One year after they enjoyed their best-ever regular season and advanced to the NFC Championship Game, the Arizona Cardinals sputtered to a disappointing 7-8-1 finish in 2016.
Will the Cards bounce back and return to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, or will it be more of the same in 2017? The ABC15 sports team weighs in with their predictions:
ABC15 sports director Craig Fouhy
The biggest question facing the Cardinals isn’t the playoffs or a Super Bowl appearance; it’s whether Carson Palmer can stay healthy and if his numbers last year were a blip on the radar or the sign of a quarterback who’s simply played too many seasons.
The Cardinals' 2017 success will rest largely on the shoulders of third-year running back David Johnson, who has publicly said he wants to reach 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Can the offensive line keep Palmer upright, and can it open holes to allow Johnson to reach his thousand-thousand goal?
On defense, can Justin Bethel be an adequate No. 2 cornerback opposite perennial All-Pro Patrick Peterson? And of course, Tyrann Mathieu must stay healthy this season for the defense to land in the top five in the league.
Bottom line for me: The Cardinals imploded in 2016, with most of the damage being done internally. There were far too many issues with a lack of physical play and a sense of entitlement coming off a trip to the NFC Championship game and being the subject of a documentary on Amazon. I’m hoping for four things this season: 1. Carson Palmer returns to 2015 form, 2. Larry Fitzgerald continues to play like he’s 24, not 34, 3. David Johnson reaches his 1,000-1,000 goal, 4. Tyrann Mathieu stays healthy!
Prediction: 9-7 and a Wild Card game
ABC15 sports anchor Jason Snavely
Well, it's no surprise that there are many variables to consider heading into the Cardinals’ upcoming season. Just a few big questions to ponder: At 37 years old, can Carson Palmer take the beating of another full NFL season? Can he, wide receiver Smokey Brown and safety Tyrann Mathieu stay healthy? Will the sure-to-be-picked-on Justin Bethel hold down the cornerback position opposite Patrick Peterson? Can Robert Nkemdiche help fill the void Calais Campbell left on the defensive line?
If this team underperforms in 2017, it won’t be due to a lack of talent. They have plenty of that. It’ll come down to health -- and as always, a bit of luck. And it appears they’ve already received some good fortune before the first regular season snap. With Andrew Luck’s lingering shoulder injury, an early road trip against the Colts now looks like a very winnable game. As many times as it appeared the Cardinals were cursed in 2016, they’re due for a little luck in 2017.
With their strength of schedule ranked 29th in the NFL, the Cardinals will be able to string some wins together and gain some momentum. And if the answer is "yes" to at least most of the questions listed above, I think we’ll have another playoff team in the Valley this year.
Easy, now: I’m not crowning them Super Bowl champions. I’m not even saying they’ll win their division. But I do believe this is a 10-win team, and I do believe Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer have a chance to sing a beautiful swan song.
Prediction: 10-6, Wild Card berth, eliminated in the Divisional Round
ABC15.com sportswriter Shane Dale
Long story short, I think 2016 was a fluke. Nine times out of 10, an NFL team with the amount of talent last year's Cardinals team had would have, at the very least, been a playoff team. And if the Cards were returning that same unit, I think they'd be a shoo-in for a postseason berth this year.
But on paper, the 2017 Cardinals aren't as talented as the 2016 unit. On defense, they lost Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell, leading tackler Tony Jefferson, hard-hitting safety D.J. Swearinger and starting cornerback Marcus Cooper to free agency. On offense, the Cards are banking on largely the same offensive line that was battered and bruised throughout last season, and they failed to find a bona fide No. 2 wide receiver after the untimely departure of Michael Floyd.
With that said, this team still has plenty of star power. Four players -- running back David Johnson, cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebacker Chandler Jones and safety Tyrann Mathieu -- made ESPN's list of the top 100 active NFL players. Notice that list doesn't include Larry Fitzgerald, who still has plenty left in the tank after leading the league in receptions last season.
The Cards' playoff hopes could rely on a pair of rookies -- linebacker Haason Reddick and safety Budda Baker -- who will be asked to contribute right away in order to plug holes on defense. Frankly, that's asking a lot. While still loaded with individual talent, I just don't see this year's Cardinals putting it all together from a team perspective.