NFL: 3 Bold Predictions for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After finishing the 2015 regular season with an impressive 13-3 record and making a run to the NFC championship game, what’s next for Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals? Can they replicate their success from last season or will the Seattle Seahawks catch them at the top of the division and make their road to the Super Bowl even tougher? Regardless, it’s obvious that the NFC West is one of the best divisions in the NFL, so the Cardinals will have their work cut out for them in 2016.

How bold can we get for the team who scored the second-most points offensively per game (30.6) and had a top-seven defense in terms of points allowed per game (19.6)? Well, maybe it’s time to go in the other direction and give an interesting argument about why the Cardinals may not wind up winning this tough division. The question then becomes, if they don’t, can they still make a Super Bowl run? Let’s get right to it.

The Cardinals won’t win the NFC West

Arizona had Seattle’s number in their mid-season matchup, defeating them 39-32 on the road. But then in the season finale, we saw the Cardinals get rolled over 36-6 by Russell Wilson and company. It won’t be an easy road to repeat their 13-3 record this coming season, especially with the Seahawks no longer dealing with question marks in the run game (while also having a healthy Jimmy Graham). The real key for Seattle will be their defense, but Arizona knows all about that stingy Seattle defensive unit. It’ll come right down to it, but in the end, we take Seattle to get the job done in a bit of a bold call, as they’ll finish up at 12-4, while Arizona goes 11-5.

The Cardinals get back to the NFC Championship game

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Seattle winds up winning the division, but it’s the Cardinals who get back to the NFC championship game while defeating the Seahawks along the way. It’ll be a game for the ages and one that features fireworks on both sides of the football. In the end, though, Palmer and company end up in their second consecutive NFC championship game. The only problem? They run into Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, who still have a terrible taste in their mouth after losing to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

So, what’s the end result? The Panthers do it once again and knock the Cardinals out of the playoffs, leaving this team one year older and one year closer to Palmer and star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hanging up their cleats. It won’t be a blowout, not by a long shot, but the Panthers will wind up eventually winning the 2017 Super Bowl, leaving the Cardinals to wonder if maybe 2018 will be their year.

David Johnson tops 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards

Johnson didn’t truly get his opportunity to excel for the Cardinals until late in the 2015 season, and while he had one or two solid games before that, he was always dealing with a timeshare. Whether the Cardinals choose to work a two-back system or not in 2016, it won’t matter, because Johnson is going to take over. While having just four games with double-digit carries last season, he wound up with 581 yards and eight touchdowns, and also caught 36 passes for 457 yards and four more scores.

That means he topped 1,000 combined yards while seeing limited field time until the final five weeks of the season. It may not sound as crazy after reading those numbers, but for a second-year back in a pass-heavy offense to dominate the way that Johnson will in 2016, it’s going to be exciting to watch. Don’t sleep on Johnson as a possible candidate for Offensive Player of the Year as well, but that’s probably an argument for another day.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Follow Jeff Smith on Twitter @JSM8ith

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