The Cardinals finished the 2011 campaign on a high note, winning seven of their last nine games, but their lackluster performance over the first half of the season can't be forgotten. With a tough schedule and an improving NFC West, Arizona will be hard-pressed to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
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The quarterback position remains the biggest question mark, with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton expected to battle for the starting spot. Defensively, the Cardinals should continue to get better, but the team's fate will depend on its offensive performance, particularly under center.
Although it was a relatively quiet offseason in Arizona, the team managed to accomplish its most pressing goals. Defensive end Calais Campbell was locked up with a five-year, $55 million contract, and guard Adam Snyder was brought in to help solidify an offensive line that seemingly always under-performs. Despite those additions, the Cardinals failed to bring in a proven left tackle, an area that's plagued the team for years.
Longtime Cardinal Darnell Dockett is the heart of the Arizona defense.
Michael Floyd was selected with the 13th overall pick in the draft to help take pressure off of All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd will be counted on to be the team's No. 2 wideout and needs to produce immediate results. Cornerback Jamell Fleming didn't address a true area of need, but the Cardinals think they got a steal by acquiring him in the third round. Fourth-round pick Bobby Massie will be given every opportunity to earn the starting job at right tackle, as long as he progresses as expected.
The Cardinals have benefited from playing in a relatively weak division over the past handful of years, but the NFC West has been improving at a steady rate. This year will be no different as both San Francisco and Seattle appear to be formidable opponents and will contend for the division title.
To have a shot at winning the division for the first time since 2009, Arizona will need a solid start as winnable games against Miami, St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota come up on the schedule in four straight weeks prior to the team's bye in Week 10. In addition, the Cardinals will likely need to sweep the season series with St. Louis while splitting with their other division rivals. Notable road games against New England, Green Bay and Atlanta also loom on what looks to be a challenging schedule.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver. Fitzgerald is one of the NFL's best wide receivers, but he needs a consistent signal caller to get him the ball.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Darnell Dockett, defensive tackle. Dockett is one of the most active defensive linemen in the league and is the heart and soul of the Arizona defense.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
Kolb takes the reins as the starting quarterback and rejuvenates a Cardinals offense that has struggled over the past two years. Arizona also needs more playmakers to emerge on offense and must continue to thrive on special teams in order to reach the postseason.