Don't think quarterback play is the most important thing in the NFL? The Cardinals went to back-to-back postseasons under Kurt Warner in 2008-09 but then won a combined 18 games over the next three seasons trotting out the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley under center. Arizona acquired Carson Palmer from Oakland for a song before last season and Palmer was easily the best player the team has had at the position since Warner. He did have 22 interceptions, which is too many, but threw for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was generally much better the second half of the season outside of a four-interception game in Seattle that the Cardinals somehow won.
Arizona also may have finally found a running back. Andre Ellington averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season in limited action with eight runs of at least 20 yards. He also caught 39 passes. He's unquestionably the No. 1 guy there moving forward. It has the potential to be a very good offense with two excellent receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The main question is the offensive line as Palmer was sacked 41 times last year. The defense was No. 1 against the rush in 2013, No. 6 in total yards allowed and No. 7 in points (20.3 per game).
Key Offseason Moves
Rashard Mendenhall started last year as the No. 1 back and led the team with 687 yards rushing, but he decided to retire at age 26. Andre Roberts emerged as the No. 3 receiver behind Fitzgerald and Floyd but signed with the Washington Redskins. The Cardinals lost one of their best defensive players in linebacker Karlos Dansby (team-leading 122 tackles, four interceptions). They brought in cornerback Antonio Cromartie, tight end John Carlson and receiver Ted Ginn.
But the biggest move was signing left tackle Jared Veldheer, formerly of Oakland. Since Arizona drafted Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007 -- two picks before some guy named Adrian Peterson was chosen by the Vikings -- the Cards have started seven left tackles. He makes that group much better. So should left guard Jonathan Cooper, who missed all of his rookie season due to injury.
2014 Schedule (all
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, San Diego, 10:20 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, San Francisco, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Washington, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Philadelphia, 4:05 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Detroit, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Atlanta, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Kansas City, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Thursday, Dec. 11, at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
The Cardinals have the eighth-toughest strength of schedule with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .547. That's the easiest schedule in the division, however. There are eight games against playoff teams. Arizona has three national TV prime-time games for the first time in five years. A bit of a scheduling oddity in that Arizona gets just one division game in the first nine weeks. Arizona was 2-4 vs. the NFC West in 2013, beating the Rams (home) and Seahawks (away).
Arizona shouldn't have to worry much about playing cold-weather games with its only trip to the East Coast in Week 2. That will be a very short week with the Cards off the late MNF opener -- they are 3-point favorites on NFL odds against San Diego -- and then playing in New Jersey at 10 a.m. Pacific time. The Week 4 bye is much too early;- the Cards are going to be banged up having to then play 13 straight weeks. At least it gives them a week to prepare for that trip to Denver. Palmer no doubt will be fired up to face his former Raiders teammates in Week 7. To make the playoffs, Arizona probably needs to start no worse than 7-3 with four of its final six on the road.
NFL Free Picks: Over 7.5 wins on NFL odds. This should be at worst a .500 team but the lack of a capable backup QB -- right now it's Drew Stanton -- is a bit of a concern as it seems unlikely Palmer will start every game again.