All In The Cards: The Roster Needed To Succeed (Week 1 Recap)

I’m trying.

I’m trying really hard this season to have a realistic view of my Arizona Cardinals. Ever since their appearance in Super Bowl XLIII, every year I somehow convince myself that this is the year the Cardinals will win the Super Bowl. My delusions have been so insane that at one time or another I convinced myself that Matt Leinart and Kevin Kolb were good quarterbacks capable of leading the Cards to a Lombardi Trophy. Look, I was young and naïve back then. I’m an adult now and I need to face reality: sometimes you just don’t have the roster to succeed.

I’m not 100% sure the Cardinals have the roster to succeed this season. They did last year but injuries crippled them to the point that the roster that was set to succeed was unrecognizable by season’s end. The Cardinals have a couple less standouts this season (no more Antonio Cromartie), but what they do have over last year’s team is depth. When an injured Andre Ellington had to finally bow out for the rest of the season, a run game on life support died. We are through only one week of this season and the Cards face the same situation: generating a run game without Ellington. This time they were prepared. They drafted David Johnson out of Northern Iowa in the third round of the NFL Draft. They took a flier on the once great Chris Johnson. When Ellington went out in the fourth quarter, Chris Johnson was called upon to help run out the clock. He ran the ball seven times in that final quarter for 30 yards, including a 12 yard run on his first rush attempt after Ellington left. Then David Johnson sealed the game with a huge 55 yard receiving touchdown in the final minute. Without both of them, the Cards wouldn’t have been able to burn time off the clock and guarantee the victory.

The Cards’ approach this past offseason was to add quality depth so that what happened last year wouldn’t happen again this season. I know that sounds like the rational thing to do but you’d be surprised how many sports franchises are too stubborn to admit their mistakes and thus end up making them again. To see the Cardinals acknowledge their mistakes and spend all offseason correcting them makes me feel proud to be fan.

However there is still one problem that hasn’t been solved: what happens to the offense if Carson Palmer goes down again. Palmer looked amazing against the Saints, throwing for 307 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was able to scramble in the pocket to buy some time for his receivers to get open. Less than a year removed from a major leg injury and with two starting linemen out, Palmer was not sacked one time. Granted the Saints pass rush is average at best, but he was never sacked and only hit a few times, which he took very well. Drew Stanton used to be an acceptable backup because because both going into last season had similar skills. That’s not the case anymore. Palmer‘s improved arm strength and pocket presence makes the 2015 Arizona Cardinals a roster that can succeed. Without him this team can’t succeed. I can guarantee that Palmer will not get a single MVP vote this season, but if the Cards succeed he’ll be their most valuable player.

I’m not going to delude myself into thinking Palmer will definitely lead the Cards to a Super Bowl win this season, but a healthy Palmer makes the possibility real.

Some Card Numbers:

  • Who says Larry Fitzgerald is washed up? Fitzgerald happily accepted having Carson Palmer back and hauled in six catches for 87 yards to lead the Cards in receiving. The 87 receiving yards is the most he’s had in a season opener since he had 133 yards on nine catches against the San Francisco 49ers all the way back in 2006. Also worth noting is that four of Fitzgerald’s six catches went for first downs.
  • One last Fitzgerald note and what will be a running counter on this article: Fitzgerald extended his consecutive games with a catch streak to 164, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
  • While throwing for 307 yards, Carson Palmer passed Jim Kelly for 21st on the all-time passing yards list.
  • The Cardinals have now won their last four home openers. Speaking of home games, the Cards are now 14-3 at home under Bruce Arians.
  • Last year the Cardinals had one of the best fourth quarter differentials in the NFL. This year they are already off to a great start with a +8 differential.

