The Arizona Cardinals endured a frustrating season in 2016, falling from Super Bowl contenders to the middle of the pack.
Bruce Arians’ men boasted a 13-3 record in the previous term, which guided them into the playoffs and then into the NFC Championship game, only to be undone by the Carolina Panthers.
However, the Cardinals took a serious step back, falling to a 7-8-1 record as quarterback Carson Palmer struggled to connect with his receivers throughout the season.
Their defense was bolstered by the addition of Chandler Jones, but their secondary was exposed outside of Patrick Peterson, letting their side down on a number of occasions.
As a result, they missed the post-season for only the second time since Arians’ arrival in 2013, and although there is plenty of work ahead of them, it would not be a surprise to see them return next year.
We’ll now take a look back at the last campaign to see what went wrong for the Cardinals and what they will need to do to compete for a place in the post-season.
The Cardinals were handed a gift on the opening day, playing the New England Patriots without Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start in the NFL. However, the club failed to rise to the occasion as Garoppolo picked them apart to put enough points on the board, although Chandler Catanzaro still had the chance to win the match late in the game.
The kicker had a 47-yard shot at the posts to hand the Cardinals a one-point win, only to skew the kick wide of the posts.
Arizona bounced back in week two with an emphatic win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, putting 40 points on the board.
However, their poor form would return in back-to-back defeats to the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams, with their offense was again stuttering due to issues Palmer firing the ball downfield. His rhythm was suspect along with the protection from the offensive line, leading to their struggles.
Two favourable fixtures came at the right time for Arians’ men as his side were able to find a semblance of form against the struggling San Francisco 49ers and the New York Jets, putting both teams to the sword with relative ease. The results allowed the club to get back to .500 ahead of the visit of the Seattle Seahawks.
Their clash with their divisional rivals proved to be a microcosm of their term as both offenses failed to fire. Catanzaro made one field goal during regulation and saw another blocked by Bobby Wagner, while the Seahawks did just enough to send the match to overtime. Catanzaro put his team ahead, only for Hauschka to answer, but the Cardinals kicker then missed a game-winner from 24 yards. However, the Seattle man did the same from 28, ending the match in a tie.
The Cardinals returned to the scene of their NFC Championship game defeat to the Panthers, but were once again beaten by Ron Rivera’s men. Their struggles were highlighted after the bye when they endured an almighty tussle with the 49ers at home, needing a Catanzaro field goal at the end of the regulation to secure the win.
The Minnesota Vikings were able to hold a comeback attempt from Arians’ men to claim a 30-24 win, while the Atlanta Falcons simply blew them out in their clash at the Georgia Dome, with Matt Ryan carving apart Arizona’s defense.
A win over the Washington Redskins stemmed the tide as Palmer produced one of his best performances of the season, securing the vitory with a late strike to JJ Nelson. However, they followed that result up with their most disappointing loss of the season to the Miami Dolphins
Despite Ryan Tannehill being sidelined during the match, it took too long for the Cardinals to click into gear. Even though they levelled the scores late in the game with a Nelson strike and a two-point conversion from David Johnson, Miami’s backup Matt Moore drove the length of the field to allow Andrew Franks to kick a game-winning field goal.
The New Orleans Saints’ offense had too much power for the Cardinals to cope in a high-scoring defeat on home soil, although they bounced back with a win over the Seattle Seahawks, damaging their rivals’ push for first-round bye in the playoffs. They ended the term on the highest of notes with a hammering of the Los Angeles Rams, finishing with a 7-8-1 record.
Arizona may take the opportunity to look at their quarterback situation. Palmer has been a fine player for the club, but his injury history and age are worrisome for the future of the franchise. A solid quarterback could be there for them to take in the draft, with DeShaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer available for selection.
The Cardinals also need to secure the long-term futures of Jones and Calais Campbell on their defensive line, although there might only be cash for one of those players. Safety Tony Jefferson might be too expensive for the club to keep, while Kevin Minter may receive more lucrative offers from elsewhere in the NFL.
Running backs Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson are also available on the free-agent market, although the Cardinals should be able to bring one of them back at the least.
Arizona have done a solid job in recent years in bring veterans to the club, who have been considered at the end of the line in their career. Players like Andrew Whitworth, Mike Adams, Vincent Jackson, DeMarcus Ware and Terence Newman could be of interest in the second round of the free-agency process.
The Cardinals are unlikely to spend a large amount of cash during the open market session as a lot of their cap space will go on keeping Jones at the club, especially considering the $80m deal given to Olivier Vernon last year. Meanwhile, the draft is deep in a lot of areas that Arians’ men need to bolster their roster so expect them to scoop up talent as they have in the past.
The Cardinals have the ability to bounce back to reach the playoffs in the 2017 season. As long as Palmer can bounce back with a strong term to banish his demons from the 2016 campaign – he should be good enough to fire along with having one of the best running backs in the NFL beside him in the backfield.
David Johnson was outstanding last season and has the talent to drive his team to the post-season almost single-handed on offense. Therefore backing the Cardinals to win the NFC Conference at +1200 with BetOnline sportsbook would be a wise option, with the club returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2008 term.
Arizona Cardinals To Win NFC Conference
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