than expected but if Cooper Kupp is still unavailable due to his hamstring injury this poses a real opportunity for the Cardinals to reach .500 on the season. Week 7 could potentially be a huge game against the Seahawks.
With Kyler Murray possibly being three weeks removed from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list this is a target date where he could make his season debut. From there, the Cardinals would just need to win more games than they lose with Kyler Murray. Based on how the roster has looked through the first three weeks I do not think this is a possibility we should rule out.
Do I expect the 2023 Arizona Cardinals to be playing on Wild Card Weekend? No, and I fully admit that this is a longshot.
However, I also do not think it is impossible, and that is important to acknowledge. It speaks volumes toward the success of Jonathan Gannon and the rest of the coaching staff that in Year 1 of a rebuild there is a belief that they beat any team on any given Sunday.
They have unequivocally demonstrated that this is not a tanking team. The Cardinals are a step above the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos of the world and that logically puts them squarely in the next tier of teams; those that still have playoff aspirations. The Cardinals are fun to watch again and if the early returns of this season have taught us anything it is to not put a ceiling on what this team can accomplish.