How I Did With Week 1 Predictions:

  • Arizona 31, New Orleans 19: Without Jimmy Graham to occupy a safety’s attention, the Cardinals secondary was able to neutralize the Saints wide receivers for the most part. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton cleverly countered by calling a bunch of screen passes, which really bothered the Cardinals defense all day. With Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears coming up next week, the Cards defense better practice their screen coverage. (1-0)
  • New England 28, Pittsburgh 21: This game feels like it was an eternity ago but New England prevailed because Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still on their A-game, Rob Gronkowski is unstoppable, and because Pittsburgh couldn’t communicate with each other (Just kidding on that last one). (Season Record: 2-0)
  • Buffalo 27, Indianapolis 14: I knew the Bills would be good (Rex Ryan teams always come to play) but the way they handled the Colts really surprised me. Even though the season just started the Colts need to turn things around quickly, especially with rumors of Coach Chuck Pagano being on the hot seat. (2-1)
  • Green Bay 31, Chicago 23: The Bears pleasantly surprised me with their performance against the Packers, coming very close to pulling off the win. Unfortunately the often-maligned Jay Cutler just became a little more maligned. Rodgers, 189 passing yards and three passing touchdowns, also showed why he’s the reigning MVP. (3-1)
  • New York Jets 31, Cleveland 10: What made Todd Bowles such a great defensive coordinator for the Cardinals was his ability to make perfect halftime adjustments. Fitting that he would get his first win as a head coach by having his Jets shutout out the Browns and force three turnovers in the second half. The Jets have some scary injuries but overall both this season and the future look bright. (4-1)
  • Kansas City 27, Houston 20: For most of the game I was wrong about the Texans, but then in the 4th quarter when Ryan Mallett took over I didn’t look as foolish. Also DeAndre Hopkins is a beast and should be considered as a cheaper alternative in fantasy leagues where you choose a new team on a weekly basis. I’m still taking a wait-and-see approach on Travis Kelce’s long-term fantasy impact. (4-2)
  • Louis 34, Seattle 31 (OT): I’m really kicking myself for not sticking to my gut and picking the Rams. The Rams always push NFC West teams to the limit and the Seahawks were vulnerable without Kam Chancellor. I worry about Seattle’s psyche going forward, especially after the botched onside kick and failed Marshawn Lynch fourth down run. (4-3)
  • Miami 17, Washington 10: This game was a lot closer than I thought which either means good news for the Redskins or bad news for the Dolphins. Also Jarvis Landry’s punt return touchdown was one of the best I have ever seen. Just the way he made it look so easy amazes me. (5-3)
  • Carolina 20, Jacksonville 9: I still stand by what I said about the Panthers offense needing some time but I’ll admit I didn’t give enough credit to their defense before making my pick. We’ll see if they can maintain this level if Luke Kuechly misses a lot of time due to his concussion. Also I may have overestimated the Jaguars’ progress. Still looks like there is a long way to go. (5-4)
  • San Diego 33, Detroit 28: Even though I called the Lions’ choke job, that doesn’t mean I’m proud of it. I was really hoping they would prove me wrong and start the season off on a high note, but instead they throw away a 21-3 first half lead. On the positive side, Keenan Allen started his third season off with a bang after he fell well short of expectations last season. If he can be a go-to receiver for Philip Rivers then the Chargers season suddenly looks more promising. (6-4)
  • Cincinnati 33, Oakland 13: The outcome was even bleaker for the Raiders than I predicted, barely avoiding a shutout with a couple of garbage time touchdowns. The Bengals made a huge statement in this game, telling everyone who picked Pittsburgh or Baltimore to win the division that they still hold the crown and they aren’t going away. (7-4)
  • Denver 19, Baltimore 13: I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that not a single offensive touchdown was scored in this game. While both defenses played at an elite level you can’t help but wonder if this is a sign of things to come, especially for Peyton Manning who has now gone without a touchdown pass in three of his last five games. (8-4)
  • Tennessee 42, Tampa Bay 14: It seems former Cardinals and current Titans Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt finally has a quarterback that he can properly gameplan around. Since the retirement of Kurt Warner, Coach Whiz has had the worst luck with starting quarterbacks but Marcus Mariota looks to have a bright future ahead of him. I’m not about to bury Jameis Winston but the performance really showcased his flaws. (8-5)
  • Dallas 27, New York Giants 26: This game was pure craziness. I definitely feel that Tony Romo’s reputation for choking in the fourth quarter is overblown and that he’s actually one of the better late-game quarterbacks. Both teams should have good seasons so I can’t wait for the rematch. Hopefully it will be just as entertaining. (8-6)
  • Atlanta 26, Philadelphia 24: I knew that the Eagles running game would be overhyped but I never expected a combined 11 carries for 13 yards from DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Matt Ryan excelled under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan just like I expected, and Julio Jones (nine receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns) is earning every penny of that new contract. Also shout out to former Indiana Hoosier Tevin Coleman for gaining 80 yards off 20 carries in his first NFL game. (9-6)
  • San Francisco 20, Minnesota 3: I’ve watched the Cardinals defense go up against Carlos Hyde a couple of times and I never would have imagined he would have a game like he did last night. Hyde’s 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns should be a great comfort for the 49ers and their fanbase which has gone through a lot of turnover and turmoil over the past year. Also I am dumbfounded by how underwhelming the Vikings performed. (9-7)
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All In The Cards: Week 1

