The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 22 on our rankings are the Arizona Cardinals and whatever competitive window they have left.
2016 in a nutshell: The Cardinals ranked sixth in the league in scoring and in the top half defensively, but settled for a 7-8-1 record thanks in part to a down year from veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. It didn’t help that superstar safety Tyrann Mathieu missed nearly half the season due to injury.
What’s different: Mathieu and Palmer are healthy, but they lost five solid defensive players in free agency.
— NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2017
Why they could be awesome: A relatively similar team with the same core went 13-3 and made the NFC championship game in 2015.
Why they could suck: That core is aging. Palmer is 37 and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is about to turn 34. They make up the oldest quarterback-top receiver battery in the NFL.
Major additions: Arizona added Antoine Bethea (free agency) and Budda Baker (draft) to the secondary and Haason Reddick (draft), Jarvis Jones and Karlos Dansby (both free agency) to the linebacker corps.
Major losses: But that doesn’t compensate for the loss of talented young safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger, stud defensive lineman Calais Campbell and linebackers Kevin Minter and Alex Okafor. On paper, the defense looks worse.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) February 9, 2017
Breakout watch: With so much turnover on defense, third-year linebacker Markus Golden has to step up even more than he did last year. The 2015 second-round pick had 12.5 sacks in a situational role as part of the rotation in 2016, but he has Pro Bowl potential in his age-26 season.
Position to watch: The receiving corps is interesting because it went through a lot last year, especially when the team parted ways with Michael Floyd following a December DUI. Now they’re hoping Fitzgerald can remain productive as a revamped slot receiver in his 14th season, and there’s a lot of hope for relative youngsters John Brown and J.J. Nelson. But Brown’s been injured and Nelson has struggled at times this offseason, causing head coach Bruce Arians to rip the receiving corps in camp.
Prediction: The Cardinals still have the talent to compete, but the reality is Palmer has had one good season out of four since coming to Arizona and it’s probably too late for him. I don’t trust them to stay healthy or win consistently, even if running back David Johnson is an offensive player of the year candidate.
7-9, 2nd place in the NFC West