Projected Record: 5-11
NFC West Rank: 4th
In a highly competitive NFC West, the Cardinals don’t stand a chance against high powered offenses and impressive defenses in the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. They’ll either go 0-6 in their division or if they’re lucky, they might be able to manage a win against the Rams to make 1-5. Above that, is extremely unlikely. Last season they started out great, winning the first four games, but then everything fell apart. The Cards didn’t manage to win another game until Week 15 against the Detroit Lions. They rounded out the season with two additional losses to make it 5-11 for the season. This season, they’ll attain a very identical record but without the crazy streaks of games won and lost. All the wins will be scattered throughout their schedule and not all clustered at the beginning or end.
The offseason acquisition of veteran QB Carson Palmer will tremendously aid this offense, which stood at 28th in passing yards last season. These woeful passing numbers are attributed to the quarterback dilemma last season, which saw a grand total of four different quarterbacks starting games throughout the season. New Head Coach Bruce Arians believes in the aggressive passing game plan, which was evident during his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. Palmer can definitely thrive in this system with a very talented receiving corps highlighted by one of the best in Larry Fitzgerald. The depth chart also has WR Andre Roberts and WR Michael Floyd at numbers two and three. With much instability at quarterback last season, Fitzgerald still managed to catch 71 passes for 798 yards. Andre Roberts also surpassed the 700 yard receiving mark a season ago.
The Cards are forced to rely on their passing attack for the majority of their offense since their running game is marred by inconsistency. The LaRod Stephens-Howling and Beanie Wells combo had mediocre production last season, failing to even average a combined 3 yards-per-carry. They were 32nd, dead last in the NFL at rushing the ball. With the Cardinals releasing Beanie Wells and signing RB Rashard Mendenhall, their rushing game won’t be as horrid. Mendenhall has two 1,000 yard rushing seasons to his credit during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This rushing attack’s numbers can only go up this season in terms of NFL rank. Nevertheless, the Card’s rushing game won’t be good enough to take on much of the offensive burden, so look to QB Palmer and the passing attack to account for most of the offensive production this upcoming season.
With a subpar offensive effort the past couple seasons, Arizona has come to rely on its defensive skill. In all of their wins last season, the defense didn’t allow more than 21 points to a single opposing offense. However, this offseason, the defense suffered some significant losses including Pro Bowl Strong Safety Adrian Wilson and veteran safety, Kerry Rhodes. Both were starters last season, so these departures leave a void in the secondary that will have to filled by rookie Tyrann Mathieu and recent acquisition Yeremiah Bell. Mathieu has well documented off the field troubles that resulted in his dismissal from the LSU football team. When he was on the field though, his production was excellent. In 2011, he was a Heisman finalist and arguably the best cornerback in the country, his sophomore year of college. Yet, nobody knows how his small body and college talent will transition into the NFL. If he doesn’t get the start or doesn’t perform well enough, then S Rashad Johnson will probably receive the job.
But, for the most part, the cornerback position is deep in the Cardinals organization. It’s centerpiece is two time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson, who intercepted the ball seven times, which helped the Cards pick off the second most passes (22) in the NFL a season ago. Moreover, their defensive line upfront consists of another Pro Bowl-caliber athlete in Darnell Dockett and an athletic Calais Campbell. Their rush defense stats weren’t great last year as a result of Dockett’s poor performance, but they will inevitably improve this season if Dockett can return to his form from just a couple seasons ago. To round out this defense, is the linebacker core which has a 2012 Pro Bowler with Daryl Washington. LB Washington led the team in tackles last year with a whopping 134, but will unfortunately have to sit out the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. This won’t make too much of a negative impact though, since the Cards won’t be playing any top tier teams in the first four games.
Arizona has clearly made tremendous improvements this offseason on both sides of the ball. Still, they have a long ways to go before they’ll be in playoff contention partly because of their division record. That’s the unfortunate luck of being in a division that has two Super Bowl favorites. Perhaps, they could surprise the NFL though. They have a proven quarterback and a proven wide receiver, who when working at an optimal level, could make for one of the most dynamic tandems in the league. Plus, their defense can hold their own against above-average aerial attacks. This team is still a work in progress that won’t frighten too many of its opponents this season, but can be a potential threat in a few years.