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.

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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. 

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NFL Preseason Picks: St. Louis Rams

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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.

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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.

NFL Preseason Preview: Seattle Seahawks

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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

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Kicking off the NFC West will be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks took the league by complete surprise in 2012 by drafting and then starting rookie Russell Wilson. Many doubted the Wisconsin alumni’s true NFL potential, as he was labeled too short and wasn’t favored to run a pro-style offense. However, Wilson took the supposed reigns from then-newly signed Matt Flynn. Seattle, led by the fiery offense of Pete Carroll and the shutdown defensive stratagem of Gus Bradely, was able to clinch a playoff berth. Many now look for the Seahawks to be the main challenger of the powerhouse that is Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers. But with a new defensive coordinator — and some new faces — will Seattle be able to trounce Kaepernick and the reigning NFC champions?

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Lynch’s presence keeps the box stacked and forces the secondary to eye him, which will give Wilson a lot more fun with his new receiving options.

Sidney Rice and Golden Tate will always be home run threats when it comes to a play-action deep pass. Don’t expect that to change much with the return of Marshawn Lynch at running back. When Lynch is able to keep the defense, especially the safeties, focused between the tackles, it allows for Wilson to go deep to either Tate or Rice. And if the addition of Percy Harvin works out well for Seattle, they will be scary in the air. Another dynamic that is added to this offense is Russell Wilson’s knack to wriggle free from pocket pressure. Broken plays are a great opportunity to gain huge yardage if executed correctly. Wilson is the kind of player that can turn broken plays into a touchdown.

The Seahawks made great strides this offseason when they acquired Antoine Winfield to reinforce the secondary. This defense was fun to watch last season and should continue that trend, and maybe claim throne as the top defense in 2013. They have all the pieces: a strong line, a sturdy line backing core, and a secondary overflowing with talent. There are not too many problems with the starting eleven, and the depth is present to have consistency.

Prediction:

This may seem odd to some, but I see the Seahawks winning the West with a record of 12-4. They should split games with San Fransicso, but sweep Arizona and St. Louis. I think that the league will figure out that Kaepernick isn’t as proficient as the average quarterback in the pocket — when withheld in that area. Seattle’s defense should be able to hold him at bay as far as scrambling goes and the offense should be able to do just enough to overpower the ‘Niners. Seattle should make waves in the NFL in 2013, and expect to see them lingering in January.

NFL Preseason Picks: Carolina Panthers

JIMMY’S PICKS

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

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints 11-5, Atlanta Falcons 13-3 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Smith, 34, isn’t getting any younger. Can Newton and him continue to stay afloat in the NFC South?

Carolina had nothing less than a disappointing season in 2012. Former Rookie of the Year Cam Newton was coming off a red-hot debut, only to follow it up with some sophomore blues. It didn’’t help that the Panthers are in a tough division, but lesser teams have been in tough divisions before and have won. There is no room for excuse in professional sports; the struggle is necessary for victory.

Steve Smith continues to be the ageless wonder that never ceases to be a threat from anywhere on the field. He was heavily responsible for the Panthers Super Bowl run back in 2004 — back then he was paired with the tepid passer Jake Delhomme. For a third year he will be the main target of Newton — a younger, more athletic signal caller whose track record bursts with promise. However, inconsistency and claims of immaturity have plagued him. Newton still needs to establish reliability in the NFL or he may be riding the pine as a back-up on a more prominent squad someday. The Panthers have a new offensive coordinator in Mike Shula, who will simplify things while keeping the play call aggressive. No more of the gimmicky plays they attempted on teams; expect a balanced attack that allows the immense dynamism of a rushing attack from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Newton is also surrounded by more talent as the Panthers have added proven secondary weapons Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn. This offense has a lot of potential, but results must change.

With the tackling-machine Luke Kuechly being the nucleus of the Panthers defense, expect a stronger leadership role from the sophomore linebacker in 2013. Carolina upgraded their defensive line to join the trend of focusing on the pass rush in 2013, as well as upgrading their secondary. They will not be a prominent run-stopping team in the next season, but they will be much more capable of defending the pass, which is something that they have had large amounts of trouble with as of late. The defense will not be the strong suite of this team but they should do enough to get by.

Prediction:

I believe that the Panthers will improve from last season and post a record of 7-9. This is surely not good enough to make the wild card — let alone challenge the division. The word “potential” is thrown around a lot in conversation about the Panthers. I think that they are a team that is indeed on the rise, but needs to take an even further step to be a playoff contender. That step begins with the maturation of Cam Newton, who needs to show that he can be a leader and have control over a playoff-caliber team. Things like this take time, and I don’t believe that Carolina has enough time in 2013.