NFL Preseason Picks: Arizona Cardinals

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: New York Giants 10-6, Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons 13-3, New Orleans Saints 11-5, Carolina Panthers 7-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks 12-4, St. Louis Rams 7-9

ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Arizona Cardinals have been very disappointing as of late. It seems like a millennia since that fateful 2007 meeting in the Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals in the final minutes. Ever since, the Cardinals have been on a downward wind. They added Carson Palmer to the lineup this offseason, a mighty upgrade from the hapless efforts of Kevin Kolb. In 2012, they placed 4th in the NFC West with a record of 5-11, and hope to improve on that with some new personnel.

Adding Carson Palmer to the offense legitimizes threats like the deadly Larry Fitzgerald and has the ability to bring lesser names into the spotlight like Michael Floyd, a young player from Notre Dame oozing with potential. Rashard Mendenhall has been adequate in the running game, and will help Palmer get the ball downfield with his pass blocking ability. He could potentially take pressure off Palmer by making the offense a little more multi-dimensional. This offense had trouble getting going behind the arm of Kolb and Skelton for most of the season. In fact, the Cardinals actually went through four quarterbacks in the sixteen-game stretch.

Image

Patrick Peterson and the tepid Arizona secondary may benefit quickly and greatly from Mathieu’s big-play capability.

The defense of Arizona was so-so in 2012, ranking mid-table for all major categories. They added college sensation Tyrann Mathieu to the secondary in the draft. If Mathieu performs to the extent that he is capable of, which has been the case as of late, he will turn a lot of heads in 2013. Don’t expect the defense to make headlines however; they still have a lot of core pieces that need to fit in.

Prediction:

The Cardinals are unimpressive. They will be unimpressive for a while until they figure out some kinks in the personnel. I think that they take a step back and post a record of 4-12. This is because they are working with a new quarterback, and even though he is an upgrade from the previous cluster of lackluster shot callers, he will still need time to acclimate himself into the offense. The defense will probably be the only positive to this team, and even that could use some more tweaking. The Arizona Cardinals will be a lower-tier team in 2013, and will probably settle for such. 

College Football Preview: the Big Ten Conference

The story of the Big Ten’s death has been greatly exaggerated. The conference once thought of as slow and unathletic, playing nothing more than “three yards and a cloud of dust” football, is changing the script and eyeing resurgence onto the national scene. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern enter the season ranked in the preseason Top 25 polls. Penn State likely would have nearly cracked the Top 25, were it not for the sanctions forbidding it. The Big Ten welcomes two new coaches to the conference in former Ohio State assistant Darrell Hazell at Purdue and former Ohio State and Arkansas assistant Gary Anderson taking the job vacated by Bret Bielema at Wisconsin. So, what should fans expect from the Big Ten this year?

Conference Champion

Image

Buckeyes kick off the season a no. 2 in the preseason poll. Where will they be in December?

Ohio State enters the season ranked number two in the land and will be favored against every team they play this season. They went undefeated last year, but due to the NCAA sanctions stemming from “Tattoogate” they were banned from postseason play and were not permitted to play in the Big Ten Championship Game or any bowl game. They lose quite a few players on defense, but return their top playmakers in Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby. Big things are expected out of Noah Spence, the highly recruited defensive end entering his sophomore season as the full-time starter. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller — who led the team in both passing and rushing — is being touted as a Heisman favorite, but will certainly have to improve his passing numbers if that is to come to fruition; Ohio State finished 105th in the FBS last season in passing yards. Top running back Carlos Hyde returns, as do the top two receivers Corey Brown and speedster Devin Smith. This is not a team without question marks, but they have enough raw talent, as well as impeccable coaching from Urban Meyer, to be the favorite to win the conference championship come December.

