NFL Preview: How High Will the Arizona Cardinals Fly?

The 2016-2017 Arizona Cardinals were supposed to be one of the top teams in the NFC. Not only were the Cards not one of the top teams in the NFC last season, they din’t even sniff the playoffs. After making it all the way to the NFC Championship in the 2015-2016 NFL Season, the Cards imploded.

Arizona Cardinals 2017 Preview and Odds

How bad was it? Arizona only won 7 games. They only covered in 6 out of 16 games. That’s just bad. Nothing seemed to go right for Zona last season. The Cardinals couldn’t fly straight as the saying goes.

Will the team from the desert fly this season? I’m not exactly sure. There are plenty of reasons to believe Arizona flies right to the playoffs, and possibly, with some luck, to Super Bowl LII. Then again, there are also reasons to believe that last year was the start of an ugly, losing, trend in the Valley of the Sun.

Check out my Arizona Cardinals 2017 preview!

Too Much David Johnson in 2016?

Last season, running back David Johnson emerged as a fantasy football stud. Johnson was unbelievable last season. He rushed for 1,239 yards. He also rushed for 16 TDs. Johnson also caught 80 passes for 879 yards. He caught 4 TD passes.

DJ’s fantasy owners were giddy after his performance last season. But, as great as David Johnson was, did his performance come with a cost? Based on Arizona’s record of 7-8-1, yes, it did.

The problem with leaning on an RB like Johnson so much is that it doesn’t allow your quarterback to get into a rhythm. The lack of balance means that your QB ends up never getting himself into a position that helps you win football games.

That’s what happened to Arizona starting QB Carson Palmer last season. While he was brilliant in the 2015-2016 NFL Season, racking up an over 104 QB rating, last season Palmer’s stats declined sharply. His QB rating descended to a journeyman like 87.2. His completion percentage dropped to 61% after he completed 63.7% of his passes the season before.

The worst part? Palmer threw 26 TDs to 14 interceptions last season. In the season before, Palmer threw 35 TD passes to 11 picks.

Fixing the issue shouldn’t be that difficult. Arizona’s usually creative offense became a run first behemoth behind one of the most talented RBs in the game. That must change. DJ doesn’t need 30 carries a game. Personally, he could do without the pounding. For the team, the offense will run much smoother if Palmer can get it going from the pocket as soon as possible in games.

Has Arizona’s Defense Bounced Back?

The second big question regards the Cardinals’ defense. Many defensive stats from last season imply that the Arizona Cardinals should have no trouble dominating on defense. In fact, some of those stats are so fantastic that it’s amazing how Arizona lost 8 games.

Based on total yards allowed per game, the defense was as good as almost any in the NFL. Zona ranked 2nd in the NFL in total yards allowed last season. Teams only averaged 305.2 yards per game. Opponents averaged 210.3 passing yards. They averaged 94.9 rushing yards.

All good so far, right? Not so. Although Arizona was great at stopping teams from moving the football, they weren’t so great at stopping teams from scoring points. Opponents averaged 22.6 points per game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Coach Bruce Arians decided that the stat about the Cardinals allowing 22.6 points per game was more important than the stat about limiting opponents’ yards. That’s why Arizona used it’s first two draft picks on a couple of talented defenders.

In Round 1, Arizona drafted inside linebacker Hassan Reddick. Reddick has the skills to be one of the top linebackers in the NFL within 1 to 2 years. That’s how talented he is. In Round 2, the Cards drafted safety Budda Baker.

Baker played safety for Chris Petersen at Washington. He was a part of one of the absolute best secondaries in all of college football. The secondary is one of the reasons Washington won the Pac 12 and made it all the way to the College Football Playoff.

Arians might also want to consider switching from such an aggressive defense to one that bends, but doesn’t break. The New England Patriots’ D allows a lot of yards. But once opponents get into the red zone, the D buckles down.

That’s the type of defense that Arizona should consider playing. Both Budda Baker and Hassan Reddick can help the Desert Birds accomplish that.

2017-2018 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Preview

One of the issues for Arizona last season was navigating a rough schedule. The Cardinals’ 8 losses in 2016 were:  21 to 23 versus New England in Week 1, 18 to 33 at Buffalo in Week 3, 13 to 17 to the L.A. Rams in Week 4, 20 to 30 at Carolina in Week 8, 24 to 30 at Minnesota in Week 11, 19 to 38 at Atlanta in Week 12, 23 to 26 at Miami in Week 14, and then 41 to 48 to New Orleans in Week 15.

The reason I listed all of Arizona’s losses from last season is to illustrate the point that AZ was in most of the games that they lost. New England, Atlanta, and Buffalo were bad losses. But the Cards could have beaten the Rams in Week 4, Miami in Week 14, and New Orleans in Week 15. They were in the game against Carolina in Week 8 and Minnesota in Week 11.

This season the Cardinals play teams from the AFC South:  Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston, and Indianapolis. I believe Zona loses 2 of those 4 games. They might lose to Houston and Indy. They might lose to Tennessee and Jacksonville. I’m not sure which 2 they lose, but they’ll split with the AFC South.

Arizona also battles the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. That’s a loss. They must play Seattle on the road and at home. They should split with the Seahawks this year. That’s a total of 5 losses.

Do I see any other losses? I don’t. I believe Arizona beats Dallas at home on Sept. 25. They might have an issue versus the Giants on Dec. 24. But, if the Cardinals change their defensive style to bend but don’t break, and if they get Palmer going early in games, they should lose 6 games at the most.

Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl LII Odds

The current odds on the Arizona Cardinals to win Super Bowl 52 are at 33 to 1. Zona is tied with the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the 2018 Super Bowl.

Are the odds fair on the Cardinals to win this season’s Super Bowl? At first glance, the odds appear more than fair. The Cardinals made it all the way to the NFC Championship only 2 seasons ago. Based on their schedule, Arizona appears poised to only lose 5 to 6 games. Why wouldn’t any future handicapper take the 33 to 1 odds on the Desert Birds to get the job done?

There’s one reason why. Arizona might just not be a Super Bowl team. As crazy as it sounds, some teams, including some quarterbacks for some teams, don’t have it in them to get their team to the Super Bowl. From my perspective, that could be the Arizona Cardinals and QB Carson Palmer.

Do I believe Arizona loses only 5 to 6 games this season? I absolutely believe that. But, I also believe that even if they make the playoffs, they’re not getting very far. They don’t have the right combination of offense, defense, and quarterback to make it all the way to the Lombardi Trophy game.

I believe 33 to 1 odds make AZ an underlay to win Super Bowl LII. I’m not backing the Cardinals at anything less than 50 to 1 to win this season’s Super Bowl.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson