The NFC West is the final division in our previews of all 32 NFL teams, and the first team we’re previewing in the division is the Arizona Cardinals, who finished in second place in the division last season.
The Cardinals won 11 games last season — tying their highest win total in franchise history, a mark they last achieved in 1975 when they were the St. Louis Cardinals — even though starting QB Carson Palmer playing in only six games due to an injury. Despite having an 11-win season, they still didn’t win the division but did make the playoffs as a Wild Card team, losing their Wild Card game to the Panthers.
In his six games, Palmer threw for 1,626 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions. The passing game took a step down to QB Drew Stanton, who was the main replacement in the time Palmer missed, starting eight games and throwing for 1,711 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions in his first NFL action since 2010. Veteran WR Larry Fitzgerald led in the team in receptions, with 643 for 784 yards and just two touchdowns in 14 games, 13 starts. WR Michael Floyd had the most receiving yards on the team, 841 on 47 receptions with a team-best six touchdowns. Rookie WR John Brown showed some promise in limited time on the field. In just five starts, he caught 48 balls for 696 yards and five touchdowns. The Cardinals weren’t as successful on the group, with RB Andre Ellington leading the team in that aspect of the game with 660 yards and just three touchdowns in 12 games. The defense was ranked fifth in the league.
If Palmer can get through the season healthy and play all — or most of the — 16 games, that will certainly be a boost to an offense that was respectable last season despite his extended absence and questionable quarterback play from his replacements. If Brown can have a breakout season in his second year in the league, that would help the depth in the receiving game. The Cardinals signed veteran RB Chris Johnson to serve as the backup to Ellington, but his production has really fallen off in recent years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see RB David Johnson, the team’s third-round selection in this year’s draft, take over that role before long.
The Cardinals begin the season at home against the Saints, then head to Chicago to face the Bears. They have back-to-back games against tough AFC North teams in Weeks 5 and 6, at the Steelers and at home against the Ravens on Monday night. The Cardinals have what looks to be a tough three-game stretch to end the season. In Week 15, they visit the Eagles. In Weeks 16 and 17, they have home games against the Packers and the Seahawks, respectively. The Cardinals have a tough schedule overall and it’s looking like eight or nine wins for them this season.