The Arizona Cardinals are in a weird place. They were expected to perform better over the last two seasons, but are now considered the bottom team in an NFC West that looks to be the strongest division in football this season. The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams are all trending upward, but the Cardinals could go either way.
With plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, the Cardinals should be better than a four-win team, but most aren't projecting as much. A new quarterback is what they desperately needed this season and they got that in Carson Palmer, but who knows how well he'll hold up behind that offensive line?
On top of all of that, the Cardinals have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. They rank in as the seventh-toughest schedule in the NFL with an opponent record of 131-121-4 last season. Let's take a look at the schedule below:
|1||Sept. 8||@ St. Louis||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|2||Sept. 15||vs. Detroit||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|3||Sept. 22||@ New Orleans||1 p.m.||FOX|
|4||Sept. 29||@ Tampa Bay||1 p.m.||FOX|
|5||Oct. 6||vs. Carolina||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|6||Oct. 13||@ San Francisco||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|7||Oct 17||vs. Seattle||8:25 p.m.||NFL|
|8||Oct. 27||vs. Atlanta||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|10||Nov. 10||vs, Houston||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 17||@ Jacksonville||1 p.m.||FOX|
|12||Nov. 24||vs. Indianapolis||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|13||Dec. 1||@ Philadelphia||1 p.m.||FOX|
|14||Dec. 8||vs. St. Louis||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Dec. 15||@ Tennessee||1 p.m.||FOX|
|16||Dec. 22||@ Seattle||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|17||Dec. 29||vs. San Francisco||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
Toughest out: Seattle Seahawks (away)
The Cardinals aren't built like the Rams. They aren't constructed to take down the rest of the NFC West, and most will tell you that beating the Seattle Seahawks on the road is a tough proposition. It always sucked playing them in their house even when they weren't a very good team. Now that they have an equal claim to most talented roster in the NFL, they're going to be even tougher. Winning this one will be difficult for Arizona.
Must win: St. Louis Rams (away)
If the Cardinals want to make a statement about their place in the NFC West, they can look no further than getting themselves out to a proper start. They travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams in the first week of the season and have some tough matchups following that one.
Beating the Rams at home is something that the Cardinals hope will be a given. Beating them on the road will be much tougher, but if they manage to pull it off, then the Cardinals set themselves on the right track and potentially put the Rams off on a losing streak. That would be a major win-win.
Don't overlook: Detroit Lions
The Lions finished with a worse record than the Cardinals last season. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson played well, but just about everything else fell apart. The Cardinals play the Lions in Week 2 for their home opener, and some Cardinals fans are assuming it will be a win.
That said, the Lions were a team many expected to be a playoff contender last season. And there's plenty of reasons for that. In the end, the Lions are only one season removed from really high expectations, and they could end up being very good this year. That would be bad news for the Cardinals.
For more on the Cardinals, go to Revenge of the Birds.