GLENDALE AZ - NOVEMBER 29: Quarterback Troy Smith #1 of the San Francisco 49ers prepares to snap the ball during the first quarter of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 29 2010 in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
I know this seems a bit early, but the Cardinals success -- or lack-thereof -- this past season got me thinking: how did a team that won 19 games the last two seasons manage just five after one rough offseason?
The answer is simple -- they took care of business against the rest of the NFC West. In 2008 and 2009 the Cardinals had a combined record of 10-2 versus the rest of their division. They saw the playoffs in back to back seasons as a result. That's one thing that Kurt Warner clearly understood, as he raised his game when the division record was on the line. Without him, the Cardinals forgot the value of victory.
Be that as it may, winning against the division is key because it puts W's in the win column. The six games they play are nearly half their season total. Holding a win or two over your division opponent also breaks ties. It's unfortunate to say that the Cardinals could only muster one win against the rest of their rivals in 2010. As a result, they snuggled quietly in the bottom of the standings and stood zero chance at winning the very winnable West.
Most fans know that the division games are the most important, so I'm not here to tell you that. But I do believe if the Cardinals can win at least four games against their opponents next season that they'd stand an increased chance at winning another crown. In light of the NBA All Star break coming up this weekend, think of the colored basketballs in the three-point shootout as division games, while the rest of the regular balls are the regular games. They are more important.
In the NFL however, it's usually easier said than done. The West is up for grabs for yet another year. There's little doubt about that. Ken Whisenhunt needs to prepare the team for what to expect -- competitive games. Right now this is just small talk, but we all feel a little better when the Cardinals walk away victorious against their rivals. How many wins do the Cardinals needs against the division next season in order to make another playoff appearance?