As an Arizona native, I can vividly remember when “dysfunctional” would’ve been considered a compliment to the Cardinals.
Their ownership consistently refused to spend money to put a serviceable team on the field. The only time they would bring in any big-name players was when they seemed to be five years past their prime. And, we had to battle the sun and the steel bleachers of Sun Devil Stadium if we wanted to cheer our team on in-person.
All of that is in the past, however, as the sentiment toward this team has shifted in recent years. A new stadium, a miraculous Super Bowl run, and a revamped front office have made the Cardinals perennial favorites in the NFC West, and the Red Sea has become accustomed to having hope going into each season.
As we creep toward the 2018 season, that hopeful vibe seems to be fading. We have a new coaching staff, an all-new quarterback room, and our GM is making stupid, “inexcusable” mistakes away from the field. All these things will undoubtedly cause Cardinals fans to abstain from any feelings of optimism. But, I ask you to really consider if this season will actually be that bad.
Why should you hold out hope? For starters, let’s look around the NFC West –
Everything seems to be trending up for the 49ers going into 2018. They have an exciting new QB to build around, they have added some new pieces on defense, and they finished the 2017 season on a 5-game winning streak. But, there are flaws in each one of these areas. Their new QB, Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t necessarily ‘proven.’ He started and won their last five games in 2017, but aside from that he hasn’t seen the field much in his career. Having limited experience means other coaches don’t have a lot to go on when setting up a game plan. The more Jimmy G. plays, the more prepared other coaches will be to go up against him, and we could see him come back down to earth this year.
One of those new pieces on the defensive side of the ball is a familiar foe - former Seahawks CB, Richard Sherman. Now, let me preface this by saying I am doing my best to remove any bias I may have when making this evaluation, so forgive me if my true feelings happen to peak through in my argument. But, the reality of Sherman is: we don’t really know what to expect. He is returning from a torn achilles, so we will have to see how he is able to rebound. The next concern regarding Sherman is, he has been a member of a secondary that was loaded with talent nearly his entire career. He has been a great fit for a great system. That system has allowed him to spend a large majority of his time patrolling just one side of the field, no matter which receiver happens to be over there. It’s not like he has been stuck to the hip of the opposing team’s #1 receiver on every play like another CB in the NFC West. We will have to wait and see if Sherman really is as great as he says he is.
Finally, let’s not forget, they had to win those last 5 games to finish the season with 6 wins.
This one will probably be the easiest sell of my reasons for optimism. The Seahawks might be the only team in the NFC West with less hope going into this season than the Cards. Seattle is dealing with more than the departure of Sherman. They also lost Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, and Earl Thomas could be moved in the coming weeks. From what I can see, they didn’t do a lot to address their offensive line issues. Going into 2018, their defense will absolutely be worse, and will be a far cry from the Legion of Boom that we’ve come to know and despise.
The Seahawks did add some offensive pieces to help Russell Wilson while he is scrambling around behind the holes in his offensive line. Brandon Marshall comes over after an injury plagued season with the Giants, and Jaron Brown heads from Arizona to Seattle. They also added Sebastian Janikowski to replace the ever-questionable Blair Walsh at Kicker. I see the Seahawks as a team that wasn’t anything special last year, and they should be worse in 2018.
If the Seahawks were the easiest sell on this list, this will be the hardest. I will fully admit this one is the biggest stretch, but let’s let optimism win and see what happens…
The reality is, the Rams were a very good team last year. And, as far as talent is concerned, they have only improved over the off-season. They have completely revamped their secondary by adding former AFC West foes, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Their already stout defensive line got an upgrade with the signing of Ndamukong Suh after he was released by Miami. And, their already explosive offense added WR Brandin Cooks via trade.
While there is no denying the talent on their roster, one thing to remember is a large key to success is the entire team buying in to one philosophy. Change, even if it is an improvement, is still change. It will take time for these new faces to get to know one another. They will all be learning a new playbook, learning how to work together, and finding where they fit in within their new locker room.
Another concern no one is really talking about is the possible regression of Jared Goff. Last year, the Rams came out of nowhere, and shocked the league. This year, they are expected to win a lot of games, which means there will be added pressure on the shoulders of their young quarterback. Will Goff be able to handle the pressure? Similar to the Garappolo situation, teams will have more game film to watch, and prepare for Goff and the Sean McVay offense.
Finally, if we really want any sense of hope, we need to look inward. The Cardinals are flying under the radar, which is a good thing.
I don’t see the huge drop off that everyone is predicting. We had hope heading into the last three years with injury-prone Carson Palmer at the helm. Why would we lose that hope with injury-prone Sam Bradford now behind center? Both QBs are solid when they are on the field, and Bradford is actually the more accurate passer of the two. We also have the hope of a solid future with Josh Rosen waiting in the wings.
Our new coaching staff is going to be good. Steve Wilks receives nothing but rave reviews from anyone that has every worked with him. He has coached a very good Carolina defense over the past seven seasons and will inherit a Cardinals defense that has finished in the top 10 in the league in each of the past 5 seasons. Mike McCoy is an experienced offensive coordinator that has had success with veteran QBs in the past (P. Manning and P. Rivers). I think we should expect his time with Sam Bradford to produce similar results. I also think a coaching change was in order. I don’t want to take anything away from all the great things Bruce Arians has done for this franchise, but he seemed to miss making necessary adjustments in the middle of a game, which I feel cost the Cards a win or two. I have a feeling this more traditional coaching staff will be able to make those changes, and the Cardinals will be a better overall team for it.
While it may be a stretch to think the Cardinals are going to repeat their 13-win season from 2015, I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch to think they can make the playoffs. A lot of things will have to swing in the right direction, there’s no denying that. But isn’t that the case with just about every playoff team? My realistic expectations for this season are a second-place finish in the NFC West, and a shot at a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. If you think that’s not enough of a reason to hold out some hope for this team going into the 2018 season, I only ask you to go watch highlights from the 2008 season. We have a realistic shot at being a playoff team, and once you make it to the playoffs, anything can happen.