They were the underdogs in 2009, when they fell short to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the epic Super Bowl 43 matchup. They were crushed in the divisional round the year after, losing to the Saints 45-14. And of course, last year, when they were defeated in the first round to the Carolina Panthers. No matter the year, Arizona Cardinal fans find themselves with a repetitive theme: heartbreak.
Just one season later, the Cardinals have the chance to capture their first Super Bowl title since 1947, when they were known as the Chicago Cardinals.
However, the 2016 NFC Championship game will be no easy task for Bruce Arians and his squad, as they face the 15-1 Carolina Panthers lead by star quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton and the Panthers silenced their continuous doubters, en route to a near perfect season and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Despite matching up on the road against the best team in the NFC, the Cardinals feel confident they have what it takes to be champions of the National Football League. Their recipe of success comes through the leadership of Carson Palmer, Patrick Peterson, and Bruce Arians at the helm.
Just a little over a year since his season-ending ACL injury in 2014, Palmer and his Cardinals boast the best offense in the NFL, leading all teams with 408.3 yards per game. They finished with 489 total points, just second behind the Panthers.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s ageless wide receiver and Palmer’s favorite target, lead the team in 2015 with 109 receptions, 1,215 yards, and 9 touchdowns.
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Arian’s defense in 2016 finished fourth in the NFC with 19.6 points given up per game. In the December 27th stomping of the Green Bay Packers, the Cardinals sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times, with Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell combining for 5.5.
Although the Cardinals lost one of their most productive leaders on the defensive unit in Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson has stepped up big for the Cards since replacing Mathieu. After Mathieu’s December 20 ACL injury that would eventually sideline him for the remainder of the season, Jefferson has racked up 22 total tackles in four games.
The Cardinals defense will have their hands full with duel-threat Cam Newton on Sunday. Newton put up MVP-like numbers in 2015, throwing for 3,837 yards and running for 636.
Not to mention, the Panthers’ possess two of the best defensive players in the game with cornerback Josh Norman and linebacker Luke Keuchly. Both will play tremendous factors in how Arians chooses to call plays.
They’ve been in this situation before, and they’re certainly used to being the overlooked underdogs. With the determination and perseverance that this team owns, it now means nothing. So, rise up Red Sea, the Cardinals are one win away from punching their ticket to Super Bowl 50.