Three weeks ago, If I had suggested that the Arizona Cardinals could be in line to start the 2012 season at 3-0, I would have been laughed at, even by myself.
Yet, against all the odds, and in the face of every prediction, the Cardinals somehow find themselves at 2-0, as they prepare for their Week 3 home fixture against the Philadelphia Eagles. For the third week in a row, the Cardinals will enter the game as underdogs—albeit by a much smaller margin than in Week 2 against the New England Patriots—and once again hope to beat the odds, and the opponents.
Both teams currently sit at 2-0, and the Cardinals and Eagles will both be well aware that teams who start the season 3-0 are statistically much more likely to make the playoffs—around 75% of all teams start with this record are still playing football in January.
Yet if the Cardinals hope to keep up their winning record, they once again face an uphill battle. How can they win? Here are five keys to victory for the Cardinals.
Put pressure on Michael Vick.
There are only two things in life that are certain, death and taxes, but for a while it certainly seemed that you could add a third to that list-the NFC West would be the laughing stock of the NFL.
Just two years ago, for the first time in NFL history, the NFC West sent a team to the playoffs with a losing record -- in 2010 the Seattle Seahawks topped the NFC West with a pitiful 7-9 record -- today, however, things couldn't look more different.
Two weeks into the season, two NFC West teams are 2-0, and the remainder 1-1. Their combined record of 6-2 is the best of any division in the NFL, and is very nearly as good as it possibly could be -- the Cardinals and Seahawks squared up in week one, guaranteeing a loss for at least one team.
There are, of course, lots of reasons for a division going 4-0 in a given week, and the statistic in and of itself perhaps wouldn't be so impressive if not for the circumstances.
This is a week the NFC West could have easily gone 0-4 against the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions and not been criticised too harshly.
Without a doubt, the Arizona Cardinals enter this Sunday's contest against the New England Patriots as underdogs. Most Vegas odds favor the Pats by two full touchdowns, and many pundits predict even more.
It's easy to see why. Tom Brady is, of course, an elite quarterback, and Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are one of the most prolific receiving groups in the NFL.
In 2012, the Cardinals secondary was regularly exploited as it's young corners, Patrick Peterson in particular, struggled to adjust to life in the NFL.
And as injuries leave the team even more questions on offense every single week, it would be a brave man to bet against the Pats
But Bill Belichick isn't buying the hype.
"They're a hard team to prepare for scheme-wise, they do a lot of different things" said Belichick on the Cardinals, according to the Boston Herald. "It's going to be a tough week."
The Cardinals defense is one of the up and coming units in NFL right now, and are very tough to scheme against.
Arizona Cardinals News: Five Questions The Cardinals Must Answer During Preseason: Part 2 -- Running Backs
Can the Cardinals finally become a dominant, run-first team?
Almost since his the first day in Arizona, Ken Whisenhunt has had one goal; to establish the run in the desert.
Since he joined the Cardinals in 2007, installing a Pittsburgh style rushing offense has thus far failed, though not for lack of trying.
The resurgence and success of Kurt Warner, and dominance of Larry Fitzgerald have both certainly caused the running game to be deemphasised at times, as have injuries and stalled development amongst rushers, and the Cardinals perennially sub-par offensive line has always made running effectively much more difficult. But whatever the reasons, the Cardinals attempts to transition into a run-first team have largely failed.
However, 2011 appeared to be the year the Cardinals running offense would finally break out.
Arizona Cardinals News: Five Questions The Cardinals Must Answer During Preseason: Part 1 -- Quarterbacks
How is the Cardinals quarterback conundrum going to shake out?
Coming into the 2011 regular season, the Cardinals felt confident. For the first time since the retirement of their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Kurt Warner, the team had some much needed security at this key position. In what was widely acknowledged at the time as one of the blockbuster trades of the season, the Cardinals finally snagged the man tipped to be their franchise QB, Kevin Kolb.
Though Kolb had not started many games, he had impressed in Philadelphia as a backup, was well liked by his peers and coaches, and appeared to fit the Cardinals mould well. They were convinced he was their guy for the foreseeable future, and wagered $68 million on that fact.
Less than four games into the regular season, however, that clarity, that certainty began to crumble.