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2007 Season Previews
Arizona Cardinals (Last Year: 5-11)
Veteran Additions:
FB Terrelle Smith, OT Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, DE Joe Tafoya, DE Rodney Bailey, DT Ross Kolodziej, CB Rod Hood, CB Ralph Brown, S Terrence Holt.
Draft Picks:
TE Ben Patrick, OT Levi Brown, NT Alan Branch, ILB Buster Davis, KR Steve Breaston.
Major Subtractions:
QB John Navarre (IND), WR Troy Walters, TE Fred Wakefield (OAK), OT Leonard Davis (DAL), G Milford Brown, G Chris Liwienski (MIA), C Alex Stepanovich (CIN), DT Kendrick Clancy, OLB Orlando Huff, OLB James Darling, CB David Macklin (WAS), CB Robert Tate, S Robert Griffith, S Jack Brewer.

Offense This Year: In my 2006 season preview of the Cardinals, I compared their offense to a bland tie wrapped in a golden box with ruby and emerald studs embossed on the cover. Despite all of their weapons on offense, the team averaged only 19.4 points per game in 2005, which proved to be the primary catalyst for its 5-11 record. Well, 2006 wasn't any different for the most part. Arizona saw its offensive average drop even further to 16.1 the first 11 weeks of the season. It remained a mystery as to why the Cardinals couldn't score any points. Receivers Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson finished the year with a combined 192 catches and 2,889 yards. Edgerrin James, a star the Colts for half a decade, was in the backfield. Matt Leinart looked great in a Monday night affair against an undefeated Chicago Bears squad. So, how in the world was the scoring unit held to less than 18 points in seven of 10 contests?

Despite that negative paragraph, I'm expecting great things out of Arizona's offense. I gave the team's stats for the first 11 weeks for a reason; the Cardinals scored at least 20 points in each of their final six games of the year. It seemed as though Leinart was able to finally develop a rapport with Boldin, Fitzgerald and Johnson; he threw for more than 210 yards against Denver and Seattle, and a whopping 405 yards at Minnesota. With 11 starts under his belt, I expect Leinart to have an incredible sophomore campaign.

The Cardinals' top offseason acquisition was fifth-overall pick Levi Brown, who is already penciled into the starting lineup at right tackle. A major reason for Arizona's offensive ineptness was the horrendous play of the line. Brown will drop the team's sack total and (with the help of newly acquired fullback Terrelle Smith) will undoubtedly raise James' meager yards-per-carry average of 3.4. Two more important additions to the front were left tackle Mike Gandy and center Al Johnson, both of whom are upgrades over incumbents Oliver Ross and Nick Leckey. At guard, Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui are young players who have lots of potential. Arizona's offensive line has been renowned for its inability to pass or run block the past couple of years. That's definitely not the case anymore.

Defense This Year: While the Steelers are rumored to be slowly transitioning to the 4-3, Pittsburgh's former offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, who was hired by the Cardinals this spring to be their new head coach, is moving his defense over to the 3-4. Coincidence? Probably. Regardless, Whisenhunt needed a massive nose tackle to clog interior running lanes, much like Casey Hampton does in the Steel City. Whisenhunt got his guy early in the second round, taking the 330-pound Alan Branch off the board. Many talking heads on TV didn't like the idea because Branch is often lethargic and inconsistent. I loved the move; Branch was a top-10 prospect in November. Going so late in the draft may put a potato chip on his shoulder, motivating him to work harder. Joining Branch on the three-man front figures to be Darnell Dockett and Kendrick Clancy. The former is a solid player who had little to do with the fact that Arizona yielded 24.3 points per game in 2006.

I would say that was more the fault of the linebackers and pass rush. Chike Okeafor and Bert Berry, both of whom played defensive end last year, will probably be moving to outside linebacker to form a rotation with Karlos Dansby. The three players combined for 22.5 sacks in 2006, but none of them had more than 8.5. The Cardinals needed a top-notch sack artist this offseason, but failed to secure one. The inside linebackers look much less promising. Gerald Hayes is a solid athlete, but who will be penciled in next to him? Monty Beisel was a free-agent acquisition last spring who notched only 16 tackles, while third-round rookie Buster Davis has no NFL experience.

