Every time I think if the Arizona Cardinals 2016 season, I can’t help but think of the fact that they participated in possibly the worst primetime game in modern NFL history. That game was laughably bad, but it was only part of the issues for the Cardinals. Many of their games were spent either blowing out opponents or being blown out. It feels like this team still needs an identity. Sure, they have David Johnson, who is one of the best running backs in the league. They always have a defense that is near the top of the league in production. Despite those pieces, they still came up short in 2016, finishing with a record of 7-8-1 and missing the playoffs.
|Karlos Dansby, ILB||D. J. Swearinger, S|
|Antoine Bethea, S||Calais Campbell, DE|
|Phil Dawson, K||Tony Jefferson, S|
|Jarvis Jones, OLB||Chandler Catanzaro, K|
|Frostee Rucker, DT||Marcus Cooper, DB|
|Haason Reddick, ILB (Draft)||Earl Watford, OT|
|Budda Baker, S (Draft)||Darren Fells, TE|
|Blaine Gabbert, QB||Alex Okafor, DE|
|Josh Bynes, OLB||Kevin Minter, ILB|
With just a few turns of fortune, the Cardinals could have easily gone 9-7 last year. Yes, at least two games of note could have been won on last second field goals. Alas, the foot of Chandler Catanzaro broke the hearts of many Cardinals fans, and shattered their playoff hopes.
Cardinals fans can rest easy knowing the man who cost them too many key field goals is now the problem of the New York Jets.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals lost three key defensive players in the offseason. Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, and D. J. Swearinger all left in free agency. While the Cardinals didn't get big name free agents to replace the missing pieces, I don't doubt the Cardinals defense. It's a unit that is usually in the top ten any given year, and I would expect a high grade for them this year as well.
|1||@ Detroit Lions|
|2||@ Indianapolis Colts|
|3||vs Dallas Cowboys|
|4||vs San Francisco 49ers|
|5||@ Philadelphia Eagles|
|6||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|7||@ Los Angeles Rams|
|9||@ San Francisco 49ers|
|10||vs Seattle Seahawks|
|11||@ Houston Texans|
|12||vs Jacksonville Jaguars|
|13||vs Los Angeles Rams|
|14||vs Tennessee Titans|
|15||@ Washington Redskins|
|16||vs New York Giants|
|17||@ Seattle Seahawks|
Being in a perceived weak division, the Cardinals have to take advantage of their divisional counterparts in order to accumulate some wins. They have a nice part in their schedule, weeks 12-14, where they play three straight home games against non-playoff opponents from last season. This could be a great opportunity for the Cardinals to get hot late and make a playoff push if necessary.
The Cardinals are scheduled for just two primetime games this season, including one Monday night and one Thursday night game. The lack of primetime games could be in part to the aforementioned snoozer they put us through last season. To no ones surprise, Sunday Night Football opted not to have them back on the schedule.
Three players to watch: Jaron Brown, wide receiver
Not to be confused with fellow wide receiver, John Brown (no relation), Jaron looks like the favorite to take the role of third wide receiver on the depth chart. This may not sound like much, but keep in mind that the Cardinals run a lot of three wide receiver sets. With Michael Floyd out of the picture after being cut last season, the need for a third wide receiver is there, and Jaron has been talked up throughout training camp.
J. J. Nelson saw a lot of work in the passing game last season, but I expect him to be more of a limited tool for the Cardinals. Nelson isn't a prototypical wide receiver, he's more of a burner and a deep threat. Brown had a torn ACL in 2016, so many people have forgotten about him. However, he was primed to have a key role in the offense last year before the injury, so expect him to go out and show his talents this year.
Robert Nkemdiche, defensive end
In what is essentially his rookie year, Nkemdiche will get the opportunity to show the Cardinals what he's got this year. Nkemdiche was buried on the depth chart in his rookie season, but now that Calais Campbell is with Jacksonville, the first round pick from 2016 will get his time to shine. Nkemdiche was a bit of a head scratcher coming out of college. While his measurables and athleticism are to be marveled at, many questioned his overall talent due to his underwhelming production in college. He's been labeled as a boom/bust prospect by many draft experts, but most agree that he's worth the risk. He'll have his chance this year to show if he really is worth it all.
Budda Baker, safety
Baker has received rave reviews in training camp, and given the losses in the secondary in the offseason, Baker has a legitimate chance to be a starting safety in Week 1. He's an explosive player with great speed, as he was a track sprinter in high school. His highlights show how he has a nose for the football, and he could grow into be a great NFL safety.
Early word on Baker is that the Cardinals are trying to mold him to be more like Tyrann Mathieu, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Not to mention, Baker is a perfect fit for the Cardinals scheme. The Cardinals tend to bring the blitz a lot, and as you'll see in the highlight package below, Baker excels close to the line of scrimmage.
Many think the NFC West is the worst division in the league, so it'll be hard to get two teams to come out of this division and make the playoffs. The Seahawks are the overall better team in this division, and while it's not out of the realm of possibilities, I just don't see two teams coming out of this division. I have the Cardinals projected for 7-9, placing second in the division. However, extrapolating my projected standings, I have the Cardinals placed eighth in the conference, so if a few of the losses I have them projected for go their way, it could be a different story. Who knows, maybe they'll have some good fortune with last second field goals this year.
How do you think the Cardinals will do this season? Let us know in the comments below!
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