Ok so we all know it's too early to start talking match-ups considering that we're almost exactly four full months away from the Arizona Cardinals taking the field against the San Francisco 49ers, but come on.....it's fun. Granted many of these match-ups may or may not live up to the hype but in a year when the Cardinals have unprecedented expectations, some of these match-ups could be the difference between a successful season or a broadcast full of "same old Cardinals" references.
Cardinals secondary vs. Colts Passing Game: The Cardinals revamped, rebuilt, new and improved secondary will get their first significant test in the third week of the season when the Indianapolis Colts roll into Arizona. The Colts boast the fifth ranked passing game in 2008 and we all know that the duo of Manning and Wayne is one of the best in the league. In Peyton's eleven seasons he's averaged over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns per season and Reggie Wayne is one of only two receivers who have recorded five consecutive 1,000 yard seasons (10 points if you can name the other). If the Cardinals want to be taken seriously in 2009, at least on a national scale, they'll need their secondary to step up perform much better than the unit that ranked 22nd in the league in passing yards allowed and gave up more TDs than any other secondary.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Andre Johnson: Just two weeks (although the games are separated by a bye week) after hosting the Colts, the Texans will come to town and DRC will get his biggest test of the season. If you haven't watched many Houston Texans games over the past six seasons, you don't know how dominant Andre Johnson can be, when healthy. Larry Fitzgerald is the consensus #1 wide receiver in the NFL but Johnson is considered by some to be a close second. He's an impressive blend of size (6'3 223) and speed that should keep DRC on his toes all game long. Over the course of his career, Johnson averages 5.7 receptions, 74 yards and .90 TDs per game so DRC will have to bring his absolute best game to match up with the soon to be 28 year old wide out.
Cardinals Offensive Line vs. Giants Defensive Line: The Giants defensive line dominated the Patriots in the Super Bowl a year and a half ago but last year they played without Michael Strahan (retired) and Osi Umenyiora (torn ACL). Osi will return this season and the Giants spent most of their off season bolstering the defensive line. The additions of Chris Canty and Rocky Benard have the Giants hoping that their front wall will return to dominance. When the Giants and Cardinals played last year, the G-Men recorded just one sack, by Justin Tuck, on Kurt Warner's 52 pass attempts. The Giants are looking for much more production and the Cardinals offensive line will be greatly tested.
Arizona Cardinals vs. the Weather: The 'schedule gods' gave the Cardinals a huge break by not scheduling any road trips to the north late in the season. With possible disasters in New York, Chicago and Tennessee, the latest date the Cardinals will have to travel north (outside of a trip to Detriot but they play in a dome) is November 29th. So they're safe from snow or near freezing temps right? Well not so fast, the average temperatures in Chicago for the month of November is 39 degrees so when the Cardinals travel there on November 8th, we'll have to cross our fingers. Weather could also come into play when they travel to Nashville to face the Titans in late November because the averages are about the same. California is overdue for a wet December and below sea-level Candlestick turns into a bog when soaked which could make the Monday night affair more a rugby match than an aerial assault.
Cardinals Front Seven vs. the Vikings Running Game: Make no mistake about it, the Vikings embarrassed the Cardinals in their own building last year and one of the most embarrassing stats was allowing 239 rushing yards. The Vikes literally ran the life out of the Cardinals defense, pounding out 44 attempts at a clip of 5.4 yards per carry. Adrian Peterson was the biggest culprit with 165 yards on 28 carries (5.9 avg). The Cardinals defense is eyeing respectability in 2009 and shutting down one of the league's best running game will be a significant show of force.
2009 will be a big year for the Arizona Cardinals but are they ready for the challenge? They'll face some difficult opponents but it should be a fun season.