Last season the Cardinals impressed winning 10 games and making the playoffs as a wildcard. In a super hard NFC West division though will the Cardinals be able to achieve the same success again?
Key Man: Patrick Peterson
Last season the Cardinals defense was one of the best in the NFL. Heading into the start 2014 season though there are question marks over whether the defense it at the same level as last season.
The immensely talented Tyrann 'Honeybadger' Mathieu is recovering from a torn ACL and is a doubt for week one after missing most of the pre-season. Veteran Karlos Dansby has moved from Arizona to the Cleveland Browns. Perhaps most damaging of all though is Daryl Washington's season long absence for marijuana use.
After missing the first four games of the season inside linebacker Washington's partnership with Karlos Dansby were a great double act combining for just under 200 tackles replacing that production isn't going to be easy.
With all that in mind then the performance of star cornerback Patrick Peterson is going to be pivotal to the Cardinals chances. Peterson signed a five-year, $70 million extension to his contract of which $48 million was guaranteed. Along with Richard Sherman Peterson is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL today. He can legitimately shut down half of the field and make the rest of the defense's job so much easier.
At the peak of his powers Peterson is going to have to maintain, if not improve upon, his 2013 performance if the Cardinals are going to challenge in the ultra competitive NFC
West in 2014.
Biggest Strength : Passing Attack
The Cardinals offense was not much talked about last season. After all it is not easy to get excited about a offense in which Carson Palmer is the starting QB. This season though things are different across the board starting with Carson Palmer himself.
Quietly, Palmer had a very good season in 2013. Palmer had 63.3% pass completion and threw for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns. The counter argument to this praise is that Palmer threw 22 interceptions. The headline figure is misleading though.
Four of those interceptions came in a week 16 win against Seattle and lets face it against the Seahawks secondary throwing only four interceptions isn't awful.
Furthermore, Palmer got better as the season continued. After October (excluding the Seahawks) game Palmer threw only four interceptions as he led the Cardinals to a 6-2 record in the last eight games of the regular season.
Add to this proven wide receivers duo Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, pass catching running back Andre Ellington, much hyped rookie receiver Jason Brown and you the
Cardinals have a passing attack that could take the NFC West by storm.
Biggest Weaknesses : Defensive Line Pass Rush
In 2013 the Cardinals ranked number one in defense against the rush. Considering that the Seahawks and 49ers ran run heavy offenses last season this strength against the rush served the Cardinals well against their NFC West rivals.
This season though the Seahawks and 49ers both seems set to throw the ball more. The 49ers have Crabtree back and in pre-season Seahawks have been leaning more heavily on Russell Wilson's arm.
If this happens then the Cardinals pass rush will come under more pressure and this is a problem for Bruce Arians because the Cardinals pass rush offers little to get excited about.
The Cardinals best pass rushers in 2013 were Calais Campbell and John Abraham. Campbell is now 36 and cannot be relied on to get after the QB on a consistent basis whilst no matter how good he is John Abraham can't be expected to do it all himself.
Add to this is the injury to Darnell Dockett and you start to worry about the Cardinals pass rush.
The schedule hasn't been kind to the Cardinals. There are a couple of easy games against opponents like Oakland, Dallas and Washington but there are many more tough games against the Broncos, Eagles and Lions.
Plus, December sees the Cardinals play the rest of the NFC West in three gruelling weeks. First it's on the road to St Louis, followed by home field advantage against Seattle, culminating in a week 17 trip to San Francisco.
If they played in the AFC the Cardinals would comfortably be in the playoffs it is just bad luck then that they find themselves in the NFC West with the 49ers and Seahawks. The
Cardinals should have enough to post a winning season but they won't have enough to make the playoffs.