There is only one undefeated team left in the NFL, which after four weeks is quite a feat of parity. But here’s the kicker: That team is the Arizona Cardinals, historically the team voted least likely to succeed by Pro-Football-Reference.com. No team has a worse all-time record by winning percentage, over as many decades, than these guys.
There are those among us who like to use sentences that include the phrase “that I’ve ever seen,” like you and your sensory apparatus matter in any meaningful way to anyone else. You know Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins and the Cardinals’ 37-20 win over the Rams, and nothing before that because all the drugs have ruined your memory and your self-involvement has made the definition of history all about you. To you, the Cardinals going 4-0 is the most natural thing imaginable, and it makes perfect post-modern sense to you that they’re the only unbeaten team left.
You know nothing.
Yes, these Cardinals have a fair bit of dynamism about them. They’ve averaged 35 points a game and lead the league in yards gained and all, but it’s early yet. In the NFL, it’s early yet until about Week 11, and now that there’s an extra week to bandy this about, “it’s early yet” will come at least one week later than before. The Saints were the best team in football this year after Week 1, then the Bucs a week later, then the Rams last week, and now the Cardinals—and those first three teams lost their very next game. This best-team thing feels a bit like a harbinger of suck.
Plus, these are the Cardinals. In 102 years, they’ve gone 4-0 seven times, including this season. Then again, in 102 years, they’ve made the playoffs only 11 times and played for the championship only once since the death of Stalin. They have the worst winning percentage of any team that has existed for 20 years except the Buccaneers, who have played more postseason games and have won two Super Bowl to Arizona’s nil, and they’re … well, damn it, they’re the Cardinals.
The last time they went 4-0, and built optimism in the Valley Of The Shadow Of Death By Skin Cancer, was 2012. They beat Pete Carroll’s first good Seattle team, Bill Belichick’s 12th good New England team (albeit one of the 13 that didn’t make the Super Bowl), Andy Reid’s last Philadelphia team of any kind, and your typically nondescript Miami team coached by the guy who runs the Jiffy Lube out near the highway. They led the NFC West by a game over Jim Harbaugh and two over St. Louis and Seattle, and they looked … well, weird. They were still the Cardinals.
Then they went a gloriously Cardinal 1-10 the rest of the way. The defense buckled after a decent start despite having cornerback Patrick Peterson in his prime. Starting quarterback John Skelton begat Kevin Kolb, who begat Skelton, who begat Ryan Lindley, who begat Skelton, who begat Lindley, who begat Brian Hoyer. Of course it ended up being Brian Hoyer. It always ends up being Brian Hoyer.
The Cardinals’ best running back was the indomitable Beanie Wells, but he only lasted half the season, so the most-used running back was the slightly more domitable LaRod Stephens-Howling. Their only win for the rest of the season was against the Lions, which is too obvious to explain any further. To call this a hot mess is to slander the concept of heat, and libel the concept of mess. It was a spectacular collapse even by their standards, and it resulted in head coach Ken Whisenhunt begatting Bruce Arians, who fixed the Cardinals for three years before beating feet out of town for Tampa and, well, you know.
See? Those are the Cardinals you think of, the ones who are as middle of the fairway as Arians’s Kangol hats. They have rostered Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, and three top-10 defenses. Three winning records in the decade is as close to a golden age for the franchise as it gets, unless you count the 1920s. They’ve won 14 of their last 23 games under the spiritually shirtless Kliff Kingsbury, and are 66-65 since the end of 2012, which once you know the background is pure warlock stuff. Maybe these yobs really have purged the Cardinals.
But we’re going to need more evidence. The league injury rate being what it is in this ridiculous imitation of World War I, the Cardinals being 4-0 while everyone else isn’t is a metaphor for the uncertainty of the future. It’s hard to know what this means quite yet, but if history is any guide, Kevin Kolb could be right around the corner. Or, as we know him today, Colt McCoy. Think good thoughts, kids.