Last year the Arizona Cardinals scored 375 points, won 10 games, and put 51 points on the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card. This year—well, this year Kurt Warner decided to go Dancing with the Stars, and the Cardinals decided to go with Derek Anderson instead of long-time understudy Matt Leinart. The end result: The Cardinals still can’t stop anybody, only now they’re 29th in football in points. After skating by for the first half of the season their record finally reflects their point differential, which is nearly 12 points per game.
Last year the St. Louis Rams went 1-15, and they deserved to go 1-15. They scored the fewest points in football and allowed the second-most. This year—well, this year Marc Bulger decided to join the witness protection program and the Rams decided to draft Sam Bradford instead of Mel Kiper fave Jimmy Clausen. The end result: The Rams still don’t have a great offense, but it’s not completely moribund, and Coach Steve Spagnuolo’s vaunted defense has finally gained traction. Combine it with a division made weak by, among other things, the Cardinals’ offseason decisions, and the Rams are first place in the NFC West.
This week the Arizona Cardinals have a lot of motivation—their fanbase (and press corps) has finally lost patience, Derek Anderson is under fire for not wearing sackcloth on the sidelines during last week’s drubbing, and Rick Pitino has confirmed that Kurt Warner won’t be walking through that door. But the Rams have a lot to prove, too—getting to .500, and maintaining control of the NFC West, would make this surprising run that much more real for a fanbase that’s maintained a skeptical distance.