Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson has been one of the most dominant CBs in the league since being draft No. 5 overall in 2011.
Coming in at No. 15 in the fanatix NFL power ranking are the Arizona Cardinals, had one of the most complete teams in the NFL last year but fell just short of returning to the playoffs for their first time in five years.
Recap of 2013
In his first year as an NFL head coach, Bruce Arians helped the Cardinals double their win total from the previous year, going 10-6 while posting one of the league’s best defenses. QB Carson Palmer managed to revive his floundering career in his first year with the team, throwing 24 TDs and a career high 4,274 passing yards. The team also benefited from a strong rookie class, with rookie DB Tyrann Mathieu causing disruptions in the defensive backfield and rookie RB Andre Ellington adding 5.5 yards/carry late in the year.
The Cardinals fell one game short of returning to the playoffs after losing in Game 16 to the San Francisco 49ers.
Recap of 2014 Offseason
Some key players left the Cardinals at the end of the 2013 season: LB Karlos Dansby, who left the team for his second time, as well as starting RB Rashard Mendenhall who was forced to retire due to injuries.
The free agent pickups had several big steals: Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie will join Pro Bowl Patrick Peterson in the secondary and WR Ted Ginn will be speed threat and return ace for the team.
The draft was a bit of a mixed bag with Safety Deone Bucannon joining the team from Washington State. TE Troy Niklas from Notre Dame (2nd round) and QB Logan Thomas (4th round) may have been reaches at their respective spots, but all of the players drafted filled pressing needs.
Position of Strength: Wide Receiver
Any receiving corps that has 8-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald gains automatic credibility – at the tender age of 30 he is already fairly high on many of the NFL’s all-time receiving lists and added 10 TDs in 2013. But Fitzgerald is no longer the only game in town: 3rd year receiver Michael Floyd is making a name for himself after leading the Cardinals with 1,041 receiving yards in 2013. Many people saw WR Michael Floyd as the heir apparent to Fitzgerald by year-four or five, but in only their 3rd year together, the group already appears very formidable and could easily be the strongest receiving corps in the entire NFC in 2014.
Position of Weakness: Offensive Line
Carson Palmer was sacked a career-high 41 times in 2013. And considering some of the awful offensive lines he has played with in his 2004, that does not bode well for the Cardinals. Former 1st round pick G Jonathan Cooper missed the entire 2013 season due to a broken leg but has been struggling throughout the preseason. The Cardinals were a middle-of-the-pack offense last year and struggled to run the ball. And late in the season the theme generally becomes the team with the better rushing attack has the advantage as the final division title matchups get under way.
Best Case Scenario
The Cardinals schedule is not exactly an impossible force to overcome: 7 games against teams with losing records last year, and only 5 total games against a top 10 NFL offense. Assuming that the Cardinals can maintain at least the same level of defensive play with several key defenders returning from injury and can play even more efficiently on offense, there is no reason the team can’t bring it all together at the end of the season and take a Wildcard spot, and maybe even a crack at the division title. And if the Cardinals can make it into the playoffs to the exclusion of the 49ers or even the Seahawks, they have as good a chance as any other NFC team to go to the Superbowl.
Worst Case Scenario
Simply by playing in the NFC West the Cardinals will have a hard time competing for the divison title. The Seahawks and 49ers were the NFL’s two best teams in 2013 and the Rams are only getting more talented and dominant on defense. And the last 6-game stretch of the season is a literal murderer’s row of opponents: the Seahawks in late November followed by the fully-healed Atlanta Falcons, then the Chiefs to start December followed by three straight NFC West division games against the Rams (on a short week – only three days after playing the Chiefs), then the Seahawks again and finally an away game against the 49ers. The schedule alone may be too much for any NFL team to handle that late in the year. And could cause them to narrowly miss the playoffs again.
Prediction: 3rd place in NFC West, possible wildcard spot