Do the Arizona Cardinals have what it takes to win the tough NFC West?

The Arizona Cardinals have watched each of their NFC West division rivals reach the Super Bowl in the last decade.

Seattle have been the team to beat – for the most part. Since Pete Carroll took over in 2010, they have won four division titles.

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The Seahawks have reached two Super Bowls in this span, winning one and losing the other, but perhaps more impressively, have not recorded a single losing season since Russell Wilson was drafted in 2012.

Even while coming second in five of the last eight seasons, they have managed records of 11-5, 10-6, 9-7, 10-6 and 11-5, reaching the playoffs in four of them. They have been a consistent force to reckon with within the division.

I can already hear 49ers and Rams fans stating the obvious: “what have you done for me lately?!” And it is true: Seattle haven’t won the division since 2016, and since that time, both San Francisco and Los Angeles have had Super Bowl appearances of their own.

Although the 49ers are experiencing their own Super Bowl hangover, they were the best team in the division – and conference – last season. Sean McVay’s Rams exploded in 2018 and still reached 9-7 last year despite their tough division.

Why have I been talking about every other team apart from Arizona? Because over this past decade, along with the pre-McVay Rams, they have been the division bottom-dwellers. No Super Bowl appearances, just one division title (in 2015), and only three seasons with winning records.

After waiting in the wings, have the Cardinals finally built a roster worthy of contending?

NFC West standings

As is common in today’s NFL, their success starts with the offense. Through nine games, this Cardinals attack is averaging 425.4 yards per game (first), 168.9 rushing yards (first), 29.6 points (joint-sixth).

Last year, they ranked 21st, 10th and joint-16th in those categories, so the progression under head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray has been exceptional.

Over the last five games, they have put up at least 30 points in each. 30-10, 38-10 and 37-34 wins over the Jets, Cowboys and Cardinals were followed up by a narrow 34-31 loss to Miami and last week’s miracle ending and 32-30 victory against Buffalo.

Will they be able to keep it up?

Last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year – and current-season MVP candidate – Murray has been on fire. Last week, he rushed for two touchdowns before his 43-yard game-winner to DeAndre Hopkins.

Murray became the first QB in the Super Bowl era to rush for a touchdown in five straight games, and with 10 on the season, he trails only Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook.

And how about Hopkins’ impact? Already regarded as arguably the best receiver in the game before his offseason trade from Houston, he proved his game-winning ability with that absurd catch against Buffalo.

Historically, it has taken time for traded receivers to adapt to their offenses, but Hopkins is second in the league in both receptions (67) and yards (861) – coincidentally, behind another offseason mover in Stefon Diggs.

The rushing attack is in great shape, with RB Kenyan Drake (612) and Murray (604) ranking seventh and eighth in yards on the ground, respectively. Do they have a weakness?

What the second half of the season may come down to is the prowess of their defence. Right now, they are in the middle of the pack, but they are faced with four more division games in their remaining schedule – at Seattle (this week), vs Los Angeles (Week 13), vs San Francisco (Week 16) and at Los Angeles (Week 17).

Seattle and LA are both top seven units in terms of yardage, and the Seahawks lead the league in scoring. Will Arizona be able to slow them down, or can they simply keep outscoring opponents?

Outside of those games, their other fixtures are favourable: trips to the Patriots (4-5) and Giants (3-7), and a visit from the Eagles (3-5-1).

Ultimately, it starts tonight. The Cards are in a three-way tie at the top of West, and face Wilson and the slumping Seahawks, whose own defence has been their downfall.

Seattle are giving up a league-leading 448.3 yards per game and a whopping 29.6 points per game (compared to Arizona’s 370.0 and 23.3).

With the double-header against the Rams coming up, tonight’s game won’t be the decider for Arizona’s 2020 season, but it will go a long way towards it.

Is this team finally ready to stand alone at the top of the NFC West?

Watch the Arizona Cardinals at the Seattle Seahawks, live on Sky Sports NFL this Thursday night/Friday morning from 12.30am.

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