ARIZONA CARDINALS

USA Today: Cardinals not expected to contend for playoffs in 2018

Aug 21, 2018, 9:01 PM | Updated: Sep 6, 2018, 5:40 pm

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After finishing 8-8 in Bruce Arians’ final season as head coach, the Arizona Cardinals have gone through full-scale changes heading into the 2018 campaign.

Gone are quarterback Carson Palmer, safety Tyrann Mathieu, wide receivers John Brown and Jaron Brown, defensive end Frostee Rucker and cornerback/special teams captain Justin Bethel. The team brought in quarterback Sam Bradford, right guard Justin Pugh, right tackle Andre Smith, wide receiver Brice Butler and cornerback Jamar Taylor to replace the lost production.

Under first-year head coach Steve Wilks and new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy the Cardinals will adopt a new playing style. Wilks is the Cardinals’ first defense-oriented coach since Dave McGinnis, who last coached the team in 2003.

With the NFL regular season less than two months away, USA Today’s Nate Davis gave his predictions for how the NFC West will play out. Davis has the Rams winning the division with a 12-4 record, the 49ers and Cardinals are picked to finish at 7-9 and the Seahawks round out the division at 4-12.

If they get steady play from Sam Bradford (or rookie Josh Rosen), the Cards could really surprise given the return of David Johnson and play of a defense that doesn’t get sufficient credit. But with Bradford’s fragility and Rosen’s inexperience, hard too expect too much under center.

If the Cardinals are going to outperform those expectations, a healthy David Johnson could make a huge difference.

So too would keeping Bradford or Josh Rosen healthy will be important if the offense is to have success in 2018. With some of the most daunting defenses residing in the NFC West, the offensive line will be challenged throughout the year. By adding Pugh and Smith, the Cardinals think they have done enough to protect the quarterback and give Johnson and the running backs open lanes to run through.

A healthy offensive line could be the biggest difference between finishing 7-9, and being one of the NFL’s surprise teams.

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USA Today: Cardinals not expected to contend for playoffs in 2018