In many ways, 2018 feels like a fresh start for the Arizona Cardinals, even if expectations are low heading into the season.
Led by Steve Wilks, who replaced retired head coach Bruce Arians, and Sam Bradford, who has taken over for retired quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals will open their season Sunday against the Washington Redskins at University of Phoenix Stadium. A win would move the Cards above .500 for the first time in three years. But few experts are picking the Cardinals to finish with more than a handful of victories in 2018.
Can the Cardinals outperform expectations? Here are a pair of predictions from the ABC15 sports team.
ABC15 sports director Craig Fouhy
The Steve Wilks and Sam Bradford era is about to begin and there couldn’t be a bigger question heading into the season than: When will the Josh Rosen era begin? Not exactly the confidence Cardinals fans are looking for in their starting quarterback, but pretty much the sentiment surrounding this year’s team.
The other huge question is the offensive line. The Cards gave up 52 sacks a year ago (third-worst in the league) and have lost starting center A.Q. Shipley for the season. That doesn’t bode well for Bradford. And did I mention the lack of depth at receiver? Other than Larry Fitzgerald, there isn’t much to get excited about.
David Johnson is the bright spot on offense, and if new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy utilizes him in the right way, the Cards could see some success running the football. On defense, the Cards have changed schemes and must replace six starters from a group that’s averaged a top-five ranking over the previous three seasons.
If Sam Bradford stays healthy and the receivers (other than Fitzgerald) learn how to catch, this could be an 8-8 team in 2018. But I’m not that optimistic. Season prediction: 6-10
ABC15.com sportswriter Shane Dale
On paper, the Cardinals aren't nearly as bad as most experts (and Vegas) seem to think. Make no mistake: Sam Bradford is a good NFL quarterback, and his career numbers are comparable to those of Carson Palmer. The question, obviously, is his health. Bradford hasn't played a full season since 2012. If and when he exits with an injury this year, will rookie QB Josh Rosen be able to step in and perform beyond his years and experience?
Like Bradford, the offensive line (even without injured center A.Q. Shipley) appears to be formidable, but dig a bit deeper: No member of that starting unit started more than half of his team's games last season. Depth and injury history is a major concern here, as well.
The return of David Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage two years ago, is massive. I expect Johnson to pick up right where he left off. And with the return of Larry Fitzgerald, as well as defensive stars like Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones, the Cardinals aren't short of playmakers.
The Cardinals' two biggest challenges heading into the season are depth and a brutal-looking schedule that includes games at the Vikings, Packers, Chiefs, Falcons and Chargers, along with two games against the Rams, who could be the NFC's best team and like to injure Cardinals quarterbacks. Ultimately, I don't think the Cards will be as bad as some expect, but I think they'll face just a bit too much adversity in order to advance to the playoffs. Season prediction: 8-8