We know which teams are on the Cardinals' schedule for 2013. We just don't know yet in what order they will play in. Since we know who the Cards will play, we can now gaze into the cracked and hazy crystal ball, and try to prognosticate potential wins and losses. This is the pre-draft edition; I will update this column at least two more times before the season starts. Knowing what we know today (Carson Palmer just signed), here is how I believe the wins and losses will fall:
Cardinals play six divisional games, home and away: SF, SEA, and STL. At this point, I can't see any wins against SF or SEA. SF's defensive weakness was the deep ball. I've gotta think that their GM knows that, and will stock up on defensive draft picks this year. SEA was beatable, but they have bolstered their pass rush. I say close losses at home, but large losses on the road.
STL is the wild card here. They haven't done much (so far) to bolster their team. Since they have a plethora of picks in the Draft, perhaps they are just lying in wait, hoping to pick up a lot of talent. With Palmer at QB, and a reasonable offensive line, I'll say Cards split the series with STL; win at home, lose on the road.
Next, some home games. ATL, CAR, DET, HOU, IND. Let's start with ATL, who came THIS close to the Super Bowl last year. They have some significant losses in personnel, but picked up a few good additions, too. They will win their division again this year, and they have too much pride to lose on the road to the lowly Cardinals. A loss here for the Redbirds.
CAR has Cam Newton, and that's about all. They desperately need defensive help, and so far, they are waiting for the draft, too. Depending on how early in the season they play here, the new defense may or may not have gelled yet. I'm calling this a win at home for the boys in red.
DET picks ahead of AZ in the draft, and speculation is swirling around a defensive line pick, or OT. Since DET lost both their starting offensive tackles, the pick here is a tackle. Cardinals beat DET last year. I'm picking another home win for the Redbirds.
HOU is another team that came very close to the Big Dance last year. HOU has picked up some very good players in free agency, and will only get better in the Draft. I can't see HOU losing to a downtrodden team like the Cardinals; a loss here for the Big Red.
IND is the game of the year in Glendale. Most of the coaching staff defected from IND to AZ, so AZ should know what is going to happen. The Cardinals' defense should be able to call the plays before Andrew Luck does. It will be an emotional game for the coaches on both sides of the ball. I'm calling this for AZ, because defense wins games. If AZ knows what plays are likely to be called, then defense trumps offense.
Now for the road games. The Cardinals, historically, have not been a good road team. Last couple years, they have surprised teams like NE on the road, but overall, not so much. The crystal ball cannot see that changing very much this year.
JAC is in deep disarray. Not very many free agents want to go there, and the draft is their only hope. Or the surprise signing of a free agent Tim Tebow. I don't foresee the Jaguars being too much better than they were last year. A close road win for the Cards.
TEN signed ex-Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up Jake Locker. They still have Chris Johnson. That's all I've got. A close road win for the Men in Red.
PHI is a real wild card game. New head coach Chip Kelly is installing the best read-option offense in the world in Phillytown. No one knows just how good PHI will be. Kelly has better talent in most positions than he had in college. But he also has players who have never run this system before, especially in key positions, like QB. Is
Mike Vick the ideal read-option QB? Just as good as RG3, etc, with a lot more experience. PHI defense is totally revamped, just like the Cardinals. I don't think that I'm going too far out on a limb to call this one a tossup. Since the standings have no room for ties, the crystal ball says close win at home for the Eagles.
NO gets their head coach back. They also have lost some significant players from the defense, which will require a total rebuild. They still have Drew Brees, though, and an elite QB is worth a win or two in close games. The crystal ball calls this one a home win for the Saints.
And finally, TB. Josh Freeman, Mr. Up and Down, is still there, and the Bucs have been very active in the free agent market. This may be the year that the Bucs get over the hump, and push for the Divisional crown. Bucs win at home, sending the Cards to another loss.
So, let's tally up the wins and losses, and the early line on the Cardinals? 6-10. Marginally better than last years' 5-11. Really, no better than 8-8. 8-8 would be a miracle.
Definitely last place in the NFC West again. And, there are so many factors yet to be seen. How the schedule lines up, for instance. Where some of the games fall within the schedule. For example, if AZ can get the Eagles early in the season, maybe the Eagles will be vulnerable. But if they get the Eagles late in the season, after they have had a chance to gel, maybe not. The emotional coaches' reunion game with the Colts. A high tension final game, to salvage a season on the brink. Who knows? There will be so many plot lines: will Carson Palmer survive behind the newly fixed-up offensive line? Can the line open holes for Rashard Mendenhall? Can Mendenhall stay healthy, and make us forget Beanie Wells? What will we get out of Ryan Williams?How will the newly revamped Cardinals defense perform? No matter what alignment they use, the one alignment they will always be forced into will be the eight in the box. Will Larry Fitzgerald finally get some accurate passes tossed his way? Whatever happens, we will all be eagerly watching, won't we?
I've had my say. What say you, ROTB Best and Brightest? (Yeah, that means YOU).