Football Outsiders: Arizona Cardinals to take big step back in 2015

Aug 13, 2015, 10:34 AM | Updated: 1:51 pm

Cardinals players huddle up during training camp. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)...

Cardinals players huddle up during training camp. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

In Arizona, the talk surrounding the Cardinals is not about whether or not they are good, but rather whether or not they are good enough to compete for a spot in Super Bowl 50.

Nationally, though, that’s not necessarily the case.

Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz is not particularly high on the team, giving the Cardinals an 18.4 percent chance at making the playoffs and a 0.8 percent shot at winning the Super Bowl. Oh, and he lists their mean win total at 6.7.

In fact, in an ESPN Insider piece listing five teams on the decline in 2015, the Cardinals top the list.

By far our strongest candidate to decline in 2015, Arizona had absurdly good fortune last season, finishing 11-5. That might sound like a ridiculous statement about a team that lost its starting quarterback for much of the year, but the Cardinals won a lot of close games in which they got the right breaks. Teams that outscore opponents by 11 points all season should go roughly 8-8, not 11-5. Based on play-by-play breakdown, Football Outsiders’ metrics ranked Arizona as the 22nd-best team in the league last season.

The return of Carson Palmer should improve the offense, but not by much. Palmer really didn’t play much better than Drew Stanton last year. (Ryan Lindley is another story; he was horrendous.) Standard stats just make Palmer look better than Stanton because he faced such an easy slate of defenses. When he was hurt, Palmer avoided Seattle (twice), San Francisco (twice), Detroit and Denver. The defense, meanwhile, will probably be good but not as good as it had been in 2012 and 2013 because there’s a new coordinator and a lot of departed talent (primarily Larry Foote and Antonio Cromartie).

The other problem for Arizona is that we project them with the hardest schedule in the NFL this season. The AFC North and NFC North might be the league’s two deepest divisions, and the Cardinals also play at Philly (instead of the Giants or Redskins) thanks to their second-place divisional finish last season. Since 2005, the team we have projected before the season with the toughest schedule has dropped from an average of 9.5 wins the year before to just 7.6 wins, and those numbers would be 9.7 wins and 7.0 wins if we took out the 2012 Denver team that replaced Tim Tebow with Peyton Manning.

While you may not be pleased to read what Schatz has to say, he’s not so much knocking the team’s talent as he is pointing out that the numbers say the Cards are due to take a step back. His point is actually not all that different from the one Grantland’s Bill Barnwell made, with the logic being that Arizona wasn’t exactly dominant last season and needed a few big plays to come out on top in some games. If the Cardinals have to rely on a similar formula again in 2015, it’s not unreasonable to think they won’t be as successful.

Then again, it’s also possible the Cardinals will be better in 2015 than they were in 2014 and therefore will not need as many big plays late in games to win.

We’ll just have to see.

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