The shock of the 2008 season came courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals looked like they were limping into the playoffs with a 9-7 record and six of those wins came inside the division, but in reality were playing opossum.
The Cardinals went into Carolina facing the hottest team in the NFC and a team that was the only one to go undefeated at home. The Cardinals spanked the Panthers 33-13 and later defeated the Eagles to play in the Super Bowl where they lost to the Steelers.
The quarterback situation was unknown coming into the season as Matt Leinart was not turning into a starting quarterback during camp, so Kurt Warner got the nod. Warner only threw for 35 touchdowns leading the best passing attack in the NFL.
He resurrected his career, even though he went 9-7 and had 22 interceptions, he took the team to the Super Bowl and none of their playoff games were really close. This year might be his last shot at another title due to age and contract difficulties with Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin.
If there was a “great” category the receiving core would be a part of it. This was the most dynamic group in the NFL as it produced three receivers with 1,000 or more receiving yards. It will only be better this year.
Larry Fitzgerald turned into a No. 1 receiver last season and cemented himself as the best receiver in the NFL. He has speed, great hands, and can out-jump any defender in the league. He proved his dominance on the field in the playoff game against the Panthers as he racked up more than 160 yards receiving, most of that in the first half.
Anquan Boldin is like another No. 1 receiver. He was a monster going into week 4 when he was hit helmet-to-jaw. Four weeks later he returned after having jaw surgery and had 80 yards receiving and two touchdowns in his return showing he never left. He currently is at odds with the Front Office over his contract, but he will still play and be that 6’1" monster everyone saw last season.
The receiving core also held two other dynamic receivers. Steve Breaston was the third receiver to earn 1,000 yards receiving. He made sure the offense did not lose a step when Boldin went down against the Jets.
Jerheme Urban had multiple 100+ yard games and he was the fourth string receiver.
Most people did not even know that the Cardinals had a running back last season. Every now-and-then people would see a small, compact figure named Tim Hightower run into the end zone, but that is it. Then, in the playoffs the running game emerged with Edgerrin James leading the way.
This season could be different with the Cardinals using their first round pick on Beanie Wells. This powerful back paired with the receiving core may make some defensive coordinators quit before the end of the season, but the big question is “Can Wells stay healthy?” He has already answered with a no.
Leonard Pope is 6’8" and that should be enough said. Unfortunately, he has shown he is a poor receiver and an even worse blocker. Luckily for him, he has not needed to do either because of the receivers, but he does not have many chances left to prove himself.
The offensive line improved as the year went on. They still need work in some areas like run blocking, but once again they are lucky because 90% of the plays are passes. This group showed its improvement in the playoffs as it dominated lines like Atlanta’s and Philadelphia’s. This group will be fun to watch with Warner back at the helm this season.
The defense was another unit that suddenly appeared in the playoffs. They were beaten by the run all year, then a switch flipped and they became the “Steel Curtain.”
The linebackers really popped out of their shells as Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby were beasts in the playoffs. Every hole seemed to be filled by Gerald Hayes. Along with a newly found secondary starring Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, the Cardinals secondary will provide a huge obstacle to anyone who dares pass.
The Cardinals won the division due to lack of one. To think they can go 3-7 outside the division this season will be fatal. The division improved coaching wise, and the Seahawks who had dominated the NFC West will be back to claim their rightful place as NFC West champion. Also, the 49ers will try and stake their claim in the division race with their renewed attitude.
The Cardinals’ defense and running game will not be able to wait until the playoffs this year. If they do, that chance may never come.
Kurt Warner is a top 5 quarterback. The offense is revolved around him passing 30-40 times a game, so the stats will be high once again.
Larry Fitzgerald is the No. 1 fantasy receiver and should be taken in the middle of the first round.
Anquan Boldin is also a No. 1 fantasy receiver. Larry Fitzgerald will definitely have double coverage which means more hopeless single coverage by the unfortunate defense.
Neil Rackers is a top kicker because the Cardinals will put up a lot of points. There’s one thing to watch, his leg may not be as strong as it used to be so the missed field goals from 45 yards or more most likely will rise costing you points.
The sleeper is Steve Breaston. The guy had a 1,000 yard season as the third string. He will see little coverage when on the field due to the two stars in front of him and could become another target in the end zone with Pope underachieving.