I'll be the first one to admit I was largely wrong about the 2015 Arizona Cardinals - but in retrospect I was right. I thought Carson Palmer & Co. were vastly overrated two seasons ago and that they would lose to Green Bay in the divisional round. Despite some really poor decisions from Palmer, they didn't. However, Palmer showed his true colors in the NFC Championship Game in Carolina with six turnovers in a blowout loss.
So while I was surprised that the Cards got as far as they did in '15, I expected major regression last year and Arizona slid to 7-8-1. There's some major talent on this team, no question, led by incomparable offensive weapon David Johnson. That guy is a modern-day Gale Sayers and surely will be the No. 1 pick in many a fantasy draft in 2017. But if you don't have good quarterback play, nothing else matters.
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Palmer played like an MVP in 2015 but predictably slipped last year, with his completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns, interceptions and rating all significantly worse. Yet for some reason, the franchise has no succession plan in place for the 37-year-old. His backups are Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert. If Palmer gets hurt, and he usually does, the Cards are in the crapper. I'm not sure it would be the worst thing for this franchise to really struggle and get a high 2018 draft pick in a class expected to be loaded with quarterback prospects.
At least receiver Larry Fitzgerald opted not to retire - although I believe this will be it for both he and Palmer. Fitz, a future Hall of Famer, led the NFL with 107 catches last year to go with 1,023 yards and six TDs. He's 19th on the all-time TD list with 104 and could get as high as 12th this season (currently John Riggins with 116).
Arizona was 3-5 on the road last season, 3-5 against the spread and 8-0 "over/under." The Cardinals travel to three playoff teams in 2017, but at least they are spread out: Detroit, Houston and Seattle. Also, Arizona plays back-to-back weeks away from home just once (one two-game run split by the bye). The Cards got jobbed a bit, though, with a ton of 1 p.m. ET games. Still, the home schedule is clearly tougher opponent-wise. I predict a 2-6 road record. Odds listed for the home team .
Sept. 10 at Lions (-3, 50): These teams know each other pretty well having played every year from 2012-15. The Cardinals have beaten the Lions seven consecutive games, but only two of those wins came in Detroit. In 2015, it was a 42-17 blowout there. Key trend: Cardinals are 4-5 ATS in Detroit.
Sept. 17 at Colts (-3): Second straight 1 p.m. ET game and second dome game in a row. I wonder if the Cards will stay in the Midwest after the Lions game or if it's too early in the season for that. Of course, the Cardinals hired Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians as their head coach in January 2013. Arians remains close with current Indy coach Chuck Pagano. Arians went 9-3 as interim head coach in 2012 while Pagano was undergoing treatment for leukemia. Key trend: Cards 5-1 ATS at AFC South foes.
Oct. 8 at Eagles (-2): I think the Cards will be off their first win of the year Week 4 at home vs. the 49ers. Arizona has won four of the past five in the series, last 40-17 in Philly in Week 15 of the 2015 season. Key trend: Cards 7-2-1 ATS in past 10 at NFC East teams.
Oct. 22 at Rams (+3): This is in London. Arizona is off a home game vs. Tampa the previous Sunday and ahead of its bye. It's the Cardinals' first game out of the USA since playing the 49ers in Mexico City in 2005. They closed last season with a 44-6 victory in L.A. Palmer threw for 255 yards and three scores, and Arizona had seven sacks and held the Rams to 123 yards. Key trend: Cards 6-4 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 5 at 49ers (+3.5): Cards out of their bye. Arizona won 33-21 in San Francisco on a Thursday in 2016. Palmer was out concussed and Stanton threw two touchdown passes to Fitzgerald. Johnson rushed for 157 yards and two scores. The Cardinals forced three turnovers, which led to 17 points. Key trend: Cards 4-6 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Nov. 19 at Texans (-2.5): Extra rest for the Cards off a Week 10 Thursday home game vs. Seattle. Here's a trade idea if Arizona struggles early in the season: Palmer (if he's playing OK) to Houston for some 2018 mid-round pick. He could be just the one-year fix the Texans need to compete for the AFC title. These two teams played in Houston in the 2016 preseason, which you probably saw on "Hard Knocks." Key trend: Cards 5-2 ATS in past seven as November dog of 2.5 points or fewer.
Dec. 17 at Redskins (-2): This follows a three-game homestand that concludes Week 14 vs. Tennessee. This should be the Cardinals' first potential winter weather game. Arizona beat visiting Washington 31-23 in Week 13 last year. Palmer threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns and Johnson scored twice. Key trend: Cards 6-3-1 ATS in past 10 as a December road dog of at least 2 points.
Dec. 31 at Seahawks (TBA): As usual, no Week 17 lines. Arizona off a home game vs. the Giants on Christmas Eve. Believe it or not, with Palmer starting the Cardinals are 3-0 in Seattle. They pulled the 34-31 Week 16 upset last season. Chandler Catanzaro hit a 43-yard field goal on the final play. Frankly, it should have never come to that as Arizona allowed two late TDs for Seattle to tie at 31. Key trend: Cards 4-6 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
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