After the first seven weeks of the 2011 season, the Arizona Cardinals were 1-6 and looking like the laughing stock of the league. Arizona then won seven of their last nine games to finish the season at 8-8. It certainly helped that Arizona had an easy schedule down the stretch, but the Cardinals did make some major progress during the last half of the season.
Ken Whisenhunt is 40-40 in his five seasons with the Cardinals. The team nearly won Super Bowl XLIII, but they haven’t been able to get back to the postseason since Kurt Warner retired. The quarterback spot continues to be the biggest question mark surrounding this team. Still, while everyone wants to talk about who will be the starting quarterback; it seems the Cardinals have done a nice job building strong defense full of playmakers.
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San Francisco definitely established themselves as the favorites in the NFC West with an impressive season last year, but this division is still wide open in my opinion. The 49ers have plenty of issues to deal with right now, and the Cardinals think they could fly under the radar and make some serious noise. Was the hot finish to the season a reason for Cardinals fans to be optimistic about the 2012 campaign? Let’s take a look at how this team breaks down on both sides of the football.
The million dollar question is who will be the main man under center for the Cardinals. Whisenhunt says that Kevin Kolb will get the first look, but John Skelton definitely is still in the picture. The team went 5-2 with Skelton as quarterback last year, but the defense was definitely playing better at that point. Kolb is getting paid too much for the Cardinals to just pass him up quickly, and he’ll get every possible chance to keep the job. Many believe Kolb has the better skill set for the position, but Skelton has proven he can lead the team to wins. Arizona needs one of these guys to step up and be a leader in 2012.
Chris “Beanie” Wells and Ryan Williams will be the primary running backs for the Cardinals this season. Wells averaged 4.3 yards per carry and rushed for over 1,000 yards last year, but he still battles injury problems far too often. Williams was a star at Virginia Tech, and the team hopes he will give them a nice insurance policy.
The offensive line must improve if the Cardinals are going to make a push toward the playoffs. Levi Brown allowed 11 sacks in 2011, and he has been a big disappointment for the team. Both sides of the offensive line are up for grabs in the offseason, but the interior of the line seems to be all set. Center Lyle Sendlein has proven himself to be a very capable blocker. Many thought the Cardinals would use a high draft pick to address the offensive line, but they decided to opt for a wide receiver.
Michael Floyd was the Cardinals first-round draft pick this year. Some have questioned his work ethic in the offseason, but he has the talent to be a star receiver in this league. Arizona clearly is hoping he can step up and take some pressure off Larry Fitzgerald. Teams have started to bracket Fitzgerald and force the team to throw it somewhere else. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet give the Cardinals some solid depth at the wide receiver spot.
They might not get the same amount of attention as other defenses, but this unit is quickly becoming one of the best in the NFC. The secondary is the strength of the defense, and they have the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. Patrick Peterson struggled a little in his first few games in the NFL, but by the end of last season he was the best player on the field at times. Adrian Wilson gives the team a physical strong safety at the back of the defense. Richard Gay and Kerry Rhodes should round out the talented secondary.
Arizona’s front seven is spectacular at getting pressure on the opposing quarterback. Calais Campbell had a breakout season in 2011, and the team expects huge things from him again this year. Campbell had 10 pass deflections and eight sacks a year ago. He is a very versatile guy who can rush the passer or even drop into coverage. Darnell Dockett has proven his worth as a pass rusher in this league for quite some time. Dan Williams missed much of the 2011 season, and the team should get a boost from him returning to clog up the middle of the defense this year.
Daryl Washington has become the leader of the Cardinals defense. Washington is one of the best middle linebackers in the game. He racked up 105 tackles last year. Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield improved a great deal on the outside as the season moved along last year. The outside linebackers are probably the biggest question mark for this defense.
2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Analysis
The Cardinals didn’t draw a particularly favorable schedule in 2012. They have trips to New England, Green Bay, and Atlanta on the schedule. Don’t expect another 7-2 finish from the team since the schedule gets tougher in the last few weeks. At least six of the team’s last eight opponents have a solid shot at being in the playoffs this season.
The Cardinals do get the benefit of playing in the NFC West, which means they get to play St. Louis and Seattle twice. Arizona will start off the season hosting the Seahawks on Sept. 9.
2012 Arizona Cardinals Futures Odds
Bookmaker lists the Cardinals at +4,500 to win the Super Bowl. They also put the Cardinals at +2,500 to win the NFC Conference. Arizona is the third-favorite in the NFC West according to Bovada, who puts the Cardinals price to win the division at +700. The Cardinals “over/under” for season wins is set at seven (the under is lined at -155) at BetOnline. 5Dimes lists the Cardinals as a one-point home favorite against Seattle in the regular season opener.
2012 Arizona Cardinals Predictions
If the quarterback problem were to get solved, this team certainly has a chance to make noise in the season ahead. The offensive line is the other main area where the team needs to improve in 2012. The Cardinals have some star power on the defense, and I really like the way they can pressure the quarterback and force turnovers. Peterson and Campbell seemed destined to be stars in this league for many years.
I’m not as high on San Francisco as many other people. The 49ers certainly deserve to be the favorite in this division, but they have problems of their own. In a division where we’ve learned to expect the unexpected, stranger things have happened than the Cardinals winning the division. At +700, a small wager on the Cardinals to win the AFC West seems like a wise move.
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