2014 Arizona Cardinals schedule gives reason for cautious optimism

We'll see these two facing off again. - USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 Arizona Cardinals were one of the surprise teams in the NFL and are looking to build on that success.

When the schedule was slowly leaked out over the course of the hour during the afternoon today, the Cardinals season quickly began to come into focus.

The 2013 Cardinals schedule was considered to be one of the hardest in the NFL, but the season started, the Texans and Falcons struggled, the Buccaneers were in turmoil, the Rams lost their quarterback and the Lions never put it all together.

That means the 2014 schedule should be looked at with a grain of salt, because the teams they are playing in '14 may not be who they were in '13.

Here is what we do know though:

1. The Cardinals will play a murderers row of quarterbacks:

Week 1- Phillip Rivers
Week 2- Eli Manning
Week 3- Colin Kaepernick
Week 5- Peyton Manning
Week 6- Robert Griffin III
Week 8- Nick Foles
Week 9- Tony Romo
Week 11- Matthew Stafford
Week 12- Russell Wilson
Week 13- Matt Ryan
Week 16- Russell Wilson
Week 17- Colin Kaepernick

In 12 games this season they'll have to play quarterbacks who have shown the ability to be at the top of the position within the league at some point in the last two seasons.

2. The Cardinals start the season off with a treacherous stretch in the first five weeks, as they will have a national game at home against the Chargers (more on that in a second), travel to New York in week two, take on their kryptonite in San Francisco at home, before their way too early bye week and then a date, in Denver, with Peyton Manning.

That's an important start to the season for the Cardinals (we'll get to that later) as that will set the stage for the second part of the season.

Finding a way to go at least 2-2 will be of the utmost importance.

3. The Cardinals get a chance to exorcise their national TV demons -- hopefully three times -- two of which will be at home.

The Cardinals have struggled when given the prime time slot on the NFL marquee, and they open up the season with it.

The San Diego Chargers were a surprise playoff team in 2013, then went on to win a game in the playoffs and push the Broncos in the second round.

Then they get their Thursday night nemesis, the St. Louis Rams, in St. Louis, before their week 16 tilt with the Seattle Seahawks in Glendale.

The reality is that the Cardinals need to be in contention come week 16 to maintain the Sunday night game... and there is no reason they won't be, but if this game gets flexed, I'll be one sad Cardinals fan.

4.  The Cardinals need to make hay from weeks 6-11.

In this time, they'll get to play the Redskins at home, Raiders, Eagles at home, Cowboys, Rams at home and the Lions at home.

This has to be a big stretch for the Cardinals because.

5. The last six games of the season are killer.

Sure the Falcons struggled in '13 and the lasting image of the 2013 Chiefs is blowing a massive playoff lead, but it's the way the games fall that makes this the stretch run to the playoffs.

Going to Seattle, then to Atlanta, coming home to Kansas City before a short week and a trip to St. Louis before back to back slug fests with Seattle at home and San Francisco in San Fran to end the season.

The last three games of the season may very well determine the Cardinals playoff lives, and isn't it fitting that it would come down to finding their way in the division.

Overall there's reason for optimism. The schedule sets up as favorably for the Cardinals as possible as they do not get any cold weather, snow games and only have two early morning east coast games, while also only playing one set of back to back road games.

If I had to put a number on it right now, which is insanely out of the realm of possibility, I like the Cardinals chances to go 9-7, but that's a terribly early, probably-get-me-flamed prediction, but hey, that's a tough schedule.

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