Searching for Next Year's Arizona Cardinals
The 2008 season is over already, it seems like just yesterday I was watching the Bears beat the Colts.
This season was full of highs and lows for many teams and tons of surprises. Tom Brady goes down for the season in Week One, the Broncos lose a playoff spot by losing a three game lead with only three games left, the Detroit Lions lose all 16 games for the first time in NFL history and maybe the most unexpected the Arizona Cardinals played in the Super Bowl.
The Card's were not the favorite to win the NFC at the beginning of the season, to say the least. After a hot start the Card's were at 7-3 and in the drivers seat in the horrid NFC West.
Then they backed into the playoffs while finishing 2-4 and were expected by everyone to be bounced from the tourney on wild card weekend. They would get hot and go on to beat the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles on their way to the teams first ever Super Bowl appearance only to lose a close game to the heavily favored Steelers. (Congratulations to the Steelers and their fans on No. 6.)
While the Card's run was completely unexpected it has to give other teams around the league a new sense of hope and wondering what if that was us. The top contenders for "next year's Arizona Cardinals" start with...
10. Cleveland Browns
The Browns finished the 2008 season with a 4-12 record and finished last in the AFC North. They failed to score an offensive touchdown in the final 6 games of the season.
The Browns play in a very competitive division with the Steelers and the Ravens, however the Ravens are not getting any younger on defense and could possibly lose Ray Lewis to free agency. Next years schedule they play the NFC North and the AFC West, if they can split with those two divisions and go 3-3 within the NFC North that would give them a 7-7 record with games against the Jags and Bills remaining. They could easily be 9-7 and make the tourney as a Wild Card.
9. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had a 7-9 record last year but seemed to click under new head coach Mike Singletary by winning 5 of the last 7 and could have very possibly stole the NFC West from Arizona had Michael Robinson punched it in on from the one yard line against the Cards in week 10. That would've put Arizona at 8-8 and S.F. at 8-8. The bottom line is someone gets into the playoffs from the worst division in every sport and someones gotta do it in this one.
The Niners could possibly go 5-1 in the division but are also capable of going 1-5 so i'll give em 4-2, they also face off against another week division with the NFC North say 2-2. If they go 0-4 against the AFC South which is very possible that leaves games against the Falcons, and Eagles. If they split those two that makes them 7-9 again but the Card's play a very similar schedule, we could possibly be looking at a 7-9 playoff team next year.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
The offensive line was an achilles heal for the dissapointing Jags team last year as they finished 5-11. Look for Jack Del Rio to fix those problems and possibly find another HB to replace the aging Fred Taylor.
This team could easily get back to the form of the 2007 team. I can 100% see them sweeping the NFC West and taking up to three games from the AFC East. Even if they lose 4 games within the division that would put them at 9-5 with games against Cleveland and Kansas City which should both be wins making them 11-5. Look for the AFC South to be the most competitive division in the league next year.
7. New Orleans Saints
With Drew Brees at the helm anything is possible. The Saints finished 8-8 this season but lost A LOT of close games. In 6 of the teams 8 losses they were defeated by 5 points or less.
The NFC South has an extremely tough schedule next season they play the NFC East (Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins), and the AFC East (Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Bills) not to mention their own division is one of the toughest in the league. But games against the Lions and Rams next year should give them a slight edge over the rest of the division. Look for the winner of this division to have maybe 9 wins and that could possibly be the Saints.
6. Houston Texans
Andre Johnson and the Texans had a great season in '08 but it was still a disappointing one. The Texans blew two games to the Colts this year that would've put them at 10-6 and ousted the Colts out of the playoffs for the first time in what seems like an eternity.
Andre Johnson showed the world why he is arguably the best WR in the game today and had Matt Schaub not gone down this season things might have been different. If they split within the division and split against the AFC East they are looking at 5-5 with games against the Cards, 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, Raiders, and Bengals. This could very well be the year we see the Houston Texans in the playoffs for the first time.
