The Arizona Cardinals posted the second-best record in all of football last season at 13-3, with their regular season mark being bettered by only the Carolina Panthers, who went 15-1.
So, it was not a surprise when those teams met in the NFC Championship Game, though the 49-15 final score certainly shocked some.
Since that fateful January evening the Cardinals have made it a point to try and improve their roster, and by most accounts, they have done exactly that.
However, when compiling his rankings of the most talented teams in the NFL, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks placed the Cardinals eighth.
Note: Rookies are not included in the rankings because no one is quite sure of what kind of role they will have or how well they will play.
Blue chips: Carson Palmer, QB; Larry Fitzgerald, WR; Mike Iupati, OG; Jared Veldheer, OT; Calais Campbell, DE; Chandler Jones, DE; Deone Bucannon, LB/S; Patrick Peterson, CB; Tyrann Mathieu, S.
Risers: David Johnson, RB; John Brown, WR; Michael Floyd, WR.
Credit Steve Keim and Bruce Arians for unleashing a talented cast of playmakers on the NFC West. While most of the attention goes to the Cardinals’ offense — due to the resurgence of Palmer as an elite quarterback — it is the team’s defensive personnel that sets it apart from most others in the NFC. The acquisition of Jones gives the Cardinals a legitimate sack artist to partner with Calais Campbell along the defensive line. This will help Bucannon deliver splash plays on the second level. Peterson and Mathieu are aggressive ballhawks with superb instincts and playmaking skills on the perimeter. (Mathieu still has to get right, though, health-wise.) In an aggressive blitz scheme that challenges marquee defenders to live up to their reputation as blue-chip players, the Cardinals’ raw talent has lifted Arians’ squad to the top tier of the NFC.
The elevation of the team’s talent level has been an ongoing process, and much of it can be attributed to Keim and Arians. Three of the listed “blue chip” players — Fitzgerald, Campbell and Peterson — were on the team prior to their arrival, as was “riser” Floyd, but the rest of those names were brought in by this new regime.
Keim, in fact, has never been afraid to tweak the roster where he sees fit. Last season’s 13-win squad was created in part with the 182 total transactions the team made, and the 2016 version of the team will no doubt follow a similar path, at least in terms of changes.
According to Brooks, the teams with more talented rosters than the Cardinals are the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, Panthers, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.
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