Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Power Rankings: Preseason: 17. This week: 10.
Where they stand: The Cardinals are 5-3 and leading the NFC West by two games. The are still striving for consistency on offense, but a 41-21 victory over the Bears in Week 9 suggests they could be on the right track. Kurt Warner looks like an MVP candidate when he has time to throw and his receivers get open. That hasn't happened consistently enough to this point, but the Cardinals are in good position to defend their division title and make another playoff run.
Disappointments: The team is 1-3 at home and inconsistent from week to week. Also, the first two players Arizona drafted this year have contributed less than anticipated. First-round choice Beanie Wells is starting to get more chances, with positive results. But an ankle injury sidelined him during camp and forced him to play catchup through the first half of the season. Second-round choice Cody Brown, drafted to help the pass rush, landed on injured reserve before the season. Larry Fitzgerald did not immediately build upon his record-setting postseason. His per-catch average remains down sharply from last season. Anquan Boldin's recent antics were another disappointment. At tight end, Ben Patrick had to serve a four-game suspension. On the offensive line, tackle Levi Brown has continued to struggle with penalties and in pass protection. On defense, second-year cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been inconsistent. He has the talent to be a Pro Bowl player.
Surprises: The Cardinals are 5-3 overall and 4-0 on the road despite the long list of disappointments outlined above. They have won on both coasts and in between. Previously untested Calais Campbell has proved to be a worthy replacement for defensive end Antonio Smith, who left in free agency. Alan Branch, who would have belonged in the paragraph about disappointments in past seasons, has turned into a valued contributor on the defensive line. Branch and Campbell are among the reasons Arizona has ranked among the NFL leaders in run defense this season. Free safety Antrel Rolle, long a threat to make the big play, has developed into a more consistent player.
Outlook: The NFC West title is the Cardinals' to lose. Arizona's closing schedule is much easier this season than it was when the Cardinals stumbled through December in 2008. I have a hard time believing the Cardinals will continue losing games at home. They will probably win at least five or six on the road. Evening up that home record at 4-4 seems reasonable. In that case, the Cardinals would finish 9-7 or 10-6. Either record should be good enough for Arizona to emerge with a second consecutive division crown.