Its been a tale of two franchises for the last 14 months in the NFC West.
Last year, the Los Angeles Rams were coming off an impressive Super Bowl run and considered the heir apparent to the team that beat them. They were continuing to actively lock up their young core of players to on both sides of the ball to long term deals, move aggressively to fill needs and do everything to win as much as they possibly could now.
Sean McVay was still the whiz kid, Jared Goff was still the best reclamation story in football, Todd Gurley was selling hamburgers on TV across the country, while Aaron Donald was the NFL's most feared player.
They had won a total of 24 games combined in 2017 and 2018 and were the defending two time NFC West Champs. If you would've polled NFL media members and fans one year ago which NFC West team would win the most conference championships over the next 5 years, the results would've been overwhelmingly in the Rams favor outside of the Pacific Northwest.
They could do no wrong. They were the buzziest, trendiest, most followed, imitated, complimented, most talked about team in the NFL.
And now, after cutting loose yet another big name from their bloated roster in trading Brandin Cooks, they're basically an NFL tombstone with an epitaph that reads "Too much, too soon."
The Cardinals were the exact opposite. They were coming off a three win season, bottoming out after a brief rise under Bruce Arians before being decidedly mediocre for two seasons.
They had a GM being roasted for an embarrassing and dangerous DUI arrest and arrest video. They had a head coach who was stuck in the NFL stone ages. Their offense should've been played with leather helmets and outside of Larry Fitzgerald, didn't have a single player anyone wanted to talk about.
Patrick Peterson got caught cheating and was suspended for six games, Chandler Jones was the most disrespected player in the 2020 version of Madden and their offensive line was basically illegal.
And that was before they hired the least qualified head coach in NFL history and drafted a quarterback who most derided as too small to ride a roller coaster, let alone lead an NFL team.
Fast forward to April 2020 and its quite a different story.
The Rams are coming off a playoff-less 9 win season that was one of the most disappointing in the NFL. They unceremoniously dumped Todd Gurley. Then they traded Brandin Cooks for well below what they acquired him for. Jared Goff's contract may be the worst deal in the NFL and Jalen Ramsey is still unsigned long term. Their cap situation is messier than my kids play room after 18 days of quarantine, they've got more dead money in 2020 than Sean McVay has had birthday's and zero first round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals finished in last place and won only 5 games but are being treated like the NFL's next big thing. Kyler Murray dazzled those that were paying attention in his rookie year. The Cardinals also unceremoniously dumped their former franchise RB, David Johnson, but in return landed one of the five best WR's in football in DeAndre Hopkins. They filled needs at ILB, OLB and DT in free agency. Patrick Peterson hasn't melted any cups with his urine and Fitz is back again for another year. Add Kliff Kingsbury being decidedly fine as a rookie head coach and with the 8th overall pick in the draft, suddenly the Cardinals are threatening to win the mixed blessing "Team of the Offseason" award.
So, who are you taking to actually win more games in 2020?
I'd take the Rams in a photo finish. With two second round picks, its possible they reload the WR and RB positions with two younger, cheaper, better options such as Michael Pittman Jr and JK Dobbins. They still have Aaron Donald. And while it might feel like Sean McVay has peaked, he's 34 with 33 career wins in three NFL seasons and after making wholesale staff changes, may be primed to bounce back in a big way.
The Cardinals have had a wonderful offseason. I believe in Kyler Murray's potential more than most. And they flat out stole Hopkins. With the 8th overall pick, they could still add a blue chip talent specifically to the offensive line. But this is a team that has a poor track record of handling hype well. Organizational arrogance cost them three full seasons after their last NFC Championship appearance. The highest peaks in Cardinals history have come when little was expected.
There are still major questions surrounding their coaching staff and offensive line heading into 2020 no matter how buzzed about they are.
Even if they've clearly won the offseason so far relative to the Rams, they need to actually do it on the field before I crown them future NFC West kings.
More importantly for the Cardinals, this blog exists. They've nearly caught up to the Rams and the argument could be made from 1-22, the Cardinals starters are better than their NFC West rivals.
But winning in the NFL isn't easy. Winning when everyone is talking about you isn't easy.
Just ask the Rams.