Every year there are typically four new participants who make the NFL playoffs. Some of them are certainly surprises. Looking at the landscape of the league heading into the 2013 season, fans and teams should remains very wary of the Arizona Cardinals.
Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer bring new identity to offense
The arguments can fly all they want about quarterback Carson Palmer. Yes, he has no playoff wins in his career. Yes, he is 34-years old. It doesn’t matter. The guy at the very least knows how to put up numbers and has gotten his team to the playoffs before. Better still he has three huge keys in his favor. The first is Larry Fitzgerald. Palmer is talented enough and smart enough to understand the value of a superstar wide receiver. Better still he will have a blossoming number two option in Michael Floyd on the other side and a highly underrated tight end in Rob Housler (45 catches for 417 yards in 2012). Secondly the offensive line that gave up 58 sacks last season got a huge boost. Levi Brown is back at left tackle after injuries knocked him out last year. Veteran Eric Winston was brought in to hold down right tackle. Most importantly is the addition of Jonathan Cooper, a highly touted guard out of North Carolina expected to help improve interior blocking. Then there is the man at the top. People quickly forget that Bruce Arians stepped into a tough situation last year replacing Chuck Pagano during his cancer fight, and not only got Indianapolis to the playoffs but won Coach of the Year. He has tutored great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, has two Super Bowl rings and decades of experience. If anybody was ready for a head coaching job, it was him.
Tyrann Mathieu adds another playmaker to defense and special teams
Yet the true depth of Arizona’s contention isn’t just on offense. Due to their rough season last year, it was overlooked that the Cardinals field the 12th ranked defense in the league. Stars like Calaise Campbell, Daryl Washington and Patrick Peterson make up a group that doesn’t like for ability. Throw in two able linebackers in Karlos Dansby and Kevin Minter and they are that much stronger for it. However, the biggest addition is the one everybody feared when it first happened. Tyrann Mathieu was a lightning rod for controversy during the draft process due to his well known drug-related problems at LSU. The fear was whichever team he joined he would poison. Arizona clearly didn’t feel that way when they took him early in the third round. All he has done since then is make plays. With the preseason barely two weeks old he already has 11 tackles, a sack and a pass defense along with some very solid punt returns. Adding a potential playmaker of that magnitude to an already good defense tends to turn the knob from “good” to “great”.
The Arizona Cardinals are not a finished product, but they no longer lack talent or experience. With Bruce Arians guiding Carson Palmer on offense and a bevy of dangerous options on defense, this team has no reason to fear their division, nor the rest of the NFL for that matter.