The Arizona Cardinals have been one of the biggest surprises in the league over the past two seasons. After winning 10 games in 2013, they validated that effort by winning 11 in 2014 and making the playoffs. Had Carson Palmer not gone down with a torn ACL in November, they may have went on to win the NFC West division. They lost five of their final seven games, including a 16-27 setback at Carolina in the playoffs with their third-string quarterback.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better general manger/head coach combo in the NFL than what the Cardinals have in GM Steve Keim and Bruce Arians. They have led the Cardinals to 21 wins in two years and into a serious contender in the NFC West. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity is closing.

Palmer is 35 with an extensive injury history, while Larry Fitzgerald will be 32 when the season begins. The Cardinals suffered some huge losses on defense, including coordinator Todd Bowles, who was the catalyst behind one of the league’s best defenses over the past two years. Can the Cardinals capitalize on this opportunity and get back to the playoffs in 2015? Let’s take a look.

Last Season
NFC West
Record
ATS Record
Home ATS
Road ATS
Over/Under
2nd
11-5
11-5
6-2
5-3
5-10-1
Offense Rank
Defense Rank
Turnover Margin
Points For
Points Against
24th
24th
+8
19.7
18.5
2015 Roster Changes
Draft Picks
D.J. Humphries (OT), Markus Golden (DE), David Johnson (RB), Rodney Gunter (DT), Shaquille Riddick (DE), J.J. Nelson (WR), Gerald Christian (TE)
Additions
Mike Iupati (OG), Sean Weatherspoon (OLB), Cory Redding (DE), LaMarr Woodley (DE), Corey Peters (DT), A.Q. Shipley (C)
Losses
Antonio Cromartie (CB), Darnell Dockett (DT), John Abraham (OLB), Dan Williams (NT), Rob Housler (TE), Sam Acho (OLB), Paul Fanaika (OG), Ted Ginn (WR), Larry Foote (ILB), Tommy Kelly (DT), Ryan Lindley (QB), Chris Clemons (DB), Lyle Sendlein (C), Jonathan Dwyer (RB)
2015 Arizona Cardinals Schedule
Week Opponent Spread Win Chance
1 Saints -3 0.59
2 @ Bears -1 0.51
3 49ers -2.5 0.55
4 Rams -3.5 0.64
5 @ Lions +1.5 0.47
6 @ Steelers +2.5 0.45
7 Ravens -2 0.53
8 @ Browns -3 0.59
9 BYE
10 @ Seahawks +5.5 0.31
11 Bengals -3 0.59
12 @ 49ers +2 0.47
13 @ Rams +1 0.49
14 Vikings -5.5 0.69
15 @ Eagles +1.5 0.47
16 Packers PK 0.50
17 Seahawks +1.5 0.47
Estimated Wins: 8.32
Offense

The Cardinals won 11 games in spite of one of the worst offenses in the NFL. They ranked 24th in total offense (319.8 yards/game) and 24th in scoring offense (19.4 points/game). They could not run the football, finishing 31st in rushing (81.8 yards/game), which allowed opposing defenses to focus on stopping Carson Palmer and the passing game. That could be why their top two quarterbacks in Palmer and Drew Stanton got injured, which was the end of their season by all accounts.

The key for the Cardinals is keeping Palmer healthy. Being 35 years old and coming off a knee tear isn’t exactly ideal, so there are no guarantees he will be the same quarterback when he returns. It’s no surprise that they spent their first-round pick on Florida offensive tackle D.J. Humphries. They probably got a steal here because Humphries was expected to go higher, but he dropped to them at No. 24. The hope is that Humphries can displace right tackle Bobbie Massie, who was responsible for Palmer’s injury.

Former top-10 pick Jonathan Cooper needs to improve at right guard. He has done nothing in his two years, but Arians praised his conditioning in May. The left side is in much better shape. Tackle Jared Veldheer proved to be an excellent acquisition last offseason as he surrendered only one sack in 2014. The Cardinals signed left guard Mike Iupati from San Francisco to play next to Veldheer. Perhaps the weakest link in the offensive line is at center, where Ted Larsen is expected to take over for the departed Lyle Sendelein. Larsen did not play well at guard last year, but he can’t be worst than Sendelein was in 2014.

The receiving corps is one of the best in the NFL. Fitzgerald played better when Palmer was in the lineup, but he still ended up leading the team with 63 receptions for 784 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Floyd regressed a big last year, but he still had 47 grabs for 841 yards and six touchdowns. The player who burst onto the scene was John Brown, who had 48 catches for 696 yards and five scores. All three of these receivers’ numbers would improve if Palmer can play the full 16 games.

