October 8, 2021 | SPORTS | By Max Giles | Illustration by Kira Schulist
Through last Sunday, Oct. 3, only two National Football League teams remained undefeated: the Arizona Cardinals, who sat at 4-0, and the Las Vegas Raiders, who sat at 3-0. Neither of these teams were ranked in the top 10 in the pre-season NFL power rankings and yet, they stand alone at the top of the league’s standings. On Monday evening, the Las Vegas Raiders suffered a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. This left the Cardinals as the only team to remain undefeated in the entire league.
When I asked Dylan Sanchez, a faculty member in the admissions office, about why there were so few undefeated teams this year, he said that “due to COVID-19, some teams didn’t get to prepare as thoroughly as previous years which has led to sloppy football.”
While some disagree on the sustainability of their success, both teams are undeniably fun to watch.
The formerly undefeated Raiders have not made a postseason appearance since 2002. Many had doubts about them coming into the season due to their inconsistent offensive productivity. Additionally, a hesitance to expect success stemmed from the presence of quarterback Derek Carr; he seemed to have potential, however, fans quickly began to question his skill.
After their first three games this season, it was beginning to look like Carr was finally living up to expectations. With over 1,200 passing yards and six touchdowns, he proved that he could be the quarterback every fan hoped he could be.
The Raider’s success could not last. Of their first three games, two were against lackluster competition: the Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“As for the Raiders, it just seems like there is something that is missing,” said Sanchez. That showed in Monday’s game.
Despite the loss, Raiders fans remain optimistic. Josh Jacobs, the Raiders’ best running back, is expected to come back from an injury in the coming weeks. If the Raiders’ defense can hold up and their offense can maintain this level of performance, they have potential to make a playoff run. Being in the AFC West, one of the strongest divisions in the NFL, the team’s consistency will be a determining factor for their success.
The Arizona Cardinals, on the other hand, sit at 4-0 atop the NFC West. The team, led by Coach Cliff Kingsbury and Quarterback Kyler Murray, have just come off of an impressive win against the Los Angeles Rams in week four. This victory illustrates their ability to beat a top-10 team and a division rival, and they did so handily.
Murray played well with a pair of touchdowns and upwards of 250 yards, along with the rest of the offense who put up 37 points against a top NFL defense. Similarly, their defensive showing proved its ability to stop a solid offense such as the Rams.
This Cardinals season is a crucial one for their franchise. As ESPN’s John Weinfuss put it, “if Arizona doesn’t make the playoffs in 2021 for any reason besides major injuries, it is hard to think that Kingsbury will be the coach in 2022.” This highlights the importance of this season for the team.
Weinfuss’ thoughts bring up another point too: injuries. If the Cardinals manage to stay healthy this year (specifically, if Kyler Murray can stay away from injuries) they have lots of potential.
As NFL fan Jack Madison ’25 said, “Kyler Murray is surely strong enough to do well in the postseason; he’s already shown much ability to do seriously well.”
Murray is shaping up to be a favorite for MVP this year. Sports Illustrated’s Gary Grambling said that “he’s carrying his offense in a way that no other quarterback has to… he’s clearly the league’s most valuable player.”
In comparison to Dylan Sanchez’s doubts regarding the Raiders, he believes that “Arizona is as legit as they come nowadays, and I certainly see them riding high all year.” In short, the Cardinals are proving to be a strong team this year despite their lack of offensive weapons.
Despite these two teams’ records, I would not argue that they are the best in the NFL. They are both historically inconsistent and young teams that have lots to prove. “Time will tell” should be the slogan for how fans look at these teams in the next few weeks. Yet if both teams manage to stay healthy, they have considerable potential.