GLENDALE. AZ — Super Bowl XLIX is set for University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday, February 1, 2015, and right now, after 10 weeks, the Arizona Cardinals are on target to do what no team has ever done: to host and play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Arizona is 9-1, the best record in the NFL and the team’s best start since 1948.
The Cardinals have turned their comfortable home nest into a huge home-field advantage. Training camp was held there in August, and after six home games they are 6-0.
Sunday the Cardinals beat the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions 14-6. The Lions had won four straight and have already beaten Green Bay 19-7. The Lions feature the NFL’s number-one-rated defense, yet the Cardinals turned the tables on the Lions, holding them without a touchdown for the first time since 2009.
Bruce Arians, in his second year as head coach, has sold his players on a next-man-up philosophy — the show goes on if you will mentality. It’s working. The team this year has lost three Pro Bowl starters on defense — Darnell Dockett, John Abraham and Daryl Washington — two to injury and one to suspension.
Last week, after giving starting quarterback Carson Palmer a three-year $50 million contract extension, he suffered a torn left ACL injury and is out for the rest of the season. Drew Stanton, his back-up, is next man up at quarterback. Sunday he started and passed for a career-high 306 yards and two TDs.
The Cardinals are plus-11 in the all-important turnover ratio. Their defense is simply lights out. They have great team speed and they play well together. They are strong on their special team’s excellent kicking game and offensively a big, physical, mobile offensive line featuring talented running back Andre Ellington and rookie wide receiver sensation John Brown, the first rookie in NFL history to have four game-winning touchdowns.
Arians believes in the vertical game and attacking defenses down the field. He is 28-10 as a head coach in the NFL, which includes going 9-3 as interim head coach with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. They hit their opponents with explosive plays on offense and defense.
The Cardinals play in the rugged NFC West, home of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. Both teams have represented the NFC West in the Super Bowl as the NFC Champion the last two years.
The Cardinals could make it three different teams from the same Division in the Super Bowl in three consecutive years, something I don’t believe has ever happened before. They feature the sustained leadership of Pro Bowl veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr., Michael Floyd, and tight end John Carson, all native born and raised in the state of Minnesota.
Floyd grabbed two touchdowns in Sunday’s win over Detroit, and Fitzgerald became the second fastest receiver in NFL history to eclipse 12,000 career receiving yards at age 31. Only ex-Vikings star Randy Moss did it at age 30. The Cardinals are 7-0 vs. the NFC and are dominating opponents in the fourth quarter, out-scoring them 91-34, and have won an NFL-best six in row.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.