Anyone who has ever talked about the NFL with me knows that during that conversation, sooner or later, I’ll find a way to bring up my current opinion on the Arizona Cardinals. So why not create a weekly article where I write about those Cardinals? This column will differ from my “Hoosiers In The NBA” as I won’t be relying as much on stats, at least not early on in the season where one good/bad performance can skew the stats greatly.

Don’t worry: this will not just be a weekly long-winded rant about my favorite team (though if you want me to, just to pick my brain for psychological studies, I’d be more than happy to comply). Instead I will go over the Cards current matchup and give my prediction. Also, since fantasy football has almost become bigger than real football, I’ll give the Cardinal I feel will have the biggest fantasy performance this week as well as the best fantasy option from the opposing team based on their matchup with the Cards. Lastly I’ll make my picks for the week and give a short description explaining my pick. I’ll follow-up on it Tuesday to see whether I was right or wrong, but let’s not waste any more time with my explanations and get right to it.

New Orleans Saints @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: L 31-7 @ New Orleans (9/22/13)

The last time these two teams met, Drew Brees picked apart the Cards secondary to the tune of 342 passing yards and three touchdowns as the Saints rolled. While many players and coaches remain on both sides from that matchup two years ago, there is one glaring exception. To say Brees constantly read the defense and found the open man isn’t completely true. He basically found a weakness and abused that weakness until the game was out of reach. That weakness was the Cardinals inability to cover Jimmy Graham properly. Graham’s performance was proof that Graham vs. Gronk was a legit argument two years ago: nine receptions, 134 receiving yards, and two touchdowns.

The fact that the Cardinals still have trouble with great receiving tight ends is unfortunate since they’ll face Graham twice this season since he’s now in Seattle. However we are talking about New Orleans right now and there’s a hole in their offense without Graham. Sure Brees can still sling it but without a good tight end that can draw secondary help, Patrick Peterson and Co. can focus in on Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks. The Saints do have Ben Watson and Josh Hill filling in at tight end but Watson will be 35 by the end of the season and Hill has only proven to be a good redzone option and that was with Graham drawing coverage away from him. The Saints could run the ball with Mark Ingram but the Cardinals defense prides itself as one of the elite rush defenses so that will be easier said than done.

On the other side of the ball we see the return of Carson Palmer and he has been impressive in the preseason. Both Palmer and the coaching staff agree that his arm strength is the best it has been in a long time. Good thing too as he’ll be able to take advantage of having deep threats John Brown and JJ Nelson. Brown in particular is set up for a breakout season after amassing 696 receiving yards and five touchdowns during his rookie campaign. His ability to get behind almost any safety makes him a long touchdown pass waiting to happen. Also there is still Larry Fitzgerald, who may not be as fast as he once was but he is still a dangerous target in the redzone. A potential problem for the Cardinals offense is the fact they will have two backup offensive linemen starting with Mike Iupati and Bobby Massie being out to begin the season. This may be an issue in the coming weeks but not against a Saints’ defense that gave up the fifth most points last season and already have number big injuries on that side heading into week one.

