A best and worst case scenario exists for every team in sports including this upcoming 2018 Arizona Cardinals season. Despite the seemingly endless offseason predictions and analysis, we have no idea how this NFL season will play out. Sure, roster and draft picks can be evaluated but that all goes out the window once OTAs and training camp begins. Injuries, age and declining production aren’t easy to predict. New schemes and new players meshing together doesn’t always work how it should. Unsung heroes rise from nothing every year. Who would’ve thought when Drew Bledsoe was injured that unheralded backup Tom Brady would win five Super Bowls? We certainly didn’t expect to miss out on prime J.J. Watt the last two seasons. No one penciled in Kareem Hunt to be the NFL’s leading rusher as a rookie.
However, it is fair to estimate a spectrum that a team has the potential to exist within. To explain in a less annoyingly worded sentence: every team has a best and worst case scenario. A ceiling and a floor. A Peyton Manning and a Ryan Leaf.
Abiding by that belief, the following is the best and worst case scenarios for the 2018 Arizona Cardinals season.
Worst Case Scenarios
Let’s get the pessimism out of the way. There are absolutely a few ways this season could go horribly awry. The past few seasons haven’t shown Arizona to be juggernauts by any means and to avoid mediocrity or worse, they have to avoid these potential pitfalls.
The Run Game
With David Johnson as your lead man, usually, fans would feel comfortable with the ground game. However, there’s a lot of potential issues on this front. As has been written, the offensive line is questionable at best. Johnson is coming off of an injury. It shouldn’t affect him much but we’ve seen stranger things (and it’s a good show). If DJ goes down at any point, whoever the quarterback is will have a heck of a time. If the offensive line falls short, even Johnson may be made to look mortal. The underlying fear for this group may just be the quarterbacks. Sam Bradford is coming off of an injury, and you never know what you’ll get out of a rookie, even one as highly touted as Josh Rosen. If the QB isn’t a threat to throw, the run game will be facing stacked boxes all season.
Speaking of quarterbacks, it wouldn’t be a best and worst case scenario without mentioning the most important position in the game. The potential for a great group of passers is here. That potential equally exists for something to go wrong. The most obvious concern is Sam Bradford‘s health. If he goes down, it’s up to Chosen Rosen, who also has had a history with concussions. If he goes down it’s… oh no. It’s Mike Glennon.
Let’s say Rosen manages to stay healthy. There are still gigantic hurdles for rookie quarterbacks to get over. If he can’t master line protections and defenses faster and smarter than he’s ever seen it wouldn’t be that surprising. Many great quarterbacks have struggled to begin their careers. The defenses in the NFCWest are brutal and efficient, and whoever Arizona’s quarterback is must be more so. If he can’t, and Bradford can’t stay on the field, the 2018 Arizona Cardinals season will be full of growing pains.
Bruce Arians and his famous offensive mind are gone. Former Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator Steve Wilks is in. It’s understandable to get excited for a new coach, but be wary. Not everyone comes in and pulls a Sean McVay. Heck, no one thought Sean McVay was going to pull a Sean McVay. Most new regimes take time. Now, it’s very likely Mike McCoy has most, if not all, of the say with this offense. He’s had success with the Chargers, but this team is a unique challenge.
Arizona has a new defensive coordinator as well in Al Holcomb, who followed Wilks from Carolina, but you can’t put this defense as a major concern. Not only are the two great defensive minds but this defense is freaking stacked. Every level has playmakers. There’s always a chance for failure, but the wheels would have to fall off and then explode for that to happen.
If the run game can’t get going, the quarterbacks don’t find their happy place and the new coaches can’t get their scheme to fit, it will be a long season. The offense has to get a few breaks in order to have a great season. The defense is another story. The only legitimate foil for this defense is injuries because they can happen to anyone. Even if forced to play without a few key pieces, this side of the ball can still succeed.
