The final bits of confetti have been swept up in Indianapolis, and the Giants are parading through New York with the Lombardi trophy in tow. Enough with the reminiscing and let us now turn our attention to the 2012-2013 season. Allow me to be among the first to throw my hat in the ring of prognostication. The Arizona Cardinals will supplant the 49ers and win the NFC west in 2012. Rest easy my desert dwelling friends, your beloved red birds shall fly high next season. It was not that long ago that the Cardinals were a Santonio Holmes toe drag away from being the champions. Of course it was not long after that surprise run for the title that the wheels began to wobble on the Arizona band wagon. Kurt Warner walked out the door and the wheels came completely off. A plethora of curious off season moves followed. Derek Anderson, Joey Porter and Bryant McFadden have all come, not contributed and gone as a few examples. Well, one can only hope that Porter is now gone.
Let us now turn our attention as to why I firmly believe that the Cardinals will regain their grip at the top of the west in 2012. The roller coaster ride that was last year is indeed a tale of two seasons in one. After winning in week one, the Cardinals found themselves sitting at 1-6 having lost to the lowly Redskins and Vikings in that span. It would have been very easy, and not all that hard to imagine that at this point the Cardinals would begin mailing it in and thinking about off season vacation plans. The 49ers were running away and hiding from the division and Andrew Luck as your first overall pick had to be sounding nice to Arizona. However, this team turned out to not be your father's Cardinals after all. In the next 9 weeks the Cardinals would show no quit and pull out 7 victories. The Cowboys, Eagles and even the mighty 49ers would fall to the Cards in this second half mad dash to respectability. Finishing at 8-8 after the way they came out of the gate last season is nothing to be overlooked. It showed character, it showed discipline and most importantly it showed that Ken Whisenhunt still had his team's support. Do not discount momentum gained at the end of one season carrying over into the off season approach a team takes moving forward. The Detroit Lions built on a 4 game winning streak at the end of 2010 into a playoff berth in 2011.
The Cardinals head into 2012 with the same no quit spirit that they built at the end of last season. Of course that spirit and a dollar fifty will get you a newspaper. Arizona must also make the necessary adjustments offensively and defensively to become much more consistent. Finishing 24th overall in total offense with Chris Wells having his best season to date and arguably the second best receiver in football is inexcusable. Something went very awry on the offensive side of the ball last season and needs to be addressed. Of course I am talking about the quarterback position. To call it spotty is an insult to Dalmatians everywhere. It was plain and simple: awful. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton combined for under 4000 yards total and a dismal 20 touchdowns to 22 interception ratio. If those are the quarterback numbers you want Rod Graves then you should have signed Jon Kitna. It is now time for the obligatory plea for the Cardinals to go hard after Peyton Manning. It is a match made in heaven for sure and the Cards have to explore Manning and any interest he may have in heading west. Regardless, it is time to cut bait with Kolb before having to pony up the 7 million dollar bonus he is due in March. Assuming Manning does not come to the Cardinals then it is time to turn the reins over to Skelton. Use the entire off season to build up the kid's confidence and tailor an offensive scheme that fits his strengths. Skelton has shown that he is smart enough to target Fitzgerald regardless of the coverage, so let's press on with the kid. Bring on board a veteran to hold down the ship if Skelton gets hurt, but let the youngster know he is the man. The running game is in good shape with Ryan Williams on track to return from his season ending injury a year ago and Beanie is showing that maybe he can play a little bit nicked up. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are better than average complimentary receivers to help out Fitzgerald. Rob Housler is going to be a good tight end in this league and Todd Heap may have a season or two left in him. This is an offensive unit that can blow away the division with the right quarterback. Go get Peyton if at all possible and if not, commit to Skelton right now and coach the big armed kid up.
Defensively the Cardinals finished 17th overall in the league in 2011. At first glance that is middle of the pack and not too bad. However, a closer look at how the season unfolded shows that the defense also suffered from the overall Jekyll and Hyde effect reflected in the team's record. The defense allowed 183 points over the first seven games and then cut that number to 165 points over the final nine. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton admittedly cut back the defensive scheme early in the season as the unit floundered. They were thinking too much, not reacting fast enough and getting gashed because of it. Also, there was a concerted movement made to get younger players on the field as the season progressed. Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield helped to improve the sack totals from 16 over the course of the first seven games to 26 sacks amassed over the final nine contests. Calais Campbell has emerged as one of the premier defensive ends in the game and the Cardinals will franchise him if they have to. It is vital to keep him in the fold. Patrick Peterson has already proven to be a force in the return game and will only get better as a second year cornerback in 2012. Look for the Cardinals' defense to closely resemble the Steelers' defensive units from 2005-2010 as Horton gets them up to speed on the system. In an offensively challenged NFC west, the Cardinal defense will dominate.
In closing, I believe that the Arizona Cardinals will finish 11-5 in 2012 and be the NFC west division winners. Defensively the Cardinals will smother their competition with dominant pressure off the edges and all pro linebacker Daryl Washington patrolling the middle. Offensively they will be led by the improved quarterback play from incumbent starter John Skelton or free agent signee Peyton Manning .The improved passing game will combine with the power running game led by Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams to lead the Cardinals to the top. Bank on it folks.