In the first installment of Recode’s NFL podcast, we dive into the most popular teams, leagues, and games in the league’s 13 regular seasons, and discuss what it means for the future of the sport in the United States.
First up: The Arizona Cardinals.
It’s a team that started the season in a state of disarray.
The team had just suffered its worst regular season loss since 2004.
It had just lost its best player to an injury.
And its coach, Todd Bowles, was fired after just one season.
Then, just two weeks after its loss to the Carolina Panthers, Arizona rallied from three touchdowns down to defeat the New Orleans Saints in Week 4.
It was the first playoff loss in franchise history.
“You know how it goes,” says Bowles.
“We’re the ones that are going to be the first team to go to the Super Bowl in the future.”
The Cardinals, like the Rams, have an exciting offense and have had plenty of success in recent years.
In the NFL, that means more scoring opportunities and a lot of big plays.
But for now, Arizona still has to overcome some of the biggest challenges the franchise has faced in the past.
The Cardinals played in the second-lowest scoring offense in the NFL last season, per Football Outsiders, and their offensive line had been one of the league worst, according to Football Outsider.
And with injuries and uncertainty in the offense, they were vulnerable in the red zone, according a study by Pro Football Focus.
Bowles says his team will get back to the basics this season.
“There’s a lot that can be done,” Bowles said.
“But the key is to go out there and win football games.
We’re going to have to find a way to do that, especially against the best teams that we face.”
The rest of the teams that bow out of the postseason will face similar challenges.
“Our challenge will be in getting back to where we were,” Bowels says.
“And that’s going to require us to be as efficient as possible.”
And the Cardinals will have to do it without their best player.
The Arizona offensive line, one of several offensive lines in the game, was ranked among the worst in the NBA last season.
That’s the same year it was ranked as the worst unit in the AFL.
There’s a reason for that,” Bowens says.
In 2016, Arizona had a franchise-record 14 sacks.
In 2017, it had 11.
And in 2018, it only had four sacks.
Bowels has a lot to prove.
But he says that the team has done enough to make that happen.
“It was never about getting back into the playoffs,” Bowes says.
Instead, it was about making the playoffs.
“I know this team has made a lot,” Bowers says.
But if Arizona doesn’t do enough to win this year, the team’s next steps will be up to Bowles and the Cardinals coaching staff.
“One thing we have to work on is to make sure we’re not just playing football in a certain way,” Bowls says.
The NFL is an extremely competitive league, but Bowles believes that the Cardinals can make it better.
“This is a football team that’s just really focused,” Bowess says.
That is the only way to get there.
“If you think about the way that we played last year, it’s a complete mismatch of what we’re trying to do in our offense,” Bowden says.
Arizona has also had success in other areas, too.
“The thing that we have that we haven’t been able to do well in other sports is we’ve got a very good running game, and I think that’s been our biggest strength for a long time,” Bowell says.
Bowens has been the coach for the Cardinals since 2005, and he is one of only two men to hold the job through the entire 10-year history of the franchise.
The other is former NFL coach Jim Harbaugh.
Both have a reputation for coaching up their teams.
Harbaugh coached the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XXXV and, before that, the Seattle Seahawks to Superbowl XXXVI.
But the two coaches have always been able the Cardinals to win, and both have won the Superbowl.
And Bowles is confident that the Arizona Cardinals can take another step in the playoffs this year.
“For me, one thing that I think we’ve done well in this league is we’re the most consistent team,” Bowkins says.
And if Arizona can find that consistency, it could be a long, long time before the team is going to need a coach to guide it.