ESPN’s Schatz: Projections have Arizona Cardinals third in NFC West

May 12, 2015, 2:28 PM | Updated: 2:29 pm
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In 2013, the Arizona Cardinals won 10 games, finishing third in the NFC West and narrowly missing the playoffs.

In 2014 they won 11 games, finishing second in the NFC West and reaching the postseason.

What’s in store for them in 2015?

Some people see the return to health for many of the team’s key players, including quarterback Carson Palmer, means the Cardinals will look more like the squad that won nine of its first 10 games rather than the one that lost five of its last seven, including a playoff loss to Carolina.

Others look at the Cardinals and feel like they are due for a step or two back, that the brutal NFC West will prove to be too much for Bruce Arians’ team.

Obviously, no one really knows how the Cardinals will fare in 2015. But when trying to project how they will do, ESPN.com’s Aaron Schatz, in an Insider piece, says the Football Outsiders algorithm has Arizona looking more like the second, less appealing option.

According to the projection, with a notation that things can change between now and the start of the season, the Seattle Seahawks will win the division at 12-4, with the San Francisco 49ers coming in second at 7-9. The Cardinals and St. Louis Rams, it says, will finish with 6-10 records.

Here’s the explanation for the Cardinals’ disappointing prediction:

There are also a number of questions revolving around the projection for the Arizona Cardinals. We might be forecasting their defense as too strong because of the importance of departed defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. We also might be forecasting their offense as too weak because the system doesn’t fully compensate for the drop in Arizona’s offense when the Cardinals were forced to start a quarterback, Ryan Lindley, who wasn’t on their roster to start the season. On the other hand, Arizona ranked 23rd in offensive DVOA, if we count all 16 games. If we only count games started by Carson Palmer, the Cardinals would have ranked … 23rd, in exactly the same place except a little closer to No. 22 Minnesota. Arizona’s overall performance was weak for a playoff team even before Lindley took over as quarterback, and teams like that tend to decline. On the other hand — back to the subjective questions about head coaches — Bruce Arians’ record of outperforming statistics over the past three seasons is extremely strong.

Indeed, the Cardinals may be one of the most difficult teams to peg because the team that finished last season is not at all the same as the one that started it.

Then again, Arizona won a lot of games it trailed late, rarely dominating any of its opponents. Is that a sign of a team that simply knows how to win, or is it an indication that maybe the Cardinals weren’t that much better than the teams they beat and thus, are ripe for regression?

The regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints is four months away, so it will be a while before we find out.

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ESPN’s Schatz: Projections have Arizona Cardinals third in NFC West