ARIZONA CARDINALS

ESPN: Cardinals No. 16 in Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Feb 6, 2017, 2:30 PM

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, left, and general manager Steve Keim watch practice at t...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, left, and general manager Steve Keim watch practice at the NFL football team's training camp, Friday, July 29, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

In many cases, the aftermath of Super Bowl celebrations hasn’t even been cleaned up, but some are already looking forward to next season.

One of those people is ESPN writer Kevin Seifert, who placed the Arizona Cardinals 16th in his pre-draft, pre-free agency “2017 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings.”

Why they’re here: No glance at the Cardinals can begin without noting the dramatic weakening of their explosive passing game. Their team average of yards per attempt dropped from No. 1 in the NFL in 2015 (8.5 yards) to No. 23 in 2016 (6.85). That’s the meat of coach Bruce Arians’ offense. As quarterback Carson Palmer approaches his 38th birthday — or possibly retirement — it’s fair to wonder if personnel and schematic tweaks alone can produce a bounce-back year in 2017. Also, can the Cardinals really count on much more than they got from tailback David Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,118)?

What could change: The Cardinals could inspire longer-term confidence by demonstrating a plan beyond the Palmer-Larry Fitzgerald duo. Fitzgerald, who turns 34 in August, caught 107 passes in 2016 but ranked 84th among receivers with an average of 9.6 yards per catch. Adding a big, downfield target will help the Cardinals re-establish their schematic roots.

If Seifert’s rankings were to hold true, the Cardinals would end up behind the Seattle Seahawks (ranked fifth) for the NFC West crown and would fail to make the playoffs, with the New York Giants (ninth) and Carolina Panthers (11th) securing the NFC wild card spots.

The Cardinals rank ahead of five teams who finished with a better record than their 7-8-1 mark from last season in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7), Minnesota Vikings (8-8), Indianapolis Colts (8-8), Tennessee Titans (9-7) and Miami Dolphins (10-6). The Panthers (6-10) are the only team that finished with a worse record than the Cardinals and ranks ahead of them.

Arizona missed the playoffs last season despite fielding the No. 9 offense and No. 2 defense based upon yards per game.

Even with Fitzgerald returning for another season, the Cardinals still have a lot of uncertainty on both sides of the ball going into the offseason, as they lean heavily a couple aging stars on offense in the veteran receiver and Palmer and have a bevy of talented defensive free agents, including outside linebacker Chandler Jones, strong safety Tony Jefferson and defensive end Calais Campbell.

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ESPN: Cardinals No. 16 in Way-Too-Early Power Rankings