There was no joy in the desert last year as the mighty Cardinals struggled through a disappointing season and a 7-8-1 record, missing the playoffs.
It was a big step down for a team that had Super Bowl aspirations and had made it all the way to the NFC Championship game the year prior where they were flattened by the Carolina Panthers by a score of 49-15.
Despite the ageless Carson Palmer’s great season, that championship debacle and his four interceptions seemed to signal that perhaps Father Time was nipping at his heels.
Palmer wasn’t terrible last season but his stats dipped in terms of touchdowns and overall quarterback rating. He may have had somewhat of a down year and one wonders if at 37-years-old that it may be all downhill from here.
Still, the Cardinals are going into 2017 with Palmer set to start and a less than enviable backup situation with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert backing him up.
The highlight of last year had to be second-year running back David Johnson who emerged as a dynamic double threat. Johnson led the NFL in all-purpose yards, with 2,118 and added 20 total touchdowns.
Despite a week 17 knee injury, Johnson is ready to go and should play an even bigger role in the offense in 2017. Head coach Bruce Arians is on record as saying he wants to get Johnson 30 touches a game so expect another monster statistical performance.
The Cards receiving corps is led by future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald who at the tender age of 33 is still performing at a high level.
John Brown is the other starter and dropped off big from 2015, whether he is able to regain form will be a big question for the offense. The team drafted Grambling speedster Chad Williams in the third round of April’s draft.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals are solid but not spectacular with the strength being a secondary led by former LSU Tigers Patrick Peterson and Tyrann “Honey Badger” Matthieu although another top-notch corner needs to emerge.
The defensive line took a hit when the Cardinals let Calais Campbell depart via free agency and are hoping second-year lineman Robert Nkemdiche can pick up the slack.
The linebacking corps is solid and led by Chandler Jones, Markus Golden and aging Karlos Dansby. Hasson Reddick was drafted in the first round and should see significant playing time.
Special teams were a weakness last year and that is an important part of the game that needs to be addressed.
Bruce Arians returns as head coach and has worked magic with the Cards. But the key to season rests on the aging arm of Carson Palmer.
A weak division and a rebound by key players could make the Cardinals a playoff team once again but with the Seattle Seahawks ruling the NFC West it will likely be as a wild card.