2014 NFL Preview: Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Arizona Cardinals.

Last year’s record: 10-6

Coach: Bruce Arians

2014 is about… Playoffs. Few were better than Bruce Arians’s team at the end of last season. They won six of their final eight games, including a road victory at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, and are hoping that momentum carries over—especially in a year in which the city of Glendale is hosting the Super Bowl. History isn’t on their side, though. The Cardinals haven’t won more than 10 games in a season since 1975 when the franchise was based in St. Louis. Arians believes the Cardinals have the pieces in place to end that drought.

Core players: Patrick Peterson (CB), Larry Fitzgerald (WR), Calais Campbell (DL), Carson Palmer (QB)

But they lost… Karlos Danbsy (LB), the veteran linebacker who led the team with 122 total tackles last year. Dansby, 32, was a steady rock in the middle of the defence who will be very difficult to replace; Daryl Washington (LB), the explosive inside linebacker who started beside Dansby last year. He is technically still part of the Cardinals organization, but he won’t be playing in 2014 after a suspension for violating the substance abuse policy; Darnell Dockett (DT), also tore his ACL during training camp and will miss the entire season. He was the team’s longest-tenured starter on defence.

Yeah, but they got… Jared Veldheer (LT), who will provide a major upgrade at left tackle, which was one of the weakest spots on the roster last year. Veldheer is athletic and especially sound in pass protection; Antonio Cromartie (CB), whose performance dipped last year as a result of a hip injury. The 30-year-old is a rangy playmaker who has amassed 16 interceptions over the past five seasons; Ted Ginn Jr. (WR), the speedy return man who gives the receiving corps a needed deep threat. Ginn Jr. knows the division and is coming off the best season of his professional career.

Growing from within: Andre Ellington (RB) is an explosive runner who will take on a bigger workload following Mendenhall’s retirement. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 9.5 yards per catch in 15 games last year; Kevin Minter (LB), a second-year linebacker being thrust into a starting role after the team lost Dansby in free agency, excels against the run and will be asked to have a bigger role in coverage with Washington suspended for the season; Jonathan Cooper (LG), last year’s first-round pick who didn’t play a snap after missing the entire season with a broken leg, is said to be healthy, but his play has not gotten strong reviews early in training camp.

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Why this team? The Cardinals saw large strides from quarterback Carson Palmer once he picked up Arians’s offensive scheme. He didn’t look like the turnover-prone player that was problematic in Oakland. Even with the loss of their middle linebackers, the Cardinals have a ton of playmakers on both sides of the ball. They were able to secure top cornerback Patrick Peterson to a long-term contract and the squad could take an even bigger step forward if they get expected internal improvements from Cooper, Ellington, and third-year receiver Michael Floyd.

Why not? The Cardinals are a prime candidate for regression if Palmer doesn’t return to his second half form. They lost three of their best defensive playmakers (Dansby Washington, and Dockett) and dynamic second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu won’t be healthy to start the season. They won’t catch anyone by surprise this year.

Perfect for fans of… The Toronto Raptors. Don’t spit out your coffee. Both teams showed great promise last season after a three-year period of irrelevance. They both showed they can go toe-to-toe with their top competition but haven’t quite earned contender status just yet. Both teams also wear red!

How much hope? 6/10. The Cardinals aren’t a laughingstock anymore. They have accumulated one of the better young rosters in the league and are built to match up against the three tough physical teams in their division. If Arizona were in a different division with an easier schedule, this number would be higher.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Even though they won 10 games last year, it’s still the freakin’ Cardinals. They haven’t been to the playoffs since Kurt Warner retired.

A Meme To Remember: Arizona hopes this isn’t true about Carson Palmer.

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