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NFL.com’s Schein: Cardinals to match up with Patriots in Super Bowl LI

Cardinals fans, Adam Schein is your friend.

Like, really, if you see him walking down the street, politely walk up to him and shake his hand. Or give him a high five. Or offer to buy him a drink.

Unless, of course, you hate expectations, because the NFL.com columnist and radio host predicted Arizona to match up with New England in Super Bowl LI.

In explaining why he picked the Cardinals out of the NFC, Schein writes that Arizona boasts the No. 1 roster in the NFL.

The Cards can beat you in multiple ways. And after losing on Championship Sunday last season — getting blasted by Cam Newton and the Panthers, to be frank — Arizona is driven and ready to get over the hump.

Schein went on to praise Bruce Arians, who he says is “a fantastic coach who will maximize” Steve Keim’s roster with an aggressive and confident coaching style. Indeed, Arians’ “no-risk-it, no biscuit” mentality has led to great success for the Cardinals, who last season ranked first in the NFL in yards and second in points.

The Cardinals brought back every player who scored an offensive touchdown last season, with the only departures on that side of the ball coming on the offensive line. Schein says receivers Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd compliment each other perfectly, and is very high on second-year back David Johnson, whom he believes will be a top-five runner in the league this year.

In short, there is a strong level of confidence that Arizona will at least match last season’s success, if not surpass it.

But what might separate the 2016 Cardinals from the 2015 version is the defense, which begins with having Tyrann Mathieu back healthy but doesn’t at all end there.

Mathieu, of course, isn’t the only superstar in Arizona’s secondary. Patrick Peterson is the best cornerback in the NFL. This summer, Calais Campbell told me on my nightly CBS Sports Network TV show, “Time to Schein,” that he thinks Peterson is equivalent to Deion Sanders in his prime. A stretch? Sure. But Peterson is the best in the business in 2016 — a true lockdown, shutdown glove.

Campbell is a spectacular player himself — a leader who anchors the front seven on defense, a guy who finally has gotten the respect he deserves with back-to-back Pro Bowl selections. Even with Campbell up front, Arizona had one glaring weakness a year ago: the lack of a consistent pass rusher of the edge. So Keim traded for one of the best in the league, former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones. He will sack the quarterback 15-to-20 times this year.

Jones tallied a career-best 12.5 sacks for the Patriots last season, and is set to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2016 campaign. He will be counted on to improve a pass rush that generated just 36 sacks last season, with nine of them coming in a single game.

Schein is confident Jones will do just that, and writes that the Cardinals will have a top three-to-five defense in 2016.

If the Cardinals’ defense is that good, and the offense does not take a step back, then Schein’s prediction could very well come true.

Looking at the team, the only question mark Schein seems to have is about Carson Palmer, and whether or not the veteran quarterback will finally be able to experience postseason success.

Majestic regular seasons have not carried over to January for the quarterback. His numbers from last season’s two postseason games: four touchdown passes, six interceptions, three fumbles (two lost) and a 67.1 passer rating. Oof. Well, this year, I’m banking on Johnson to truly help shoulder the load. I’m banking on Honey Badger being back, spearheading a stingy defense that won’t allow Arizona to get down big early in a game. I’m banking on Palmer breathing. He’s stunned me in the regular season as a Cardinal. Now, the way his career will be defined is hanging in the balance. It’s go time. I trust Arians to guide him to the Promised Land.

Schein goes on to say that the Cardinals are deep enough to withstand inevitable injuries, noting his greatest concern for the team is a loaded NFC that includes the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. However, he has the Cardinals knocking off the Packers in a home NFC Championship Game before moving on to face the Patriots in the big game.

And as for what happens in the second Super Bowl berth in franchise history?

Maybe Super Bowl Sunday is won with Jones strip-sacking his old teammate Brady (leading to a recovery by Mathieu, obviously). Maybe Johnson takes a swing pass the distance for the game-winning score. Maybe it’s a Peterson pick. Maybe it’s a Palmer-to-Brown home run ball.

But there are no maybes about the 2016 Arizona Cardinals. They are built brilliantly. They are coached brilliantly.

It’s the Cards’ time to shine.

It is decided.

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