Worst case prediction: 6-10, fourth place NFC West
Best Case Scenarios
This is the fun part of a best and worst case scenario. Arizona, who is constantly looked over every year (part of the downside of being in the desert), has some real watchability this year. Young rookies and solid free agent signings have the fans excited. The new coaching hires have been mostly applauded this offseason. This is what you’ll see this season if the Cardinals reach their peak.
Age catches up to most humans. Larry Fitzgerald is not most humans. If he merely maintains his talent, he’s a top flight weapon. Surrounded with new help in rookie Christian Kirk and speedsters JJ Nelson and Brice Butler, it will be tough to double cover him. As a lifetime Cardinal and all-time NFL great, Fitzgerald has solidified his place in the pantheon of Cardinals’ greats and found a place in every fan’s hearts. A reasonable expectation would be 80 catches for around 800 yards but he just keeps beating those numbers. In order for us to get our best-case scenario, this receiving corps needs to mesh quickly. Without a top-flight tight end (unless you’re high on Jermaine Gresham) these wideouts don’t have time to waste.
It’s a best and worst case scenario so of course, we’re back to the quarterbacks. The best thing that can happen is for Josh Rosen to take the job and run with it. If he beats out Sam Bradford, it means he has the playbook and pre-snap changes down. Josh has the superior physical tools and his college game alludes to his potential at greatness and a knack for clutch play. Sam is a solid option but Rosen’s ceiling is much higher.
The real question is which receiving option outside of Larry Fitzgerald steps up. An early favorite is Brice Butler, the popular choice is Christian Kirk, but the real wild card is second-year receiver, Chad Williams. He has some wheels. He only logged three catches in limited action last year but coaches seem to be ready to give him a chance to thrive. If we see him more often, it means he’s doing something right to take snaps away from the highly-touted rookie and the veteran competition. It may be a battle of who develops chemistry with the right quarterback the quickest.
NFC West Fallout
In the best world for the Arizona Cardinals, the division comes back to earth a bit in 2018. In a best-case scenario: Seattle can’t cope with the group of players it lost and has a losing record. San Francisco was over-hyped and are closer to last year’s 6-10 record than the five-game win streak it ended on. Finally, defensive coordinators start learning to stop the Rams’ offense. I don’t see that squad going worse than 10-6. Of these, the most likely is Seattle. It’s hard to see San Francisco taking a step back with a full offseason for Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan to work together. McVay has all of the pieces on offense and defense. The Seahawks, however, have lost Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas wants to be traded and there’s no Beast Mode lining up behind Russell Wilson.
All of those things are certainly possible for the 2018 Arizona Cardinals season but even if they don’t materialize, they aren’t slouches in this division, either. Their defense is right up there with Los Angeles as the top in the West. The Cardinals’ offense has some weapons to break games open as well. This is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. It’s more likely the teams are bunched up in the standings with a few weeks to go than it is that one team runs away with it.
If Fitzgerald manages to maintain his pace, the new quarterbacks mesh quickly with the offense, and the NFC West falls off, Arizona will hit their peak. A quick-rhythm passing game with either QB would lessen the pressure on their offensive lines. If they find success through the air, the rushing lanes for David Johnson will be much wider, and he’ll have a chance to be Offensive Player of the Year for the 2018 Arizona Cardinals season and quite possibly he’ll make a run at MVP.
Best case prediction: 11-5, first Place NFC West
That’s the best and worst case scenarios for the 2018 Arizona Cardinals season. Which is closer to reality? As with most thought experiments, reality usually lies somewhere in the middle. Finishing 7-8-1 and 8-8 in 2016 and 2017 doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence on paper. However, this team dealt with injuries and internal issues last season and remained competitive. If injuries don’t derail this team and the coaches effectively use the talent available to them, realistically this team will be around 9-7 at the end of the season. They should be in playoff contention, and with a few breaks, I could easily see them making it. With some bad luck, however, we could see another season in the Jeff Fisher zone of 7-9.