Other than the 49ers the Arizona Cardinals are the team most likely to end up with a winning season. Right after the season ended Kurt Warner retired and the big question mark was if Matt Leinart could resurrect his career this season. We know the answer to that one--the Cardinals organization cut him and moved undrafted free agent rookie Max Hall into the backup role and made Derek Anderson the starter.
Free Agent Signings:
Offensively the Cardinals really struggled during the pre-season. The quarterback carousel didn't help matters any, and now that Anderson is the starter things should settle down for them a bit. Their offensive line needs help in the worst way. They drafted Andre Roberts in the 3rd round but the new WR that's most likely to make an impact soonest is undrafted free agent Stephen Williams. Williams tore it up during the pre-season and was a favorite target of just about everybody. Look for him to get some good work in 4 WR sets and to try to move into that third WR spot behind Fitzgerald and Doucet.
This won't be a high scoring offensive like we're used to seeing, at least not at first. That could possibly develop over time, but the offensive line has to gel first and the QB situation has to be sorted out. Derek Anderson was unspectacular in pre-season work and Cardinal fans need to pray that he's going to perform better this year than his track record indicates, otherwise they may end up with an undrafted rookie starting at QB for them.
The Cardinals defense has some high and low. The secondary could be scary good--Greg Toler is an underrated corner and Kerry Rhodes and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie will roam the safety spots. Daryl Washington will be starting at LB, but overall I think their linebackers are going to be quiet this year. The loss of Dansby is going to hurt them. Up front the defensive line can hold stout against the run but has trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks. An improved pass rush will make the secondary even more dangerous.
On special teams I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. No unit looked worse or better than the other--both were solid. LaRod Stephens-Howling has the potential to break a few big ones, but he's too inconsistent a returner right now.
Week 1 AZ @ St.Louis--I think that this could be an upset in favor of the Rams.
Week 2 AZ @ ATL--This should be an interesting one. AZ's secondary is good enough to defend against Atlanta's passing game. Close game in favor of the Cardinals.
Week 3 Oak @ AZ--Upset for the Raiders who have a pretty decent pass rush that will beat up on D.A. all day
Week 4 AZ @ SD--Win for the Cardinals. San Diego takes awhile to find it's groove.
Week 5 NO @ AZ--Loss. I don't think that Arizona's defense is well-rounded enough to stop the Saints.
Week 6 BYE
Week 7 AZ @ Sea--Win for Seattle. I think we'll be seeing the beginnings of a QB controversy by this point in the season.
Week 8 TB @ AZ--Win for Arizona. TB is making some right moves but they won't be able to compete with the Cardinals.
Week 9 AZ @ Min--The Cardinals couldn't beat Minnesota with Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin. No way they do it with Derek Anderson or Max Hall
Week 10 Sea @ AZ--Win for Arizona. Playing on their home turf and well into the swing of things.
Week 11 AZ @ KC--Win for Arizona. I think that KC won't have a good enough defense to stop the Cardinals, and the Chief's offense is suspect.
Week 12 SF @ AZ--We swept the Cardinals with Warner and Boldin. There's no reason to think we can't do it again.
Week 13 STL @ AZ--Cardinals win this one. Rams are improving but I don't think they'll win on the road here.
Week 14 DEN @ AZ--Right now I think the odds favor Denver but I'm picking the upset for AZ. I have no confidence in Kyle Orton and I think the Cardinals secondary will have a good day.
Week 15 AZ @ CAR--I think the Cardinals win this one. I think it's going to be a long year for the Panthers.
Week 16 DAL @ AZ--Dallas has too many offensive weapons for the Cardinals to handle. Easy win for them.
Week 17 AZ @ SF--Playing at Candlestick, last regular season game of the year? Cardinals don't stand a chance.
So that's a 9-7 record for the Cardinals (I think the 49ers go 10-6 or 11-5) and a second place finish in the West. My final rankings in the NFC West are:
1. 49ers 11-5
2. Cardinals 9-7
3. Rams 7-9
4. Seahawks 6-10