Luckily, the secondary's not as bad. In fact, it's one of the strongest units on the entire roster. Top free-agent acquisition Rod Hood will join former No. 1 pick Antrel Rolle at corner. For those of you unfamiliar with Hood, I've watched him play for the Eagles the past four years. He's an extremely underrated player who has the capability of making the Pro Bowl. Arizona, unlike a lot of NFL teams, has great depth at cornerback; Eric Green and Ralph Brown are as good as they come, as far as reserves are concerned. I haven't even mentioned the best defensive back the Cardinals have yet; strong safety Adrian Wilson is one of the best players at his position. He'll be starting next to Terrence Holt, who has been with the Lions the past few seasons. Holt's not the greatest player in the world, but he's an upgrade over Robert Griffith, in my opinion.

Schedule and Intangibles: The Cardinals went just 3-5 in their new facility a season after finishing 2-5 at Sun Devil Stadium. They need a much better home-field advantage to become a legitimate playoff contender. ... Since 1999, Arizona has surrendered eight punt or kickoffs for touchdowns, while scoring only two of its own. Opponents were also able to block two of the team's punts in 2006. That's ridiculous. How does all that happen? Whisenhunt needs to address his special teams immediately. ... Despite nailing 19-of-21 field goals from beyond 40 yards in 2005, Neil Rackers struggled last season, converting on just 8-of-17 from the same distance. ... Five of the Cardinals' 11 losses were by a touchdown or less. They need to start closing out games. ... Like the 49ers, Arizona has a balanced schedule. Tough, non-divisional foes include Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Cincinnati and New Orleans. Luckily, the Cardinals also get Washington, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Cleveland.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

Divisional Rival History:
San Francisco: The NFL's weird. Case in point: The 49ers swept the Seahawks, but were swept by lowly Arizona.
Seattle Seahawks: Although the Cardinals beat the Seahawks last year, 27-21 in Arizona, Seattle owns this rivalry; it has claimed seven of the past nine meetings. While a split is certainly possible, history says the Seahawks will sweep.
St. Louis Rams: Don't ask me how, but the road team has won the past four meetings. This rivalry's so bizarre it'll probably happen again this year.

Fantasy Football:
Matt Leinart: There's no fantasy value here because I have a feeling people are going to take him too high. Still, his numbers figure to be impressive. He was able to finally click with his receivers after Week 11 and even threw for more than 400 yards at Minnesota. If Levi Brown isn't a bust, Leinart will have more time to throw.
Projected Stats: 3,800 passing yards. 24 passing TDs. 60 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 352.

Edgerrin James: Edgerrin James disappointed fantasy owners last year, as he ran for only 3.4 yards per carry. That number will definitely increase this time around; Brown, Mike Gandy, Al Johnson and Terrelle Smith will see to that.
Projected Stats: 1,400 rushing yards. 250 receiving yards. 10 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 225.

Leonard Pope: The rookie tight end accumulated most of his numbers in December, as he caught eight passes for 78 yards. Prior to that month, he had the same amount of receptions. Tight ends don't do much in Arizona's offense, so I wouldn't take Leonard Pope in your fantasy draft if I were you.
Projected Stats: 310 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 37.

Larry Fitzgerald: Undoubtedly one of the top receivers in real and fantasy football. Once Matt Leinart gets more experience, his touchdown totals will increase.
Projected Stats: 1,200 receiving yards. 9 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 174.

Anquan Boldin: Read what I wrote about Larry Fitzgerald. Same applies to Anquan Boldin.
Projected Stats: 1,275 receiving yards. 7 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 169.

Bryant Johnson: We have no idea how good this guy really is because he's stuck behind Fitzgerald and Boldin. We caught a glimpse when Fitzgerald was injured; Johnson had a career-high 740 yards and four touchdowns in 2006. Worth taking in a deep league just in case one of the top wide outs goes down.
Projected Stats: 650 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 83.

Neil Rackers: I think all the publicity got to Neil Rackers last year; he was only 8-of-17 from beyond 40 yards. Be careful if you draft him. Like baseball closers, kickers can be head cases.
Projected Stats: 24-33 FG (3-6 50+). 39 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 124.

Arizona Defense: Arizona doesn't get the sacks to be considered a top-notch fantasy defense. You can probably spot start them against Washington (Week 7), Tampa Bay (Week 9), Cleveland (Week 13) and Atlanta if Joey Harrington's the starter (Week 16).
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.

Analysis: If the Cardinals weren't the Cardinals, I'd declare them as one of my sleeper teams in 2007. I just can't do it; every year, people think Arizona's going to make a run at the playoffs, and every year that person looks like a fool. Personally, I'd rather be wrong about something else.

Projection: 7-9 (Tied 3rd in the NFC West)

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