Breakdowns

The Cardinals Fall From Their Perch Atop the League Was Expected

The Cardinals Fall

It is natural to look at the teams at the top of the league at the midway point of the season and expect them to be the Super Bowl contenders, or Super Bowl winners for that year. We have our midseason awards, our power rankings and even our Super Bowl odds, but rarely is it ever the case that these midseason favorites actually win it all. This takes us to the 2021 Arizona Cardinals. At the midway point of the 2021 season, they had the best record in the NFL at 8-1 with their lone loss coming against Green Bay.

The oddsmakers at DraftKings Sportsbook gave the Cardinals the second best odds (behind the Bills), to win it all through Week 9. Since that time, the Cardinals have gone 2-4, losing their last 3 games. Now, they are 10-5 and control the first Wild Card spot. So the pressing question is, what happens to teams when they are rarely introduced to losing early on in the season?

Below we take a look at the top teams in the NFL since 2000 by looking at the midway point, Week 8 (in all previous seasons).

  • 17 teams have started 8-0 over the past 21 years, with only 2 of them winning the Super Bowl (2009 Saints and 2006 Colts). They average a regular season record of 13-3.
  • 31 teams have started the year 7-1 since 2000, with only 5 of them winning the Super Bowl (most recently 2017 Eagles). They average a record of 13-3, with only 1 team (the 2012 Bears) ever missing the playoffs.
  • 101 teams have started the year 6-2 in the range, with 10 of them becoming league champions, including the 2020 Buccaneers. They average a regular season record of 11-5.

Out of the 21 champions, only 3 teams had their first loss come later in the season than the 2021 Cardinals (Week 8). 14 of the teams had a loss come within the first 3 weeks of the regular season, with 17 having a loss by Week 5. Of the 21 Super Bowl winning teams, 13 had multiple losses by Week 7. 

Let’s take a look a bit deeper into the 21 winners of the Super Bowl over the span we have analyzed (2000 season to 2020 season).

Out of those 21 winners, ~66.7% of the winners have faced 2 or more losses by the midway point of the season, while 47.6% accrued exactly two losses. This means the teams that have faced little to no “losing” in the first of the season, tend to struggle to finish the job (33.3% of winners). All but one of those teams have made it to the playoffs, but the remaining have lost within them.

What can we infer or use from this history to determine? It has been stated by Former Eagles President Joe Banner, that “It’s not the faster the start, it’s the smarter teams that are able to make it to the Super Bowl… Look at the Belichicks and Reids of the world. They always have better second half teams than first half. It’s about growth, improvement, and attrition.”

Going back to 2015, we can think of prime examples of these teams that started off hot, fizzling out towards the second half/back half of the season. The first few that come to mind, the 2020 Steelers (started off 11-0), the 2019 Patriots (10-1), the 2015 Bengals (8-0) and the 2015 Patriots (10-0). Are the 2021 Cardinals in this mix?

Now, as Week 16 is coming to a close, the Cardinals have the 10th best SB odds. They sit in the first Wild Card spot in the competitive NFC and have lost to 3 straight teams, including giving the Detroit Lions their second win of the season and by far their biggest win margin (18 points).

How will the 2021 Cardinals season shake out? We will have to wait and see. But based on looking at the champions since the start of the century, they will need to do some serious heavy lifting to be lifting the Lombardi Trophy come February 13th, 2022.