Here on NFL Thursday, we continue to with our examination of every franchise’s best teams, in order from worst winning percentage to best, historically. It’s time to take on the Cardinals organization, which began in Chicago before moving to St. Louis and finally ending up in the greater Phoenix metro area. The Cardinals have won two NFL titles, both before 1950, so they won’t appear below. The team also lost the Super Bowl in 2008, but that squad didn’t make the cut, either.
For the record, the Cardinals were in Chicago from 1920 to 1959 before moving to St. Louis. The team is a footnote in sports history for merging one season during World War II with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1944) to become the Chi/Pit Cards/Steelers. No joke, even if the team did go 0-10 that season. In 1988, the team moved to Phoenix before changing its name to the “Arizona Cardinals” in 1994. That’s a lot of fun history right there for a team with a .424 winning percentage.
No. 5: 1984 St. Louis Cardinals
Like most teams on this list, these Cardinals didn’t even make the playoffs. They went 9-7 to finish third in the NFC East during an era when only 2 wild-card teams qualified for the postseason. In fact, the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys also finished 9-7 in the NFC East, and only the Giants reached January football (thanks to a tiebreaker). The Cards were No. 4 offense, No. 17 on defense, No. 7 in the SRS—and outscored their opponents by 78 points on the year.
The offense was led by quarterback Neil Lomax (17 AV), wide receiver Roy Green (15), and running back Ottis Anderson (14), while the defense was spearheaded by linebacker E.J. Junior (16). All 7 losses came by 10 points or less; in fact, St. Louis lost three of those games by a combined 5 points—including the season finale on the road to the division-winning Washington Redskins, by a 29-27 margin, that cost the Cardinals a playoff berth when the kicker missed at the buzzer.
No. 4: 1974 St. Louis Cardinals
Before he coached the San Diego Chargers to success, Don Coryell fine-tuned his chops with the Cards. This group won the NFC East with a 10-4 record, sporting the No. 9 offense, the No. 8 defense, and the No. 7 ranking in the overall SRS. St. Louis outscored its 14 opponents on the year by 67 points and tied for the best record in the NFC with three other teams. However, in the postseason, the Super Bowl-bound Minnesota Vikings beat the Cardinals, 30-14, to end it all.
Four offense players led the team in AV: QB Jim Hart (13), RB Terry Metcalf (13), offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf (12), and WR Mel Gray (11). St. Louis started off 7-0 to get hopes quite high for a possible Super Bowl run, but the Cards sputtered to a 3-4 finish. Three of the losses came by a combined 11 points, and in Week 13, the team was actually shutout on the road in New Orleans, where the Super Bowl would be played without them. The Vikings made sure of that soon after.
No. 3: 2013 Arizona Cardinals
With a 10-6 record, the Cards finished third in the NFC West, behind the two teams that would meet in the NFC Championship Game (San Francisco, Seattle). Somehow, the Green Bay Packers won the NFC North with an 8-7-1 record to make the postseason, though. Anyway, Arizona was No. 16 on offense and No. 7 on defense—with a No. 6 finish in the SRS overall. The team posted a plus-55 scoring differential, but a 3-point loss to the 49ers in the final game hurt badly.
This team was led by its defense—LB Karlos Dansby (16 AV) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (16)—although QB Carson Palmer (11) did well, too. After a slow 3-4 start to the season, the Cardinals caught fire, winning seven of their next eight games, the only loss coming on the road by 3 points in Philadelphia. And, after falling behind 17-0 in the season finale against S.F., they came back to tie the score at 20 in the final minute. But … the defense gave it up late.
No. 2: 1970 St. Louis Cardinals
This is a high ranking for a team that went 8-5-1, finished third in the NFC East, and missed the postseason. But these Cardinals posted a plus-97 point differential, despite the whole conference being quite competitive. St. Louis was No. 4 on offense, No. 5 on defense, and No. 4 in the overall SRS. Guess what did the squad in? A 1-3-1 finish after a 7-2 start. The last three games before the slide? The Cards won by a combined 113-0 score. Maybe they got overconfident? Who knows?
Eight different players posted double-digit AV marks, led by fullback MacArthur Lane (15)—our pick for MVP in 1970. QB Jim Hart (12) also had another productive season. So what happened in the final 5 games? Fifteen turnovers by the offense, for starters. The only contest in that stretch that St. Louis won was when it committed just a single TO. All the other games featured multiple turnovers. It was a bad time to suddenly start losing the football, that’s for sure
No. 1: 2015 Arizona Cardinals
The best team in organizational history is also the most recent entry on this list. With a 13-3 record, the Cards won the NFC West and finished No. 1 in the overall SRS—on the back of the No. 2 offense and the No. 7 defense. Yet despite earning a first-round bye in the playoffs, Arizona struggled to beat the Green Bay Packers at home, winning only 26-20 in OT. Then, on the road with a Super Bowl berth on the line, the Cards got hammered by the Carolina Panthers, 49-15.
Palmer (16 AV) and Peterson (15) were the leaders on this team, as 11 players finished with at least 9 AV overall. After a 4-2 start to the season, Arizona went on a 9-game winning streak which featured victories over both San Francisco and Seattle, the two teams that had dominated the NFC West in recent years. But the overtime win against Green Bay sapped the Cards, and against the Panthers, an uncharacteristic 4 interceptions thrown by Palmer ended the season too early.