Talk about a daft stat.
If the Arizona Cardinals get back to the Super Bowl in 2010, it'll likely be thanks to their nutty road-field advantage. Sitting pretty with a road record of 4-0 (6-3 overall) in '09, Ken Whisenhunt's Redbirds got smoked on the road last season by scores of 47-7 (New England), 48-20 (Philadelphia), and 56-35 (New York Jets).
With road games remaining against St. Louis, Tennessee, San Francisco, and Detroit, this year's Birds have a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime shot at going 8-0 away from Glendale's happy confines. (Heck, they haven't even made it to 5-0 for more than six decades. Fans of history should note that that team, the 1948 Chicago Cardinals, made it to the NFL Championship Game, but lost 7-0 to the Eagles.)
Ironically, the two biggest bumps in the thruway for the Cards have a combined record of 4-14. That would be the Rams (1-8) on Sunday and the Titans (3-6) the week after, and that would be because of St. Louis running back Steven Jackson (ranked third in the NFL in rushing with 915 yards) and Tennessee RB Chris Johnson (No. 1 with 1,091 yards).
But there's more to Sunday's game at the Edward Jones Dome than the slippery, slashing Jackson versus the Cardinals' suddenly shaky run defense. The Rammies took 9-0 New Orleans to the brink last Sunday. Holding Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints to two first-half scores and a 14-all tie at the half, scrappy St. Louis had a legit chance to win with time running out, but Marc Bulger's Hail Mary went unanswered, and the Saints prevailed, 28-23.
The impressive Jackson finished with 131 yards on 26 carries, plus 45 yards receiving. With 85 on the ground against the Birds, Jackson will earn 1,000 for the fifth consecutive season -- a franchise record. Meanwhile, St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo finally seems to be getting his play-hard-and-damn-the-torpedoes message (gleaned from his days as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants and Tom Coughlin) across to the talent-poor Rams. (We loved this comment posted yesterday to the online site of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from IARamsFan: "Just be competitive and build on last week Rams . . . that's all we ask for anymore. God help us.")
The Rams may be skill-challenged, but they'll be brimming with motivation -- and renewed confidence following the strong showing against the Saints -- on Sunday against the Cardinals.
In addition to being the Rams' key rival in the NFC West, the Cardinals are the franchise that got away. They boast the All-Pro quarterback who got away. Then there's St. Louis' recent history of getting bushwhacked by the Cards (in their last three meetings, dating back to December 2007, Arizona has outscored the Rams by a combined 116-42).
Sure, the anemic Rams have only scored 100 total points in '09, ranking them third from the bottom in the NFL, ahead of only the piss-poor Browns and Raiders. Sure, they've gone 1-4 in their last five games (to Arizona's 4-1). Sure, Cards QB Kurt Warner -- the former two-time MVP with the Rams -- boasts a league-leading 72.6 road completion average this year, with 10 touches and only two picks. And sure, Cards RB Beanie Wells is starting to make some thundering noises of his own when he gets the ball.
All of that stuff means nothing, because while the Cardinals have the real deal in their sights, this game is the Rams' Super Bowl. Bet the farm that Spagnuolo will hammer that point home, with Steven Jackson as the nail.
Beware of this one, Cards.
Kickoff is at 2:05 p.m. TV: FOX. Radio: KTAR-FM 92.3. More info: www.azcardinals.com.