Experts' Picks (Consensus: fourth)
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 It's not the Cardinals' fault they play in such a tough division. This team is vastly improved at quarterback and could beat this fourth-place projection. We'll learn quite a bit from the opener at St. Louis.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 3 Carson Palmer was the perfect quarterback for Bruce Arians to acquire to make the Cardinals relevant. He should throw for more than 4,000 yards.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 With Carson Palmer playing quarterback, Arizona will be much improved and a much tougher out.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Carson Palmer will make Larry Fitzgerald much happier this season. Too bad he won't lift that team out of the NFC West cellar.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 New coach. New general manager. New quarterback. All good.|
Five things you need to know about the Cardinals:
1. Bombs away: Coach Bruce Arians wants to push the ball downfield. He thinks concerns about pass protection and quarterback hits are overblown because he thinks Carson Palmer will not try to be like two of Arians' most recent quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. Arians: "With Ben and Andrew, it was like they have a Superman cape on. They think they can get out of everything. Carson is smart enough to know he ain't getting out of there."
2. Tight ends rule: Arians has no use for fullbacks. He prefers using a second tight end for the additional ways tight ends threaten defenses. Rob Housler is the clear No. 1 tight end. The Cardinals could still be in the market for a solid secondary player at the position. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will get the most targets, but there will be a role in the offense for Housler. Arizona was the only team in the NFL without a touchdown reception from a tight end last season. That changes in 2013.
3. Floyd will factor: Fitzgerald is a given. The Cardinals' plans for Floyd appear less defined from afar, but every quarterback likes a receiver with football smarts and a wide catching radius. Floyd has football smarts, including what Palmer described as a "natural feel for getting open in zones" -- a quality some receivers need years to develop. And at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Floyd is an inviting target. There's an outside chance Floyd will challenge Fitzgerald's numbers this season.
4. Defense different: The 2012 Cardinals' defense trailed only Chicago's and Denver's in expected points added. The concern this season is whether changing coordinators, from Ray Horton to Todd Bowles, might lead to decline. Defensive linemen on the team love the changes. They felt like Horton's scheme limited their effectiveness by forcing them into two-gap responsibilities even though they lacked sufficient bulk for the job. There are other changes. Three-fourths of the starting secondary has changed over. Linebacker Daryl Washington faces a four-game suspension to open the season.
5. Peterson no gimmick: The Cardinals are serious about working cornerback Patrick Peterson into their offense, but that doesn't necessarily make him a marked man every time he goes into a game. The Cardinals want Peterson to play the position the way other receivers play it, meaning not every play will be designed for him. How much Peterson plays during games could vary. It's unpredictable at this point, particularly without knowing to what degree receivers beyond Fitzgerald, Floyd and Andre Roberts might factor when the season begins. Peterson recently said the team has incorporated him into 60 plays, a higher number than he anticipated.
-- Mike Sando, ESPN.com
Inside The Numbers
Since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season, Arizona quarterbacks have posted an NFL-worst 26.8 Total QBR. To put how bad that is in perspective, an average NFL quarterback would post about a 50.0 QBR. A replacement-level quarterback (a backup who rarely gets starts and is usually readily available as a free agent) would have a QBR about 25.0.
Cardinals QBs had a minus-21 touchdown-to-interception differential in the past three seasons. Browns quarterbacks are next worst with a minus-4 during that span. Carson Palmer, who boasts a 48.1 QBR in the past three seasons, should at least provide some stability to what has been a major weakness for the Cardinals.
• The signing of OT Eric Winston should help to improve what was one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year. The Cardinals allowed a sack once every 11.7 drop-backs last season, the worst rate in the league. In addition, Cardinals rushers were contacted in the backfield on an NFL-worst 22.4 percent of their rushes.
• The Cardinals' defense held opposing quarterbacks to a 40.0 Total QBR last year, fourth best in the league. The Cardinals were at their best when sending least five pass-rushers, holding quarterbacks to the second-lowest Total QBR in the league (25.1).
-- ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN The Magazine: Non-QB MVP
CB Patrick Peterson (15.7 avg. AV since 2011)
Peterson's punt-returning skills made him an All-Pro as a rookie, but he has evolved into a shutdown corner. In 2012 he had seven interceptions and denied opponents on 59 percent of targets (11th in NFL).
-- Pro Football Reference