Cardinals regular-season wrap-up

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Final Power Ranking: 28

Preseason Power Ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: The Cardinals spent all offseason grooming Matt Leinart to replace the retired Kurt Warner, only to bench him during the exhibition season and release him on the mandatory reduction to 53 players. Arizona might not have been much better in the standings with Leinart on the roster, but the 2006 first-round draft choice surely would have been better than Max Hall or John Skelton. He probably would have been better than Derek Anderson, too. Coach Ken Whisenhunt suggested after the season that he wouldn't have handled the situation differently, in retrospect. That seems unreasonable.

Biggest disappointment: A defense with a seemingly enviable mix of hard-nosed veterans and ascending young players fell far short of expectations. The Cardinals allowed an additional 27.2 yards and 6.8 points per game from last season. Strong safety Adrian Wilson struggled in coverage. Veteran outside linebacker Joey Porter wasn't much of a factor. The linebackers overall had problems. Calais Campbell and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped off. A shoulder injury slowed Darnell Dockett. Arizona gave up 100-yard rushers regularly on its way to a No. 30 ranking in run defense and No. 29 ranking in defense overall. Staff changes could await.

Biggest need: Quarterback, by a wide margin. The Cardinals hold the fifth overall choice in the 2011 draft. Perhaps they'll select a quarterback. They will have to sign a veteran regardless. The team had interest in former St. Louis Rams starter Marc Bulger last offseason, but the team had already signed Anderson by the time Bulger finally hit the market. It's tough to say whether Bulger might provide what the Cardinals need at the position. He looks a lot more appealing after watching Anderson, Hall and Skelton combine for 10 touchdown passes in 16 games.

Team MVP: Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals' best player started slowly as he battled back from a knee injury suffered during the exhibition season. Fitzgerald gained momentum as the season progressed. He finished with 90 receptions for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns despite the situation at quarterback. His yards per reception rebounded somewhat following a dramatic decline in that category from 2008 to 2009.

Crossroads season awaits: Despite a rough economy and a fan base heavy on out-of-state transplants, the Cardinals have avoided local television blackouts for all their home games since University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006. Keeping the streak alive could become tougher next season if the Cardinals fail to make the necessary upgrades this offseason. Whisenhunt's challenge this offseason appears straightforward. He needs to push for meaningful changes at a time when labor uncertainty and economic concerns have some NFL owners retreating.