5. Washington Redskins
The 'Skins started the 2008 year out at 6-2 and one of those 2 was at the hands of the Rams. This team absolutely fell apart down the stretch losing 6 of the last 8 games to finish 8-8. While it seems like a long shot for the 'Skins to win the NFC East don't be surprised to see them challenging the G-Men, Eagles, and Boys for the crown.
They finished last in the division this season but were only a game and a half away from second place and a playoff berth. The last place finish means they get games this year against the Lions and the Rams while the other three have much tougher teams. The NFC East faces off with the NFC South this year, if they can split there and split in the division while taking 3 of 4 in the AFC West your looking at a great possibility of a 10-6 season for the 'Skins and maybe even a division title.
4. Denver Broncos
Jay Cutler and the Bronco offense carried this team to an 8-5 start but the burden known as the Broncos defense became to much for the offense to carry down the stretch. With 3 games left all the Broncos had to do is win one game to make the playoffs and could'nt.
They became the first team to lose a 3 game lead with only 3remaining ever. But with Jay Cutler at the helm and the division they play in they could very well be legit playoff contenders. While offense is not a major consern having a running back stay healthy will improve this great offense even more.
Mike Nolan should improve the defense as-well and they will probably look to the draft for some defensive talent. The only question to me is why will Josh McDaniel's be able to perform when every other Bill Belichick understudy has failed miserably. The Broncos play K.C. and Oakland twice each which should be 4 wins and if they split with San Diego your looking at 5 wins in the division alone.
They face a very tough AFC North but should be able to get 2 wins there and an extremely tough NFC East so winning the division games are a must for Denver they also have games against Indy and New England this year. A 9-7 record might be enough for the AFC West but i can see 10-6 for Denver next season.
3. Green Bay Packers
The Brett Favre-less Packers Finished 6-10 with Aaron Rodgers taking snaps. This is the same team that went 13-3 two years ago with the exception of one player. Some would say that Rodgers is to blame, his numbers indicate other-wise but while watching quite a few Packer games this year he tends to make mistakes in crucial times of the game. I fully expect some of those crucial mistakes to be gone in his second year as a starter.
Seven of the teams ten losses came by 4 points or less i expect the ball to bounce the Packers way a few times this season. The Pack should easily take 4 games within the division and split with the AFC North making them 6-4. They play the NFC West which is great for them, look for them to get 3 games there making them 9-5 with the Cowboys and Bucs left on the schedule. If they can get to 10 wins and make the playoffs they will definitely be a team that no powerhouse team wants to play.
2. San Diego Chargers
The Bolts had high expectations heading in-to the 2008 season and finished at 8-8. This team sat at 5-8 though and managed to scrap a run together and make the playoffs and it made many people forget how this season is really still a disappointing season for them. With probably the worst luck in the league this team lost 8 games by a total of 34 points and never lost a game by more then 10 points.
With 'Lights Out' coming back next year look for the Charger defense to be much improved and with Rivers as the QB the offense isn't going anywhere. People continue to say the window is closing for the Chargers but is it really the teams average age is 26 years old. Look for the Chargers to continue their dominating ways in the AFC West they should win at least 5 within the division.
If they can split against the AFC North and the NFC East they would be at 9-5. With the Titans and Dolphins winning the East and South the Chargers get a break from Indy and New England for the first time since the '06 season when they were 14-2. Look for the Chargers to win at least 10 games next season.
1. Arizona Cardinals
Who deserves to be the 2008 Arizona Cardinals of 2009 more than the '09 Arizona Cardinals? Like I said earlier the Card's started hot and backed in to the playoffs. They went on a run and beat three good teams but failed to win the 'Big Game' against the Steelers. The Card's play in the worst division in football and should easily take 5 games.
If the defense continues to play like they did in the '08 playoffs they should do well against the NFC North and could possibly win three games putting them at 8-1 through those games. Its hard to give them more then 1 game against the AFC South so they go to 9-5 with the Panthers and Giants remaining they should split and finish with 10 wins and a great shot at making another run.
If I left someone out feel free to change my mind.
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