Arizona Cardinals welcome 2016 season with high expectations

Sep 10, 2016, 4:30 PM
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians yells during the first half of an NFL preseason football ...
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians yells during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals are a good team. How good, of course, is a matter of perspective and opinion — with the real answer set to be learned over the course of the next 17 weeks.

But all signs point to them once again being among the NFL’s elite, and many are talking about them as if they are not only just Super Bowl contenders, but perhaps even the favorites to reach the big game in Houston.

The concept is not exactly outlandish, as the Cardinals won 13 regular season games and reached the NFC Championship Game last season and returned basically the same roster, maybe even with improvements. What’s strange, however, is how receptive the players and coaches have been of the title talk.

“It’s great, because people are right; we are pretty good,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Now we’ve got to go out and play it and prove it and back that up. But to be on a team that you know has a shot, that people are putting a circle around you on their schedule and a bull’s-eye on you — everybody in our division is just because we won it last year. So, it’s a good thing.”

If you are looking for modesty, this probably is not your team.

“You earned the right to be considered the best; it’s just a testament to what we’ve done the last three years,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “The biggest thing is, though, is you can’t let it slow you down. You can’t let it make you relax. You have to continue to go out there and do what got you to this point.

“And that’s work. We put work in every day. We come out to this football field and we put time in. On the field, we go hard. And then we get in the classroom and we study hard. That’s what [makes] us special.”

Note, within every statement about how talented the roster is or how this could potentially be a championship season is talk about how none of it will matter if they do not work hard and do their jobs.

While the Cardinals seem to be as loaded as any team in the NFL, Super Bowls are not won on paper and they certainly are not claimed in September.

Over the past couple of seasons, as the Cardinals have seen their win total climb from 10 to 11 and then last year’s 13, many times later in the year there was talk about not letting success get to their head. Every question brought a similar answer, about how they must respect the process because nothing is guaranteed.

The Cardinals backed up that talk with their play, so in a way, it might be a bit disrespectful to wonder if their confidence could turn out to be a detriment. Any sign that confidence could be a detriment is, up to this point, imaginary.

If history has taught us anything about this group of players, it is that laurels are not something they rest on. Also, any sense of bravado likely stems from the head coach, who understands why his team can handle the preseason prognostications.

“You had pretty good success if you’ve been here for three years and you know what kind of battle it’s going to be,” Arians said of why his players are able to embrace the big-time talk. “I don’t think we all know what we have, like Coach (Bill) Belichick said the other day, you don’t know really what you have until October. We know we’ve got a lot of guys back, but every year is different.

“And we want high expectations every year.”

In Arizona, expectations have never been higher.

Arians said he tells his team there is no pressure going into this season, instead breaking things down to one game, one-practice seasons.

“We set a goal a long time ago, then you quit talking about it, and you just go to work every day.”

The goal is obvious, and the path to get there is more understood now more than ever. Of the 53 players on the roster, just 11 were not with the organization last season. The vast majority of the roster was on hand when the team made its run to the NFC title game, and were on hand to feel the sting of losing with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.

Returning a team that was close should provide a level of confidence that yes, the Cardinals can get back to that level. Yet, having fallen short should also mean the team is not short on motivation to not only reach that point again, but go one step further.

“We know we can, but we know what it takes to get there,” running back Chris Johnson said. “We know we’re not a Super Bowl lock; we know we just can’t go out there on Sundays and like we’re going to get the victory and roll over people. We know the work we put in, we know how hard we work and we know what we’ve got to do every Sunday.”

Some stories for pre-game reading

Craig Grialou wrote on the third and fourth QB on the Cardinals’ roster.

Rookie Lamar Louis would like to make the Pro Bowl for his work on special teams.

The Cardinals hold the top spot in the first ever Arizona Sports Power Rankings.

Arizona’s schedule might not be all that tough after all.

Carson Palmer is looking to re-prove himself in a season with high expectations.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick had plenty of kind things to say about the Cardinals.

Yes, there is a new theme song for Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. It’s…something.

Chandler Jones said he is treating Sunday’s tilt with the Patriots “like another game.”

Not much is known about the Cardinals’ CBs after Patrick Peterson.

Tyrann Mathieu is back and ready to play in Week 1.

Kevin Zimmerman provided the top five moments from the Cardinals’ 2015 primetime games.

Paige Dimakos and Bertrand Berry provided the Friday 5 leading into the game.

Craig Morgan wrote about how Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer and the Cardinals are running out of time.

What do the Cardinals have to look forward to in Jimmy Garoppolo? Bryan Gibberman takes a look.

Miscellany

– The Cardinals enter the game 9-1 in home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium. The only defeat they suffered at home to open the year came in 2009 to the San Francisco 49ers when Arizona was coming off an appearance in Super Bowl XLIII.

– The last time the Cardinals lost a September home game was that same 2009 season, a year in which they fell twice that month.

– Arizona is 25-5 against non-NFC West teams under Arians, and 10-2 against AFC opponents.

– Larry Fitzgerald heads into the game with 98 career touchdown catches. With one more, he would move into a tie for 10th on the NFL’s all-time list with Don Hutson. With two touchdowns, he would become one of just 10 players to reach 100 TD catches in a career.

– Fitzgerald has also caught one pass in 179 straight games, which is the longest such streak in the league.

– QB Carson Palmer is 204 passing yards away from passing Johnny Unitas for 17th on the NFL’s all-time passing yardage list, and is three scoring strikes away from moving by Dave Krieg for 15th place on the all-time list for touchdowns.

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