Head Coach: Bruce Arians
2014 record: 11-6 overall, 3-3 NFC West
2014 Postseason results: Lost to Carolina Panthers 27-16 in the Wild Card Playoffs
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 28/1
Odds to win NFC Championship: 13/1
Odds to win NFC West Division: 13/2
Regular season wins: over 8 1/2 -130 / under 8 1/2 Even
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Last year, the Arizona Cardinals began the season 9-1 and had dreams of becoming the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. However, the offense went into the tank over the last six games due to some key injuries. The Cardinals would go 2-6 down the stretch but would average just over 12 points a game in that stretch. Arizona would squeak into the playoffs with an 11-5 record. The Cardinals were so injury ravaged that they were actually an underdog against the NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card playoffs. Carolina was 7-8-1 in the regular season. The Panthers would win 27-16.
When the Cardinals are healthy, they are a Super Bowl Contender. Coach Bruce Arians hopes the Cardinals used up all their injury bad luck last year. Either way, the Cardinals look to catch the NFC West Champion Seahawks who only finished a game ahead of the Cardinals last year despite all the injuries for the Cardinals.
Arizona averaged 320 yards per game on offense last year, including 238 passing and 82 rushing yards. The Cardinals were #14 in passing, but #31 in rushing and #24 in total offense. Arizona was #24 in scoring at 19.4 points per game. Harold Goodwin returns as the offensive coordinator.
Quarterback Carson Palmer played in only six games last year due to injury. He suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener and would miss about a month. Palmer played in five more games but was lost for the season with a torn ACL. He threw for 1,626 yards with 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Back-up Drew Stanton wasn’t terrible in 9 games but he wasn’t exactly great either. He threw for 1,711 yards with 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and rushed for 63 yards on 25 carries. He sprained his knee in week 15 and wouldn’t play again. That left the Cardinals with third string quarterback Ryan Lindley. Lindley threw for 562 yards with 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Lindley is now with the New England Patriots. Logan Thomas completed only 1 of 9 passes, but the one completion was an 81 yard touchdown pass against the Broncos. Stanton, Thomas and Palmer are all back. Palmer remains the starter if he can stay healthy.
Not only were there injuries to the quarterbacks but leading rusher Andre Ellington suffered a knee injury in the first week. He was never healthy for the season or very effective. Ellington never rushed for more than 95 yards in any game. He would miss the last four games of the season with a hernia. Ellington rushed for 660 yards on 201 carries with 3 touchdowns, along with 46 catches for 395 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kerwynn Williams had 53 carries for 246 yards. Stepfan Taylor had 63 carries for 208 yards and a touchdown, along with 11 catches for 79 yards. It isn’t a good sign when your top three rushers barely combined for 1,100 yards. The Cardinals drafted David Johnson in the third round out of Northern Iowa. He will also get some carries, as will Marion Grice.
Receiver Michael Floyd had 47 catches for 841 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is questionable with three broken fingers for the regular season opener. Larry Fitzgerald had 63 catches for 784 yards and 2 touchdowns. Rookie John Brown had 48 catches for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns. Receiver Jaron Brown had 22 catches for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ted Ginn, Jr. went back to the Panthers after one year with the Cardinals. The Cardinals drafted J.J. Nelson in the fifth round out of UAB. Tight end John Carlson had 33 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown. He was released and has yet to be picked up by a team. Troy Niklas will take over as the new tight end. Darren Fells and rookie Gerald Christian, a sixth round pick out of Louisville will also see time at tight end.
Arizona signed All-pro guard Mike Iupati from the 49ers. Unfortuantely, Iupati is out until at least early November with a knee injury. Look for Earl Watford to start in his place until he gets back. The Cardinals also signed center A.Q. Shipley from the Indianapolis Colts. Right guard Jonathan Cooper is a former first round pick, but has yet to live up to his potential. Bobbie Massie was supposed to start at right tackle but faces a three game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Cardinals drafted tackle. D.J. Humphries in the first round out of Florida. He could start right away while Massie serves his suspension. Jared Veldheer will start at left tackle.
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Arizona allowed 368 yards per game last year, including 260 passing and 109 rushing yards. The Cardinals were #24 in total defense and #29 in pass defense. Still, Arizona was #5 in points allowed at 18.7 points per game. This was mainly due to Arizona’s +8 turnover margin.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles left to become the head coach of the New York Jets. Despite the below average numbers last year, Bowles is considered one of the top defensive minds in football. Arians promoted linebackers coach James Bettcher as the new coordinator. Bettcher has his work cut out for him as the Cardinals lost key contributors in all three defensive units.
Defensive end Darnell Dockett missed all of 2014 with a knee injury, and signed as a free agent with the 49ers. Nose tackle Dan Williams signed with the Raiders. The Cardinals thought they had signed the replacements for Dockett and Williams with the signings of free agents Cory Redding from the Colts at end and Corey Peters at tackle from the Falcons. However, Peters is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker return at the ends and combined for 12 sacks last year. Alameda Ta’amu will start at nose tackle. The Cardinals drafted tackle Rodney Gunter in the fourth round out of Delaware State and end Shaquille Riddick in the fifth round out of West Virginia.
Inside linebacker Larry Foote retired after making 84 tackles last year. Daryl Washington is suspended indefinitely after being arrested for domestic violence. The Cardinals signed linebackers Sean Weatherspoon from the Falcons and LaMarr Woodley from the Raiders. Alex Okafor and Matt Shaughnessy will start on the outside. Arizona also drafted outside linebacker Markus Golden in the second round out of Missouri. Kenny Demens and Kevin Minter will start on the inside.
The Cardinals lost cornerback Antonio Cromartie to the Jets via free agency. Cornerback Patrick Peterson looks to return from a subpar (by his standards) season in which he was diagnosed with diabetes. He still had 50 tackles and 3 interceptions. Jarraud Powers will start at corner in place of Cromartie. Powers had 53 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. Justin Bethel will also see time at corner. Free safety Rashad Johnson had 93 tackles and 4 interceptions, including two pick sixes. Still he could lose his starting spot to Tyrann Mathieu. Deone Bucannon and Tony Jefferson combined for 159 tackles last year at strong safety.
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Kicker Chandler Cantazaro made 29 of 33 field goals, including 12 of 14 from 40 plus yards as a rookie last year. Punter Dave Zastudil looks to return from a groin injury that basically cost him all of the season last year. He only had 11 punts last year. Zastudil led the league in punts inside the 20 yard line in 2012 and 2013. Rookie J.J. Nelson will likely return both kicks and punts. He averaged 38 yards per kick return last year in college.
September brings home games against the Saints and 49ers, and a road game at the Bears. October brings homes games against the Rams and Ravens on a Monday night, plus road games at the Lions and Steelers. The Cardinals travel to Cleveland before going on the bye in week nine. Arizona closes November with road games at Seattle and San Francisco, and a home game against Cincinnati. In December, Arizona travels to St. Louis and Philadelphia, and hosts Minnesota on a Thursday night and Green Bay. The Cardinals close the season at home against the Seahawks.
There are a ton of questions on defense. Still, if the offense can stay healthy, this team should be a playoff contender again. I mean this team used four quarterbacks last year, and still won 11 games.
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