Arizona Cardinals defensive back Patrick Peterson (21) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on an interception during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
The expectations for double-digit wins certainly are not there for the Arizona Cardinals this season.
There is some positive buzz surrounding the team locally, but nothing that would suggest any indication a playoff run is coming, as they are tabbed at an over/under win total in Vegas of 5.5.
The NFL, though, can be fairly unpredictable, and there is a case for the Cardinals to have a season that shocks many.
That’s what ESPN’s Mike Clay looked into, making the case for each team to win at least 10 games.
Despite the Cardinals ranking No. 31 in Clay’s win projections at 5.6, the case isn’t completely illogical.
David Johnson scored 20 touchdowns in 2016, and if he’s back to form after last season’s wrist injury, the Cardinals’ offense will make a big push forward. The offense also will need competent quarterback play from Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen and another year of production from 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald. Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson will need to hold down the fort defensively, and the unit will need breakout campaigns from youngsters Budda Baker, Haasan Reddick, Robert Nkemdiche and Markus Golden.
As Clay outlines, the talent is there.
Cardinals QB Josh Rosen would ‘love’ as many reps as possible vs. Broncos
Cardinals’ Tre Boston is adjusting to that desert life
The 5: Cardinals position battles of note for their preseason finale
Johnson is one of the league’s best running backs, and a season where he is the league’s best running back is a big wining step for Arizona. Bradford has established himself as a competent NFL quarterback when healthy and no one can discount the talent Rosen has. Add in the consistency of Fitzgerald and that could be enough for a sustainable offense.
Defensively is where there’s the most optimism. Jones and Peterson are two of the best players at their positions, but this is not a duo of stars relying on iffy contributions from others like the offense will. Baker, Reddick, Nkemdiche and Golden all have the potential to be game-changers at their position. The chance for big years from those four, as Clay notes, could make Arizona a dominant defense, one that would be good enough for 10 wins.
Most importantly, the Cardinals have high-level players across the field. But that, actually, is where Clay pauses for a second and sends us back to reality.
The Cardinals have a few stars in the form of Johnson, Fitzgerald, Peterson and Jones, but there are significant problem areas across the starting 22. Quarterback is obviously a gigantic question mark, wide receiver and tight end lack firepower, and the offensive line is average at best. Aside of a strong safety trio, the defense has major concerns at every level.
That reality on offense is overly relying on Bradford’s knee or a rookie quarterback and a receiving group beyond Fitzgerald that lacks any sort of reliability at the moment. The offensive line will be hoping for a resurgence from Andre Smith and Mike Iupati or breakout seasons for the younger Mason Cole and D.J. Humphries in order to make a real impact.
On defense, the defensive line is without Golden for the time being. At linebacker, a bounce-back year from Deone Bucannon would be a big boost, as would Reddick looking like the player general manager Steve Keim selected at No. 13 overall in last year’s draft. Lastly, it’s no surprise to see the cornerback on the opposite side of Patrick Peterson as a question mark.