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NFL.com’s Brandt: Cardinals one of most likely teams to repeat as division champs

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians celebrates after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 26-20 in overtime. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

If you really wanted to, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to find someone who thinks the Seattle Seahawks will reclaim the NFC West in 2016.

Just make sure you don’t seek out Gil Brandt for that opinion.

The NFL.com writer and former NFL executive put together a piece ranking the most vulnerable 2015 division winners, and he has the Arizona Cardinals as the second-least vulnerable of the eight.

Brandt does write, however, that the biggest threat to the Cardinals, who won the division by a healthy three-game margin last season, is the Seahawks.

Arizona made two big moves to solidify its hold on the division: trading for veteran pass rusher Chandler Jones and rolling the dice on Robert Nkemdiche in the draft. Pass rush was one of the things they needed last season after tying for 20th in the NFL with 36 sacks, and Jones (12.5 sacks in 2015) addresses that. Nkemdiche, meanwhile, brings some youth to the line of a defense that is otherwise set at linebacker and in the secondary. The Cardinals are stacked with offensive weapons, including all-hands candidate Larry Fitzgerald and up-and-coming young running back David Johnson. Carson Palmer’s age (36) worries you a bit, but he should have another good season in 2016 after posting career highs in passer rating (104.6), touchdowns (35) and yards (4,671).

The Seahawks always loom with their imposing combination of outstanding quarterback play, dominant defense and the leadership of Pete Carroll. But I think Arizona is the more complete team, given Seattle’s question marks on the offensive line, in the receiving corps and at running back. Thus, the Cards will repeat as division champions for the first time since the Kurt Warner era drew to a close.

The Cardinals and Seahawks split their two meetings last season, with each team winning on the road. Prior to 2015, Seattle had won the division the previous two seasons and three of the previous five.

The question is, really, how much better each team will be in 2016 than in 2015, and as Brandt notes, the Cardinals appear to have done more to shore up some holes than their division rivals.

Both teams are seen as Super Contenders, though, and should factor into however the NFC playoff picture shapes up. For Arizona, who has eyes on earning homefield advantage in the NFC, winning the division for a second consecutive season would be a step toward that goal.

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