NFL Team Previews: Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals finished strong last season, closing with five wins in their last seven games and head coach Ken Wisenhunt is hoping his team can carry that over into 2012. They’ve got one preseason game under their belt, Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game loss to the New Orleans Saints. And they’ve got one preseason injury under their belt, to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb. TheSportsNotebook breaks down Arizona and takes a guess at how many games they’ll win in this coming year…

OFFENSE: Kolb’s injury is probably worse luck for him than it is for the team. John Skelton was behind center during the team’s closing push last year and while he doesn’t have the raw tools Kolb does, there’s not much difference in performance. And that’s before you consider Kolb’s ability to get hurt just when he’s got a chance to prove himself.

The bigger problem the Arizona offense faces is finding time for whoever is quarterback to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. This offensive line is mediocre across the board, with guard Daryn Colledge being the best of the group, and he’s far from spectacular. Nor is this line all that young, so there’s no reason to hope for a better future. Wisenhunt and his staff are going to have his smoke and mirrors to create opportunities for their skill people.

Fitzgerald is the game’s best wideout and Arizona can’t let his career go to waste without a delivery system in place. Andre Roberts is a solid #2 receiver, able to go underneath and veteran tight end Todd Heap can do the same, if only he can stay healthy. Early Doucet has nice speed and is a respectable #3 receiver. Then in the backfield, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are both explosive, though keeping healthy is a paramount concern here as well. The bottom line? Arizona’s got the playmakers. It’s just about giving them a chance to win games.

DEFENSE: The offense might have question marks, but I really like the personnel on the Arizona defense. For a 3-4 alignment, the defensive line is exceptionally talented, with 6’8” Calais Campbell able to disrupt passing lanes and tackles Dan Williams and Darnell Dockett being stalwarts against the run. With a group like this forcing attention from opposing offensive lines, the linebackers need to step up and make plays. O’Brien Schofield and Sam Acho are both above-average outside linebackers and each has the talent to make 2012 a breakout year. The guess here is that at least one, and perhaps both, takes their game to the next level.

Patrick Peterson is a rising star at the corner, with lockdown cover skills, a solid nose for the ball in the running game and a special teams gamebreaker. While William Gay on the other corner is a weak link, the safeties, Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson are both excellent. There’s nothing this Arizona defense doesn’t do well, and they have the playmakers to create game-changing moments.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 6.5—I’m definitely taking the Over in this spot. When I was doing my Monday podcast with Greg DePalma this week I downplayed Arizona’s chances, with the mediocre quarterbacking and subpar offensive front in my mind. But the defense and the skill players are enough to get to eight or nine wins again and beat this number.