PHOENIX, AZ - The Arizona Cardinals enter week one of the 2013 regular season under new head coach Bruce Arians and new General Manager, Steve Keim.
It's virtually a new era in Cardinals football. From the front office, to the coaching staff, to all the new faces on the roster, the 2013 edition of the Arizona Cardinals is still an unknown work in progress. This week's roster includes 14 players who were not starters for the team last season.
Will new quarterback Carson Palmer be able to assimilate into Arians' deep ball, aerial offense? And will the defense be able to grab hold of the new scheme that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles gives them?
Will the running game be effective with the top two running backs coming off injuries last season and behind an offensive line that lost first round draft pick, Jonathan Cooper two weeks ago? Will Michael Floyd step up and perform like a first round draft pick should or will teams continue to be able to double team perennial all-pro Larry Fitzgerald?
While the kicking game seems solid with both kicker Jay Feely and punter Dave Zastudil, there are lots of new players filling in on the special teams depth chart.
Defensively, the Cardinals lost both starting safeties, a corner and a linebacker. With leading tackler Daryl Washington serving his four game suspension, it's important for Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley to step up and fill his shoes, both in terms of tackles and leadership.
Both Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have to step up on the defensive line and work to improve their sack totals in 2013. Campbell was riding the stationary bike during practice and is now questionable for the Rams game Sunday after getting kicked in the thigh during a practice session.
Also out for game one is tight end Rob Housler. The Cards starting tight end suffered a high ankle sprain during the pre-season and is listed as day to day, although high ankle sprains are typically long term.
The Rams are actually one of the up and coming teams in the NFC West.
Under second year coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams finished 2012 with the most wins in the Division, going 4-1-1 against the 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals. Two of those wins came at the hands of the Cardinals, a 17-3 win in St. Louis on October 4 and a 31-17 win at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 25.
Make no mistake about it, this will be a solid test for Arizona. Not only did the Rams improve last season in Fisher's first year with the team, the Rams are also considered one of the teams to beat in the NFC. Not that they'll be as good as the Seahawks or the 49ers, but they are still considered in the top half of the NFC.
This week's matchup is the 69th all-time meeting between the two teams during the regular season with series deadlocked at 33-33-2. The Cardinals have won seven of the last 10 meetings, but the Rams swept the Cardinals in 2012.
Since the Division realignment in 2002, the Cardinals hold a 12-10 advantage in the series, including wins in seven of the last eight on the road.
Prediction: Cardinals 17 – Rams 24