The key for the entire offense is establishing a rushing attack. Andre Ellington has durability issues. He led the team with 660 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but he only averaged 3.3 per carry. He was a nice threat out of the backfield, catching 46 balls for 395 yards and an additional two scores. To provide help for Ellington, the Cardinals used their third-round pick on rookie David Johnson. The Northern Iowa product impressed in the Senior Bowl. He’s a 225-pounder who will be the Thunder to Ellington’s Lighting.

Defense

Arizona’s defense was certainly of the bend-but-don’t-break variety last year. While it ranked a woeful 24th in total defense (368.2 yards/game), it placed 5th in scoring defense (18.7 points/game), which is what counts. The loss of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles cannot be overstated. His blitzing schemes were widely credited for Arizona’s sum being better than its parts. The Cardinals also lost defensive end Darnell Dockett, nose tackle Dan Williams, linebacker Larry Foote and cornerback Antonio Cromartie this offseason. You just don’t replace that kind of talent.

One problem is at inside linebacker. The Cardinals haven’t been able to match up with tight ends over the past few seasons, and now they get to face Jimmy Graham twice a year. They did sign Sean Weatherspoon from the Falcons, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He could be an upgrade at the position next to Kevin Minter. Unfortunately, Weatherspoon cannot be counted upon to stay healthy, and the same can be said for the troubled Daryl Washington.

Cromartie was actually the best cornerback on the team last year despite the lofty contract Patrick Peterson signed last offseason. Peterson struggled early, but he improved in the second half once doctors found out he had diabetes and took care of it. Jerraud Powers will likely take the place of Cromartie, but he’s no more than an average corner, and the Cardinals have very little depth at the position. The safeties will be Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon. Mathieu has played well when healthy, but was limited last year with a knee injury. Bucannon was a disappointment as a rookie last season, but the hope is that he’ll improve in Year 2.

Arizona will certainly take a step back at defensive tackle with the loss of Williams. The likely replacements are Alameda Ta’amu and former Falcon Corey Peters. Ta’amu hardly played last year, while Peters is a questionable fit in the 3-4. Calais Campbell remains one of the top 3-4 ends in the NFL. The Cardinals signed Cory Redding to play opposite him. Redding showed in Indianapolis last year that he can still play the position well, but he turns 35 in November.

Without blitzing, the Cardinals haven’t been able to generate much pressure off the edge. They are hoping that second-round rookie Markus Golden will be able to provide that consistent pass-rush they’ve been missing. He’ll battle with Matt Shaughnessy and the below-average Alex Okafor for playing time. Many other teams thought that Golden was a fourth-round talent, so the Cardinals may have reached for him.

Odds (Courtesy of 5Dimes)
Season Win Total
to Make Playoffs
to Win NFC West
to Win the NFC
to Win Super Bowl 50
9
+160
+585
+1350
+2800
Season Predictions

The Cardinals won 11 games last year despite Palmer being lost for the season in early November. You have to give them credit for that, but my feeling is that this team has vastly overachieved over the past two seasons. They won’t overachieve again in 2015 with all of the losses they suffered this offseason, and I actually believe they are now the worst team in the NFC West.

Signs pointing down are that Arizona was actually outgained by 48.4 yards per game despite its 11-5 record. It also finished +8 in turnover differential. The numbers show that this team wasn’t very good. Now they lose Bowles, Dockett, Williams, Foote and Cromartie on defense. This is a stop unit that gave up a lot of yards last year and will be even worse in 2015. I also don’t have faith that Palmer can stay healthy, and the Cardinals’ entire season rides on it.

The schedule starts out easy with four non-playoff teams and three at home, but then it gets very brutal. Five of their next seven games are against playoff teams, and I don’t see an easy win all season. They won’t be more than 5.5-point favorites in any game. They were fortunate to go 6-1 in games that were decided by single-digits last year. Their luck runs out in 2015 as they finish 6-10 and in last place in the NFC West.

2015 Projections
NFC West Finish
Division Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
4th
2-4
6-10
Under 9
Cardinals 10-Year Results
Year W L Playoffs Coach Win Total
2014 11 5 Lost WC Arians 7.5
2013 10 6 Arians 5.5
2012 5 11 Whisenhunt 7
2011 8 8 Whisenhunt 7
2010 5 11 Whisenhunt 7.5
2009 10 6 Lost Div Whisenhunt 8.5
2008 9 7 Lost SB Whisenhunt 7.5
2007 8 8 Whisenhunt 7
2006 5 11 Green 8
2005 5 11 Green 7

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