NFL SNEAK PEEK: ARIZONA CARDINALS
The Cardinals lost three of their first seven games, then went on a three-game winning streak, and limped to the finish line losing four of their last six. At 9-7 SU (8-7-1 ATS), they did not appear to be a primary contender for the Super Bowl, but then they jelled, beating the Falcons and Panthers before triumphing over the Eagles in the NFC title game and taking the Steelers to the brink in the Super Bowl.
Can this possibly happen again?
First, let's take a look at the numbers:
To Win NFC West
ARIZONA CARDINALS +140
San Francisco 49ers +240
Seattle Seahawks +210
St. Louis Rams +1100
To Win Super Bowl: +2800
To Win NFC title: +1400
To Reach Conference title game: +700
Under 8.5 wins -125
Over 8.5 wins -105
The conversation that surrounds the Arizona Cardinals these days is about whether this team can get similar performances out of people like Kurt Warner (4583 yards, 67% completions) and the trio of wide receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston) who all topped 1000 yards through the air. The running game really lacked spark, as Edgerrin James, who was brought aboard as a big-money free agent, did not pan out that well. Tim Hightower (2.8 ypc) scored ten TD's, but the Cards have not been able to carve things out for a "go-to" back.
That could change this year is first-round draft choice Chris "Beanie" Wells works out for them. Wells was a standout at Ohio State who sometimes fell victim to injury, but he is a big back who runs with speed, and he is Arizona's best possibility for gaining balance in the offense, and that is something Ken Whisenhunt wants to do, now that Todd Haley has gone off to Kansas City, is establish a dependable ground attack as he did when he was offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh. This will all require a better effort in terms of run blocking from the offensive line, which did not add anyone of genuine significance in the off-season.
The defense was sometimes its own worst enemy in 2008, giving up ungodly totals like 56 points to the Jets, 48 points to the Eagles and 27 or more on three other occasions. There is much work that has to be done. Defensive end Darnell Dockett can get some pressure going from his defensive end spot, but the Cards are going to have to get more from outside linebacker Chike Okafor and defensive end Bertrand Berry, who combined for just nine sacks last year.
The secondary is a potential strength. Strong safety Adrian Wilson is a Pro Bowl performer, and it is possible that cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be headed in that direction. Antrel Rolle, a former corner, joins Wilson at free safety, while Bryant McFadden comes over from the Steelers to man a corner spot. Arizona spent a third-round pick on Alabama safety Rashad Johnson and a fourth-rounder on small college prospect Greg Toler of Saint Paul's.
A lot of first-year running backs have come out and had great debut campaigns in the NFL; just recently we've seen the likes of Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton and Matt Forte. If Wells stays healthy enough and catches on quickly enough to leap into that category, this Arizona attack is going to be more dangerous than it was before, perhaps enough to overcome defensive deficiencies.
In the division, the 49ers are without a real quarterback and can't sign their top draft choice (Michael Crabtree) in what is an area of need, and St. Louis has to rebuild. Seattle looms as the Cards' main threat. It is unusual that a team that came just moments away from a Super Bowl title would be listed at 28/1 to do it the next season, as Arizona is in the NFL football futures odds, but that presents value. They should also be able to get past the 8.5-win mark in the NFL odds.