Should we really be that surprised by any thing is sports anymore? So the Arizona Cardinals have been one of the least successful franchises in NFL history and have never been to the Super Bowl, and now here they are. In reality the odds are not as long as most will make it sound. Arizona played in a division that lacked a clear favorite and quickly the Cardinals gained a commanding lead by just playing mediocre ball. Finishing 9-7 the Cardinals entered the playoffs with several ugly losses on the resume but only had to win three games to get to the Super Bowl.
With good fortune and a few upsets the Cardinals got to play two of those games at home and only had to play one of the top two seeds in the conference. The opening game with Atlanta probably could have gone either way and the NFC Championship with Philadelphia could have gone either way as the Eagles had plenty of chances after falling behind early.
Making the Super Bowl really should statistically be the easiest championship game to get to as a long shot of the major American sports leagues as a team only needs to get hot for a short period of time. In hockey and basketball it is easy to make the playoffs as losing teams and barely .500 teams routinely make the postseason but playing a seven game series can quickly expose a team with deficiencies and overcoming playing that many games on the road can be daunting for the bottom seeds. In baseball only eight teams make the playoffs and enduring 162 game seasons tends to weed out the pretenders.
As we have seen in recent seasons, not all divisions and division schedules are created equally and teams that questionably deserve to make the playoffs will sneak in every year with only four teams in each division. Also NFL home field advantage seems to mean less and less each year and things only need to line-up for one game each round, not four out of seven.
That is what has happened to Arizona this year and in recent years there has been unprecedented success from the bottom seeds in the NFL playoffs as each of the last three Super Bowls have been won by teams that did not earn a top two seed and a bye week. The Cardinals have the chance to keep that streak alive, and for the eighth time in the last nine years a #1 seed will not hoist the Lombardi Trophy. In fairness to the numbers this will be the first time in that span that a #1 seed has not made the Super Bowl as seven of the past eight Super Bowl losers were #1 seeds.
As we argued last week, this year’s champion will likely have one of the least impressive overall bodies of work of any Super Bowl champion. That will be clearly the case if the Cardinals win and considering how easy of a path the Steelers have taken to the big game there should be some doubts with their legitimacy. The opening number is at -6.5 or -7 with the total around 47. It is a fast track in Tampa Bay which could favor the personnel for the Cardinals but Arizona clearly has some glaring weaknesses and less big-game experience. The coaching match-up provides a lot intrigue and we will have plenty to talk about in the next two weeks.