After every NFL season, coaches, players and even fans tend to sit back and reflect, wondering what could have gone in their favor for their team to be more successful. There is no doubt that everyone has a tendency to do this, whether it's looking back on specific games, plays, injuries, etc.
After the jump, I'll give you a few of my 'what ifs' and how they could have altered the outcome of the Cardinals' 8-8 season.
What if there had not been an NFL lockout? The team would have had more time to build chemistry together and the players could have gained a better grasp on the playbook. The reason the Cards ended their season on a 7-2 run was because the players started understanding their roles on the team and how to execute them properly. We knew coming in that Ray Horton's defense was complex and not something that was going to be flawless right off the bat. If there would have been OTAs and more time with the playbooks, who knows...
What if Ryan Williams would have remained healthy and not torn his patella tendon in a preseason matchup against the Packers? Beanie Wells would not have been forced to carry the load for the team so much and Arizona would have had a legitimate second back to add a change of pace to the offense. Is it crazy to think that the Cardinals could perhaps have one of the best running back tandems in the league next season? I think not.
What if the referees had ruled Victor Cruz' mental mistake as a fumble during the Cardinals/Giants game? The Cardinals would have likely gone on to win that game, putting another tally in the W column, thus increasing the chance that they could have made the playoffs.
What if Kevin Kolb had stayed healthy throughout the season? He would have had more time to learn the offense while playing in the games and would have a leg up going into next season. However, coaches and fans were able to see what second year QB, John Skelton was able to do because of Kolb's turf toe and concussion issues. This 'what if' could certainly be a positive thing or a negative thing, depending on the reader.
What if Sam Acho had started the entire season at outside linebacker instead of Joey Porter? Through the first six games, Porter was the starter and he collected only one sack. After sustaining a knee injury, the rookie, Acho took over and managed to get seven sacks and four forced fumbles. His sack total is the second most sacks for a rookie in Cardinals franchise history ... and that was in only ten games.
What if Early Doucet would have managed to stay on his feet in the final minute of the week 16 matchup between the Cardinals and Bengals? He could have perhaps scored a touchdown catch and the Cardinals could have gone on to win the game. With that victory and possibly another one earlier on in the season, we would be watching the Cardinals play next weekend.
Finally, what if Patrick Peterson could have broken the tackle of punter John Ryan to take back his fifth punt return for a TD this season? By doing that, he would have set a new league record for most punt returns for TDs in a single season, putting himself into the record books in just his rookie year. Let's put the meter back to zero and hope he can get there next season.
If some of the aforementioned things would have occurred, there is no doubt in my mind that Arizona would be headed to the playoffs next weekend. The team came on really strong near the end and with the help of a few more pieces and hindsight 20/20, their season might just be beginning. I guess this is all reason for optimism heading into next season.
There are many more 'what ifs', but for the sake of turning this into a thesis paper, I will stop where I'm at. It doesn't stop here for everyone though. Leave some of your 'what ifs' and explanations in the comments below. Also, share them with us on Facebook or on Twitter.