When it comes to the playoffs, it is hard to understate the importance of home field advantage. But home field advantage in the Super Bowl, that’s something no NFL team has ever experienced before. Nonetheless if the season were to end today, the Cardinals would be the Number 1 seed in the NFC, and with the Super Bowl taking place in Glendale come February, could the surging Arizona Cardinals be the first NFL team to play in a home Super Bowl?
If you had said at the beginning of the season that the Arizona Cardinals were in line to become the first ever team to play in a Super Bowl, you would have been laughed out of the building—Vegas were giving 40/1 odds, and not one, but two fellow NFC West rivals were ranked as top 4, in terms of odds (Seahawks at 6/1, 49ers at 8/1).
Come midseason, however the 7-1 Arizona Cardinals sit alone atop the NFC West, uncontested for the number 1 seed in the NFC, and indeed, have the best record in all of football. Along the way, they have knocked off the Philadelphia Eagles (6-2 record) and Dallas Cowboys (6-3) in a sweep of the NFC East and beat division rivals San Francisco (4-4). Suddenly, a home Super Bowl doesn’t seem all that far away.
Bruce Arians and the Cardinals Staff have always felt that this is possible—he reportedly told his players their only goal this season is to make sure his players “Don’t let anyone dress in your lockers.” in February, when the Super Bowl is played in Glendale—yet, as defensive line coach Brentson Buckner reminds his players “[at] 7-1, the only thing that gets you guaranteed is being 7-9“.
To some, that may seem like a contradiction, mixed messages from their staff, but for the Cardinals, it makes sense. A home Super Bowl appearance, that’s the dream, the challenge, and this is a team not unwilling to dream big, to set themselves seemingly impossible challenges. But at the same time, it is also a team with remarkably little ego, and with an unusually positive outlook.
This is not just a team that speaks about taking it “one game at a time”, they embody it. More than that, they know that every drive, every down, every snap could be the one that makes, or breaks their season.
At one point or another, the Cardinals have been behind in practically every game they have played this season. While previous Cardinals teams may have dropped their heads, given up and crumbled, that’s not for this team. To them, it is just another obstacle to overcome and another challenge to rise to.
It’s why you find the Cardinals taking a shot down the field to a rookie on third-and-5 while sitting their own 25, with the game on the line, and not taking the easy check down—the result, a 75 yard TD reception for rookie standout John Brown. It’s also why you find the Cardinals calling the same plays with third string Rookie QB Logan Thomas, against the Denver Broncos as they would be with starter Carson Palmer—the result, an 81 yard TD catch by Andre Ellington, in spite of the loss.
This is a team who not only wants to win it on every down, but who also believes they can win the game every down. It shows up in every phase of the game.
It shows up when Arians chews out his QB for making safe completions, rather than taking his shots. It shows up when when every loose ball—fumble, interception, you name it—is viewed as chance to take it to the house. It shows up when the team—who have blocked more field goals than any team in recent memory—still manage to do so even when they only have nine men on the field!
They aren’t thinking too far ahead—they can’t afford to. They just have to execute this play, then the next… and if they keep doing that, maybe, just maybe, they will still be playing in February… at home.
Before thinking about the playoffs, the team still have games against the Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, and two against the Seattle Seahawks. Wins will not come easily, but if they continue to play the kind of football they have been playing, they should still come.
In the playoffs, they will likely face the Lions, Eagles or Cowboys again. Both games against Dallas and Philly could have easily gone the other way, if not for a few lucky bounces for Arizona, and the Detroit game is not going to be a walk in the park either. And of course, if they are still playing come February, the Denver Broncos, a team which comfortably handled them during the regular season, could await.
But, if betting on them playing in a home Super Bowl was a fools wager at the beginning of the season, maybe it’s already looking like a shrewd bet—the Cardinals odds of winning the Super Bowl now sit at 10/1. And if the team wins the next 3 or 4 games, well, I would’t want to be the one to bet against them.