Are The Cardinals The Team To Beat In The NFC West?
By Joe Darrah
The dawn of training camp springs eternal optimism for many NFL franchises each summer, and rightfully so. While only a few squads will go on to play in the postseason, a good portion of teams in the league feel that they've improved through drafting and free agency — and, at the very least, afforded the chance to boast about their prospects long before the "games that count" get underway.
So, should anyone be surprised when Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell recently went public with claims that his team can win the NFC West simply due to the addition of quarterback Carson Palmer. Well, yes and no. Here are some considerations as to why Arizona could win the division in 2013 and why they can't.
Why Arizona Can't Win the NFC West in 2013:
» Because (on paper at least) they are probably the worst team in the division. San Francisco and Seattle are better, and St. Louis appears to have improved (even considering the loss of Steven Jackson) over a team that went 7-8-1 in 2012, including going 2-1-1 against the Niners and Seahawks, as well as sweeping the Cards in their two meetings by convincing performances.
» Defense. True, the Cardinals featured the 12th-best defense in 2012 (from a yards-per-game standpoint) and recently got a boost with the signing of free-agent defensive end John Abraham, while addressing defensive needs with the first half of the 2013 draft. Seattle was particularly busy upgrading its defense at the same time with the signing ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett — and beefing up its line with Penn State product Jordan Hill. The Niners, who ranked third last season defensively (one spot ahead of Seattle), returns the bulk of its unit save for safety Dashon Goldson. The Niners took a flier on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and acquired All-American safety Eric Reid from LSU with the 18th overall draft pick.
» Lack of a running game. The addition of a chip-on-his shoulder Rashard Mendenhall isn't the worst signing in the world, but that doesn't mean the Cards aren't lacking in this department. Beanie Wells is gone (unsigned free agent), and unless Ryan Williams emerges — or rookies Andre Ellington and/or Stepfan Taylor step right in — the backfield is going to leave a lot to be desired if Mendenhall doesn't stay healthy.
» There's a new coach, a new regime, a new quarterback — and, yes, while all of that seems to work in the team's overall favor, there will be a learning curve and an adjustment period, particularly for the offense that could extend beyond the preseason.
» From a winning-percentage perspective from 2012, the strength of schedule for the NFC West is pretty extreme. Odds are that Arizona is not as well equipped to handle this as San Fran and Seattle might be. Maybe even not as well as St. Lois either.
» See reasons 1-5.
Why Arizona Could Win the NFC West in 2013:
» Because there could be a hangover from the extended postseason run made by San Francisco and, to a lesser extent, Seattle. This isn't likely, but it is possible. And if it's just the Niners that feel these effects, that could be enough to increase Arizona's chances. Notice the emphasis on "could."
» In the event that Russell Wilson experiences somewhat of a sophomore slump, again more doors could open. "Could" is still the relative term here.
» The injury factor. Maybe the other teams in the division are affected more by this than the Cardinals. Not anything to hang one's hat on or even consider in sound mind.
» About the only real consideration, that the arrival of Palmer and new coach Bruce Arians turns them into an immediate Super Bowl contender. It's not completely out of the realm of reality, but it's close. If the rest of the team is as enthusiastic about how much improved this team is, there could be more to it than hope. Could be.