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Updated Feb 6, 2012 - 3:11 pm

Cardinals on Giants' level? They're not far off

On October 2, 2011, the Arizona Cardinals lost a game they should have won.

Leading 27-17 with just more than five minutes left, they had the New York Giants on the ropes, staring a 2-2 record - as well as legitimacy - in the face.

Of course, we all know what happened from there.

The defense caved, Victor Cruz "gave himself up" and the Giants scored a pair of touchdowns to take the lead. The Cardinals drove as far as the New York 30 with less than a minute left, but a fourth-down slant to Fitzgerald fell incomplete.

Game over, Giants win.

Looking back, did New York really have the look of a Super Bowl champion? Of course not. There's a reason they won just nine regular season games, as well as why they are not even close to being the favorites to win the 2013 Super Bowl.

None of that will take the shine off the Lombardi Trophy the team just won, nor mean some less-fortunate people around the world won't be receiving a shipment of shirts that say the New England Patriots won this year's Super Bowl. What it does mean is that the 2012 season has officially begun, and the Arizona Cardinals -- a team that should have beat the Giants (and thereby kept them out of the playoffs) -- has a chance to reach the big game for the second time in five years.

Crazy talk? Perhaps, as I did consume large amounts of good tasting-yet-bad-for me food Sunday, possibly leaving me to write through some sort of sugary euphoria.

However, the Cardinals, one season after finishing 8-8, certainly seem capable of taking another step forward.

Remember, this is a team that ended the 2011 season as hot as any in football. They found a defense, rediscovered Larry Fitzgerald and rode into the offseason with belief in what they're doing. They could still use a QB…cough… Peyton Manning…cough…but otherwise seem to have everything a team needs to compete in the NFL.

And, as the Giants showed us this year (and the Cardinals in 2008), you do not have to be a great team to make it to the Super Bowl. Hell, you don't have to be a great team to win the Super Bowl. You only have to be good enough to make the playoffs, and anything can happen from there.

Now, this isn't meant to say you should be making hotel reservations for New Orleans and take vacation time around the weekend of February 3rd. While the Cardinals may be favored to land Peyton Manning, they are not the favorites to win the NFC West - let alone the NFC.

What they are, though, is a decent team with room to improve. What they are is a team that should have beaten the eventual Super Bowl champions.

What they are, on February 6, 2012, is a team not unlike 30 other squads in the NFL, all looking to knock off the Giants, which is something the Cardinals should have done last year.

The good news is they'll get their shot.

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