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Arizona Cardinals worst to first chances hurt by division and history

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Oakland Raiders v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While the Arizona Cardinals were bad in 2018, many don’t understand just how bad they were.

So, when Football Outsiders ranked the eight teams that were the worst in their division last year and their chances to get to first this year, it was not a shock to see the Cardinals down the list.

However, the depths of terribleness the Cardinals sunk to last year were actually historical:

The Cardinals were the worst team in the league last year by both DVOA and win-loss record, but even that understates just how bad they were. Once you normalize for the high level of offenses around the league right now, the Cardinals came out with the third-worst offense ever tracked by Football Outsiders, going back to 1986.

One team worse than them was the expansion Houston Texans. The Cardinals “retool” was as bad as the inaugural season of an expansion team.

That means the expectations should be low for the Cardinals, even if some fans don’t want it to be because of the route they took to get here:

Arizona was more than 40% below average in efficiency last year. Only four teams have ever made up more than 40 percentage points of offensive DVOA from one year to the next. (For those curious, the four offenses to improve by over 40 percentage points of DVOA were the 1991 Cowboys, 1999 Raiders, 2011 Panthers and 2017 Rams.) So it would be an exceedingly rare occurrence if Arizona improves enough to be just average on offense this year, let alone to be good enough to make a run at a division title.

That is why the fact that the Cardinals were sixth, not eighth, in these rankings is impressive. When you factor the history of the NFL and the fact that they are in a division with one of the best teams in the league, the Cardinals chances of coming in first are slim.

Yet, getting to average offensively would be quite the mountain to climb, much to the chagrin of some.