Offensive Players to Watch

  1. Braxton Miller QB (Ohio State): As previously alluded to, Braxton Miller is a real Heisman contender this fall. The junior quarterback is an electrifying runner and while not an elite passer, he is good enough that the defense cannot sell out against the run. He passed for over 2,000 yards last season and ran for another 1,200 — but only had a completion rate of 58% and 15 passing scores. He looks to improve on all those numbers this season.
  2. Venric Mark RB (Northwestern): Mark is the top returning rusher in the Big Ten. The diminutive senior running back stands at 5’8” 175lbs but managed 1,366 yards last season and 12 touchdowns. He added a bonus 20 receptions out of the backfield. Last year he also doubled as an impressive return man for the Wildcats and the same should be expected this year.
  3. Allen Robinson WR (Penn State): After having just three receptions his freshman season, Robinson exploded onto the scene in 2012. He led the Big Ten in receptions (77) , yards (1018 and receiving touchdowns (11). Standing at 6’3” 210lbs, Robinson is a load for any defensive back to bring down. That, along with his innate ability to high-point the ball in flight makes him the most dangerous receiver in the Big Ten and a valuable target for whomever will take the reins as the new quarterback at Penn State.

Defensive Players to Watch

  1. Deion Barnes DE (Penn State): After redshirting his true freshman season, Barnes saw the field early and often his redshirt freshman season of 2012. Working as part of a rotation, Barnes tallied six sacks and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The sophomore has added strength and weight during the offseason to become a better every down player and will garner more play time this fall.
  2. Ryan Shazier LB (Ohio State): The Junior linebacker was an all-conference defender last season, accounting for 115 unofficial tackles and six sacks. He is by far the best returning player on Ohio State’s front seven — and probably their whole defense. He will be looked upon as a leader for defense with a lot of big shoes to fill.
  3. Chris Borland LB (Wisconsin): Borland comes into his senior season as a reigning all-conference pick and one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten. He accounted for over 100 tackles last season and looks to be a team captain this year. A strong senior defensive presence is just what new head man Gary Anderson needs in his first year on the job.

 

Surprise Team

ImageThis won’t be your father’s Northwestern Wildcats. While a preseason Top-25 team having a successful season wouldn’t usually constitute a surprise, an exception can be made in this case. Northwestern’s football tradition is fairly bare and because of this and other factors — such as their academic requirements — it is not easy to successfully recruit players to and coach at Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald is routinely considered a top coach in the game today and finally has a squad who can compete with every roster in the Big Ten. This is a squad that won ten games in 2012 and returns 15 starters, including their top two offensive playmakers, quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. They won’t be an easy out for anyone and could be poised to have one of the best seasons in Northwestern’s history if games against teams like Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska go their way.

NFL Preseason Picks: St. Louis Rams

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: New York Giants 10-6, Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons 13-3, New Orleans Saints 11-5, Carolina Panthers 7-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks 12-4

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Today we gaze upon St. Louis, where the Rams are working out some long-standing kinks in the preseason to get ready for their 2013 campaign. Last year, St. Louis looked like they were still experiencing some growing pains as they finished off the season at a record of 7-8-1. With a pretty good-looking draft, and the upside of young quarterback Sam Bradford, the once-Greatest Show on Turf hopes to improve on its misfortunes from 2012.

The Rams made waves in the NFL when they drafted Tavon Austin out of West Virginia in April. Austin has incredible speed, quickness and a natural big-playmaking ability. He will be a valuable weapon for Bradford as he tries to make that leap into the upper echelons of NFL signal callers. However, it seems as though Bradford can never catch a break: injuries, coaching changes and lack of surrounding talent has kept him at bay. But now with the addition of Austin, he may finally have his go-to guy. The loss of Steven Jackson is tremendous for this team. With Jackson on the field, the steady running game set the foundation for a dynamic offense. Not taking anything away from new lead man Daryl Richardson, but not many players can fill the shoes of Steven Jackson. It will be interesting to see what Jeff Fisher has up his sleeve to ignite the rebuilt Rams offense.

Image

A weakened run game and depleted secondary puts more pressure on Laurinaitis and the front seven.

The Rams defense was exceptional in 2012, tied for first with sacks and a strong linebacking core and secondary to boot. Expect a bit of a fall off the throne in 2013, as the Rams lost both of their starting safeties. A solid defense is the perfect preset for a solid team, and the Rams are fortunate enough to have that. In an era where points are abundant, the teams that achieve greatness are the ones that are competent on defense.

Prediction:

I see the Rams staying mediocre in 2013 and posting a record of 7-9, not much of a deviation from 2012. The Rams are a team still in the rebuilding phase. Gone are the days of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. They must ditch that old persona and find a new identity. There is no shame in trying to leave one’s past behind, especially when you are trying to reach that steeple once again. Look for St. Louis to be a very good team in 2015. But this season, look for the Rams to be just another one in the herd.