No team has ever played a home game at the Super Bowl, but with a (7-1) record and enough swagger to fill a wheelbarrow, the Arizona Cardinals are on pace to do just that.
At this point even the most fervent non-believer has got to admit this Cards team is more than just a flash in the pan.
Arizona mostly gets it done on defense. They allow the fifth-least points in the league (19.5) and their front four excel at stopping the run (#3, 79.6 ypg).
But on the other side of the ball they hold their own and are improving every week.
Carson Palmer isn’t fantastic but he’s cut down on his turnovers and has a very solid WR corps to throw to. After a slow start, Larry Fitzgerald is leading the charge (35 rec, 513 yards, 2 TDs) with Michael Floyd (23 rec, 389 yards, 2 TDs) right behind. John Brown, the rookie, leads the team with 4 receiving touchdowns, getting into the end zone one out of every six times he touches the ball.
In the backfield Andre Ellington is averaging 3.8 yards per carry and 9.8 per reception, but this is a back that’s on the verge of going off.
— Arizona Sports Hub (@SportsHubAZ) November 2, 2014
In short, they’ve got all the pieces, so it doesn’t matter that the last time the Cardinals held the best record in the NFL this far into the season there was a war going on in Vietnam.
So what makes the Cardinals such a legitimate threat to play the NFL’s first home Super Bowl?
Turnover differential: All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson has yet to record an interception in 2014, but the Cardinals, as a team, are second in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-10.
The New England Patriots are tops in the league at plus-12.
Turnover differential matters.
Success on third down: The Cardinals force teams into a lot of third and longs by stuffing the run. On third and seven or more, Arizona is fourth in the NFL at not allowing first-down yardage. On offense, the Cards third-down conversion rate is the fifth-best in the league.
Keeping the QB upright: Arizona’s O-line has only allowed 13 sacks all season. Giving Palmer plenty of time to throw is the secret to his low interception rate (11 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions).
Patrick Peterson & Antonio Cromartie: With two top cover guys protecting the secondary, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles can lead the blitz. The Cardinals blitz more than any team in the league – because they can.
Confidence: The Cards missed the playoffs last season so they kind of slid under the radar, but this team is 14-3 over their last 17 games. You might not have noticed how good they are – but they have.
Arizona is a team that plays with confidence, but not arrogance – and if they can keep the ball rolling they might just make history at University of Phoenix Stadium in February.