This has obviously been a tough year so far, and it’s been hard for all of us to stay positive. Myself included. Looking back at my last few articles, they’ve mostly been doom and gloom. I didn’t even realize that the negativity in the air had seeped into my writing for this site.
So I decided to be a bit more positive this week. No more talk of canceled games and opt outs. We have an exciting football team here in the Valley, so instead of another downbeat article, I’m going to give a few reasons why I’m excited about the 2020 Arizona Cardinals season. Here we go!
#5: What will Chandler Jones do next?
There hasn’t been much to get excited about on the defensive side of the ball for the Redbirds the past few seasons, but even so, Chandler Jones has managed to make a name for himself as one of the best players in the league—NFL Top 100 or no. He was an absolute terror last season, racking up 19 sacks and a career high (and league-leading) 8 forced fumbles as he finished #2 in the DPOY voting. His season was even more impressive when you consider how little help he had around him—no other Cardinal had more than 5.5 sacks and the defense finished near the bottom of the league in most major categories. The defense looks to be improved (although it really has nowhere to go but up) and we imported some pass rush help (Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, Isaiah Simmons) that should make Jones’s life easier. I’m excited to see what he has in store as an encore to his (thus far) signature season.
#4: What do we have in Isaiah Simmons?
That’s kind of a misleading question. We know what we have in Simmons: one of the most exciting defensive playmakers to come out of college football in several years. What we don’t know is how he’ll be deployed in Vance Joseph’s defense this season. The word coming from the team is that he’ll primarily be an inside linebacker. I’m not sure I buy it. We already have Jordan Hicks as the established alpha ILB, and we brought in De’Vondre Cambell—who racked up 129 tackles last season in Atlanta and signed a 1-year deal worth up to $8.5M—to man the other spot. He’ll play at ILB, sure, but I think he’ll see time at safety and OLB as well. But wherever he plays, Simmons is a highlight reel waiting to happen. I can’t wait to see him roam the field for the Redbirds this season—wherever he plays.
#3: Year 2 of the Kliff and Kyler Show
Although Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray, and the Air Raid offense didn’t exactly take the league by storm last season, the Cardinals’ offense was still a monumental improvement over the 2018 season. And the pieces are in place for the 2020 version to improve just as much on the 2019 version. There’s obviously the big addition (see below), but the impact of Kliff and Kyler having a year of NFL experience under their belt can’t be understated. Kliff struggled in his first season with red zone playcalling and clock management at the end of halves; improvements in those areas could have a huge effect on the offense. Kyler took too many sacks and didn’t fully tap into his potential as a rusher; imagine this offense if he gets better at avoiding the pass rush and gets into the 600-700 yard range as a rusher. I don’t know how confident I feel about saying this team will have a top-5 offense in 2020, but top-10 sure is looking good.
#2: DEANDRE HOPKINS
That’s right, I went all caps for our marquee offseason addition. I’m still pinching myself that GM Steve Keim was able to get away with such a bold highway robbery of Bill O’Brien. (Interstate highway robbery? The I-10 goes through both Phoenix and Houston.) Our offense sorely lacked a true #1 target for Kyler last season, and they don’t get much more prototypical than the 6’1”, 212-pound Hopkins. Nuk has made life immeasurably easier for Deshaun Watson for years, and how he’ll do the same for Kyler while simultaneously taking the franchise WR mantle from Larry Fitzgerald. Cardinals fans will be spoiled to have a Hall of Fame WR on their team for at least two and a half decades (depending on Hopkins’s forthcoming—and pricey—contract extension). Hopkins has always been one of my favorite real-life and fantasy non-Cardinals, and I’m absolutely ecstatic I’ll get to watch him play in the desert this season.
#1: Expanded playoffs!
In a normal year—normal both meaning no global pandemic and a standard 6 playoff teams per conference—I wouldn’t put much stock in the Redbirds’ playoff chances. But we already know this season will be atypical, and with the added Wild Card spot in each conference, chaos could be the Cardinals’ friend as they seek to sneak into the postseason. Plus, all of our NFC West rivals lost key pieces while the Cardinals did nothing but improve—on paper, at least. But this is clearly a team on the rise and I don’t think it’s too soon to start dreaming about—not expecting—the playoffs. Even if we play .500 football—like we did for most of last season—we should be at least on the fringes of the hunt down the stretch, which would be good enough for me just two years removed from a 3-13 nightmare season.
Hopefully this was a good break from the onslaught of negative news we’ve all been dealing with lately. In the comments, let us know what you’re excited about this season. Let’s all try to stay positive!