The Arizona Cardinals kick off the 2012 season in front of their home fans against a familiar foe. The Cards will battle NL West rival Seattle Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. These two teams split two games last year, each winning on their own turf.
The John Skelton era will officially begin for the Cardinals at quarterback. While there still remains some questions about his ability to lead the team, limit mistakes and cut down on turnovers -- he's head coach Ken Whisenhunt's choice to open the season as the team's starter. If Skelton wants to have any success, he needs to get off to a fast start and improve on his accuracy, which has been one of his bigger weaknesses.
The Cards, like Seattle, are turning to an unseasoned and inexperienced signal caller. Unlike Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Skelton seemed to win the quarterback job by default. Neither he nor his competition Kevin Kolb was able to impress during the preseason.
Skelton finished 14-for-25 passing for 131 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs.
Wilson, on the other hand, bested pricy veteran free agent Matt Flynn to land the starting job. The third-round draft pick completed 63.5 percent of his throws and had five touchdowns with only one interception. He also rushed for 150 yards during the preseason.
While the Cardinals quarterback conundrum took center stage heading into the season, it's their shoddy offensive line that gives cause for concern. The loss of tackle Levi Brown to a season-ending triceps tear could prove detrimental to an otherwise weak line.
Offensive line coach Russ Grimm certainly has his work cut out for him this year. D'Anthony Batiste, Bobby Massie and Pat McQuistan will likely garner a lot of attention, although it might not be the good kind.
The Cardinals still face questions as to which wideout will step up and turn into a formidable force alongside six-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald. Ken Whisenhunt's team isn't lacking talent in that area, as the Cards boast talented first-round draft pick Michael Floyd, along with Andre Roberts and Early Doucet.
While the Cardinals receivers bring a youthful exuberance into the fold, the Seahawks will turn to veteran Braylon Edwards to set the tone for their wideouts. Besides Edwards, Seattle will rely on Doug Baldwin, Ben Obomanu and Golden Tate a good deal this season.
The Cardinals defense will have the good fortune of not facing Tate on Sunday. He is still nursing a sprained knee and will not play.
The Cardinals are expected to rely more heavily on their running game this year. The key to their success likely centers around the health of their backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams. The team is hopeful both can return successfully from their respective knee surgeries. Williams could be a wild card for the Cardinals. He missed all of his rookie season last year and while the team has seen glimpses of what he's capable of, if he can translate that potential and promise to carries and touchdowns on the field, the Cards should be off and running.
The Seahawks possess a strong running game of their own, and one that thrived during the preseason. Still Marshawn Lynch is questionable for the opener against Arizona with back spasms, which would give the Cardinals a boost. Robert Turbin is expected to see a good deal of action, especially if Lynch doesn't play.
Many pundits believe the strength of this year's Cardinals team is their defense. Ray Horton's troops hope to prove that's true with a strong start to the season. Arizona has two reliable pass rushers in Calais Campbell and three-time Pro Bowl tackle Darnell Dockett. The team's secondary is also deep, with safety Adrian Wilson and Patrick Peterson in the mix. Don't count out linebacker Daryl Washington, who could play a key role in the contest, as well.
It will be crucial for the Cardinals to stop a mobile Wilson from breaking out of the pocket, while also stopping a very good Seahawks running game.
The Cardinals offense won't have an easy task going up against Seattle's defense, which allowed a league-low 44 points in the preseason. Their defense also forced 10 turnovers, which could be bad news for Skelton. Look for the Seahawks to force his hand and, as a result, force mistakes.
Besides top pass rusher Chris Clemons on the defensive line, Seattle will look to two rookies, first-round pick Bruce Irvin and second-rounder Bobby Wagner, to make some noise and put pressure on Skelton.
The Cardinals signal caller has thrown 16 interceptions in 13 career games and should have a huge target on his back in this game.
The Cardinals struggling offensive line and uncertainty at quarterback could prove to be the team's undoing against Seattle. If the Seahawks defense looks anything like it did during the preseason, it will be a long day at the office for the Cardinals.