Overall I don’t think I’m being biased when I say that the Cardinals are the favorite in this matchup. Add to the fact that University of Phoenix Stadium has been one of the best home field advantages since Coach Bruce Arians arrived and that the Saints have a tendency to struggle away from the Superdome and I think the Cardinals start the season with a win. The score will probably be closer than the actual game, with a high likelihood that the Saints will add a score late in the fourth in one final push.

Prediction: Arizona 27, New Orleans 20

Fantasy Advice:

I think Carson Palmer will have a big day as he hopes to start the season off on a great note. Palmer likes to share the ball around so picking one wide receiver is tricky but I just got done writing that John Brown will have a breakout season so I’d call him the safest bet, especially since he can outran nearly anyone who tries to cover him. For the Saints I like Drew Brees to rack up a lot of yards but if you are in a league where touchdowns from skill players mean more I’d go with Mark Ingram as he is the safest bet to score at the goaline as well as rack up some good yards over the course of the game.

Week 1 Predictions:

  • New England 27, Pittsburgh 17: Picked this before the game last night (you can check the timestamp on my Facebook and Twitter post if you don’t believe me.) Thought getting Tom Brady back at the start of the season would prove key and it did. Also there’s Gronk and the since-dead “Best Tight End” debate.
  • Indianapolis 23, Buffalo 13: I’ll go ahead and say that I’m picking the Colts to win the Super Bowl this season so I expect them to take care of business week one, even if it is against a pretty good team.
  • Green Bay 34, Chicago 20: Losing Jordy Nelson stinks but as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy the Packers offense is unstoppable. Tough first task for a revamped Bears defense.
  • New York Jets 16, Cleveland 10: I may have made the score too high. Both teams’ defenses are miles ahead of their offenses. Going with the Jets because their defense is more likely to score a touchdown.
  • Houston 24, Kansas City 23: Call it a hunch. I think Houston will be better than people think and they’ll catch the Chiefs by surprise.
  • Seattle 24, St. Louis 16: I’m very intrigued by the Rams as they have continuously added young assets the past couple of years. However, now is the time to start profiting or else they may go in rebuilding mode again. If it wasn’t against a division foe who knows how dangerous this team can be, I would have taken the Rams.
  • Miami 31, Washington 14: Before last night I was going to write that the Dolphins have a really good chance of taking the AFC East crown from the Patriots but that seems a lot less likely now. Still think Miami is a playoff team while Washington is not.
  • Jacksonville 20, Carolina 16: It’s going to take awhile for the Panthers’ offense to start clicking again after the injury to Kelvin Benjamin. The Jaguars are still a year or two away from being a playoff team but I see them showing their fans that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
  • San Diego 27, Detroit 23: This one is also a hunch. I want to pick Detroit but this seems just like a game the Lions would choke away. I’m not too high on San Diego but I think they get the win here.
  • Cincinnati 27, Oakland 10: Oakland is a little further behind than the Jaguars but there is hope. However in this matchup, I don’t see any hope.
  • Denver 35, Baltimore 27: In what may very likely be Peyton Manning’s last season opener, I don’t see him losing even if it is against a good team like the Ravens.
  • Tampa Bay 23, Tennessee 20: Both teams have a lot to look forward to in the coming seasons but not so much this year. I could totally see both Winston and Mariota exchanging fourth quarter scoring drives. Picking the Bucs because they’re at home.
  • New York Giants 33, Dallas 31: It’s almost become a yearly tradition to see the Giants beat the Cowboys at Jerry World. I don’t really see anything that would tell me it can’t happen again.
  • Atlanta 28, Philadelphia 24: New Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn is set up for a great first season and I think that season starts with a win. I’m still not entirely sure I trust the Eagles.
  • Minnesota 24, San Francisco 13: I’ve rooted against the 49ers longer than any other team but even I can’t help but feel bad. I’d like to say they win their stadium opener but Minnesota is poised for a big season if Teddy Bridgewater continues to improve.