The Arizona Cardinals have another hot start. This one is different.

The 2020 Cardinals relied on Murray’s sand court tactics and 115 receptions from All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to generate the bulk of their offense, especially after Kingsbury ran out of fresh ideas. But so far this season, eight different players have generated at least 100 yards of scrum. Thanks to upgrades to skill posts, better game selection and more experience, Murray is operating much more efficiently out of pocket than he did last season.

In defense, former All-Pro lineman Chandler Jones has returned to form after an injury-plagued 2020 season; Watt’s presence also helped a bit. Cornerback Byron Murphy has intercepted three assists this season after collecting just one in his first two seasons. And linebacker Isaiah Simmons, the eighth overall pick in the 2020 Draft who couldn’t find a role as a rookie, is starting to thrive as a versatile passer, cover defender and run tamper.

More telling, the Cardinals rushed for 216 yards and allowed three sacks against the Rams despite the absence of starting offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and Justin Murray. Veteran center Rodney Hudson didn’t make headlines at Watt’s level when the Cardinals traded him in March, but he has become a stabilizing influence on a once fragile unit.

With their lack of playoff pedigree and a roster and coaching staff that don’t quite fit the mold, the Cardinals still look like shaggy misfits among the top contenders in the NFC. The punters give them a strong +1,600 odds to win the Super Bowl, while the Rams team they just beat is at +800 and the Buccaneers, who narrowly escaped Brady’s return to Nova Scotia. England with their dignity intact, are at +500.

Analytics, on the other hand, is blind to such preconceptions. Football Outsiders’ playoff odds based on simulation giving the Cardinals a 43.7% chance of winning the hotly contested NFC West, while the Rams’ odds are only 24.7%. (The Buccaneers have the best Super Bowl odds among NFC teams because even the laws of math creep past Brady).

In many ways, the 2021 Cardinals resemble the Seahawks of the early 2010s, who threw away team-building manuals and bet their fortunes on undersized Russell Wilson, too collegiate Pete Carroll, some square-ankle athletes. like Richard Sherman and the game of plans and philosophies that aren’t meant to work in the NFL

These Seahawks have won one Super Bowl, reached another, and set themselves up as eternal contenders. After a false start in 2020, the Cardinals could follow the same path.

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