The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we head to the NFC West to provide a Arizona Cardinals 2016 preview.
Here, we’ll be discussing a team that needs Carson Palmer to have another big year in order to live up to Super Bowl expectations.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Arizona Cardinals 2016 Preview
Head coach: Bruce Arians (fourth season)
Key arrivals: SS Tyvon Branch, OG Evan Mathis, CB Mike Jenkins (out for year), LB Donald Butler
Key departures: RT Bobbie Massie, FS Rashad Johnson, CB Jerraud Powers, OG Ted Larsen, LB Sean Weatherspoon, OLB Dwight Freeney
1. Which Carson Palmer shows up?
Up until the playoffs, it could be argued that Palmer had his best season as a pro during 2015.
Throwing 35 touchdowns (career high) and just 11 interceptions (career low in 16-game season), he led one of the NFL’s most potent aerial attacks. Combined with Arizona’s dynamic defense, the Cardinals appeared poised to take their talents to Super Bowl 50.
Then Palmer got a bad case of the yips in the postseason.
He was lucky to be bailed out by the outstanding play of Larry Fitzgerald during the first playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. Fitzgerald’s heroics helped to eradicate Palmer’s two interceptions. He also fumbled once in that game, but it was recovered.
After escaping the first game with an overtime win, Arizona was brutalized by the Carolina Panthers the next weekend. Palmer threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles in that contest, making it impossible for the Cardinals to win.
It’s unfortunately been more of the same this preseason. Palmer has thrown no touchdowns and three interceptions, looking extremely jittery in the pocket. He better get things figured out quick. Otherwise the Cardinals could be doomed to mediocrity in 2016.
2. Breakout campaign for David Johnson?
While the Cardinals are better known for their passing attack than their ground game, second-year back Johnson could change that perspective quickly this year.
One of the most hyped young offensive playmakers in the league, expectations are awfully high that he’ll become a star.
To be fair, he’s done plenty to warrant the attention.
— NFL (@NFL) August 28, 2016
Last year as a rookie, Johnson totaled 1,038 yards and 12 touchdowns running and catching the ball. His multi-dimensional skill set appears to suit head coach Bruce Arians’ offense to a T.
If Palmer continues to struggle this year, then Johnson should be heavily featured, much to the delight of fantasy owners everywhere.
3. Where is the pressure coming from?
Arizona’s secondary is among the best in the league. But even the best defensive backfields get worn down without help from pressure from the guys in the trenches. It’s going to be interesting to see how the revamped front seven works as a unit this season.
Dwight Freeney led the club with eight sacks last year. The next-best total was just five, tallied by defensive end Calais Campbell.
Arizona made a huge trade during the offseason to acquire outside linebacker Chandler Jones. Additionally, the team used its first-round pick on defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
If the two of them can stay consistent and stay on the field, then the Cardinals could feature the most dangerous defense in the NFL.
If not, it’s going to be interesting to see how well the back end holds up over the long haul
Brandon Williams, cornerback
The Cardinals are still not settled on a cornerback to play opposite Patrick Peterson, just a week away from the regular season.
Free agent acquisition Mike Jenkins suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 3. At this time, it’s down to rookie Brandon Williams and veteran Justin Bethel.
While Williams is still a bit raw, we’re picking him to not only start but to have a huge season.
— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) August 25, 2016
Williams looked solid during the preseason. He totaled seven tackles and two pass deflections. Given time playing with the starting unit — either as the No. 2 opposite Peterson or as the slot corner — he will thrive.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Bruce Arians has a proven track record of producing winners now in his fourth year. Since taking over in 2013, the Cardinals have improved every year, winning 10, 11 and 13 games.
The roster is absolutely stacked with game-changing talent on both sides of the ball.
At this point, unless Palmer simply falls apart, it’s hard to imagine anything other than injuries derailing another deep playoff run for this team.
REASON TO DOUBT
The offensive line could be a problem.
Losing Bobbie Massie isn’t going to be easy to overcome, and Palmer has already taken a beating during the preseason. The Cardinals haven’t been able to generate many running lanes this preseason, either.
Without a reliable rushing attack, Palmer’s propensity to turn the ball over could be exasperated. This would put too much pressure on the defense, which would likely be playing too many snaps per game in this scenario.
Still, we’re betting the Cardinals will figure things out sooner, rather than later.
Prediction: 11-5, first place in NFC West