These kinds of predictions are enough to get any Arizona Cardinals fan excited for the regular season -- though if you believe in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, you may want to steer clear of this one.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Greg A. Bedard believes this year's Arizona Cardinals will win the first Super Bowl in the franchise's 86-year history, and they'll do so by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII. His story is featured in this week's SI issue that includes Cards wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on the regional cover. (Do regional covers count as part of the SI jinx?)
Bedard picked the Cardinals in spite of his concerns about the team, including the "strategic shortcoming" of coach Bruce Arians, a "replacement-level player" at center in veteran A.Q. Shipley, and the poise (or lack thereof) shown by quarterback Carson Palmer during last year's playoffs.
"As much as it worries me to risk anything on Palmer and his 66.9 postseason passer rating (Arizona beat Green Bay in spite of him), the Cardinals have arguably the most complete team in the NFL, with a ton of experience on both sides of the ball," Bedard wrote. "They can throw all over the field -- and they could even before second-year running back David Johnson came on as a receiving threat in the latter half of the season.
"On defense, safety Tyrann Mathieu is back to wreak havoc after a right ACL tear, and Pro Bowl end Chandler Jones should bring some much-needed pass rush."
Bedard favors the Cardinals to come out of the NFC ahead of the Carolina Panthers, who dismantled the Cards in last season's NFC Championship Game, and their NFC West rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, who "have all the right pieces except on the offensive line."
Palmer was dreadful in the NFC title game in Charlotte, but Bedard believes the 36-year-old QB "learned a lot from last year's bitter ending and can apply those lessons going forward.
"If this team is healthy and has grown from its mistakes, the Cardinals are fully capable of winning it all, even if it means entering January as a wild-card team and visiting Dallas, Seattle and Green Bay," he wrote.
Bedard likes the Steelers to represent the AFC at Super Bowl LI in Houston, but he believes the Cards would have the edge in a rematch with Pittsburgh thanks to their "dangerous running game and stifling secondary" that will slow the Steelers just enough.
"How about a dramatic Larry Fitzgerald toe-touch TD in the back-right corner of the NRG Stadium end zone to match Santonio Holmes' heroics eight years earlier in Tampa? Sounds good to me," he wrote.