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MHR 2006 NFL Preview - Arizona Cardinals

The Broncos head to Arizona tomorrow night to play the Cardinals in the final tune-up for the regular season that kicks off next Sunday in St. Louis. In what has become a rarity in the NFL, the Broncos also play Arizona during the season, Week 15 in the desert.   Here is the way I see things shaping up for the Red-Birds in 2006  -  

Projected Record

5-11, 3rd Place NFC West

Projected Schedule W/L

San Francisco    (W)
@Seattle        (L)
St. Louis        (W)
@Atlanta         (L)
Kansas City      (L)
Chicago          (W)
@Oakland         (L)
@Green Bay       (L)
Dallas           (L)
Detroit          (W)
@Minnesota       (W)
@St. Louis       (L)
Seattle          (L)
Denver           (L)
@San Francisco   (L)
@San Diego       (L)

Hope springs eternal in the Valley of the Sun.  About 15 years overdo, the Cards will finally get a new stadium, enabling them to stop playing in a stadium mediocre by college standards.  Welcome to the NFL Arizona Fans!  On the field the Cardinals made waves by signed Edgerrin James to bolster a running attack that was near the bottom of the league in scoring last season.  Ironically, the Cardinals were the only team to be in the top 10 in both offense and defense last season yet still only won 5 games.  Matt Leinart fell to the Cards at #10, and they still have Kurt Warner to groom him.  They were everyones darling last year and things just didn't go well.  This will be the year for the Cardinals, right?  Ummmm, not so fast.
The Cardinals are set to mive in to their new digs this season.

Team Strengths - The list of skill players the Cardinals can run out there can rival anyone.  Kurt Warner, Anquon Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Edgerrin James create a pretty fearsome group on offense.  The Defense has it's share as well with Antrell Rolle, Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafore.  Denny Green is a proven winner and the Cardinals should start to see some results in his 3rd season.

Team Weaknesses - Sure the Cardinals have alot of talent within the skill position areas.  Where they lack talent and depth is up front.  With Edgerrin James in the backfield the pressure is going to be on the Cardinals from Day 1 to ease some of the pressure on Kurt Warner and keep time of possesion in their favor.   Injuries have decimated the line in the past and youth runs wild with the Sr. member of the line with only 8 years in the league.  The back seven on defense are also a bit suspect and will need to step it up for the Cardinals to be successful. Having alot of young talent can be exciting, but can leave you short in the leadership department, and with the exception of Kurt Warner the Cardinals have little veteran leadereship and that will be the major weakness in 2006.

Best Case Scenario - All that youth puts it together at the same time and Edgerrin James becomes a team leader on the field and off.  We find out that the Offensive Line isn't as bad as we thought, and Kurt Warner re-kindles the magic he had in St. Louis.  The energy brought on by the opening of a state-of-the-art facility translates to solid play on the field.  The Cardinals take advantage of a weak division to win 9 games and sneak into the playoffs.
James will be key for the Cards.

Worst Case Scenario - Warner and James get hurt, due to the beating they have to endure because of a suspect O-Line.  Matt Leinhart holds-out deep into training camp, thus becoming a non-factor.  The energy created by the new stadium is replaced with the apathy that has plagued the team since they arrived in Phoenix.  The Cards struggle to 3 wins, crumbling under the weight of a tough out-of-conference schedule that includes Denver, Kansas City and San Diego.

My Opinion - Last year the Cardinals were the darlings of the Pre-Season as every "expert" out there had the Cardinals getting to the playoffs, some picking them to win the NFC West.  None of it happened as the Cards stumbled to a 5-11 record.  There is alot to like about this team, but I refuse to fall in love will all the name recognition on the roster.  They are on the right track, but are missing "it", that one thing that make a team "special".  The Cardinals are going to be a tough out for anyone, and the thrill of the new pad will make home games in Arizona fun again.  The cushy environment will make visiting teams better, too, as the heat will not play a factor.  Another year of learing and another draft focused on the defense and O-Line will do the Cards well.  This won't be the year and the Cards will finish 5-11 again.