(December 31, 2011 – Source: Norm Hall/Getty Images North America)
Patrick Peterson believes his Arizona Cardinals team can fly by the rest of the NFC West this year. Just like in his rookie season when he blew by defenders returning kicks, he sees the division wide open like the running lanes he saw back then on his way to tying an NFL record four kickoff/punt returns over 80 yards for a touchdown.
The Cardinals were only a win or two away from the postseason a year ago and despite some key losses, namely on the defensive side of the ball, Peterson feels they still have what it takes to overtake the division and dethrone his arch nemesis Richard Sherman and the defending super bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
“We gave San Fran two games last year.Gave them two games last year,” Peterson said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “Came out slow and played Seattle slow in the first game, and we still ended up climbing back in the game to the fourth quarter and we kind of tucked our tail again. We went up to Seattle (and won). And lord knows we gave the Rams the first game we played them.”
“We got what it takes. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the personnel. We’ve got the great coaching staff, front office. We have everything in the pot that we need to help us win ballgames.”
With the loss of two key defensive players in starting inside linebackers Daryl Washington (one year suspension) and Karlos Dansby (via free agency) the Cardinals will have their work cut out trying to replace them. They are looking internally and externally to make up for the enormous loss of production in second year player Kevin Minter and signing Ernie Sims and Larry Foote in the offseason.
They lost starting running back Rashard Mendenhall to retirement but last years back up Andre Ellington looks to be up to the challenge and have a breakout year as the new starting running back. They also get last years first round pick offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper back after missing the entire 2013-2014 season. But it will ultimately be the defense that carries the team into the playoffs. With a fearsome defensive line and ball hawks galore in the secondary, its hard not to imagine Arizona flying under the radar and surprising everyone in the division.
However the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are not going to just hand the crown over so easily. Both teams have not lost much production and made their own upgrades at key positions as well. The St. Louis Rams are not to be overlooked as well having arguably one of the best pass rushers in the game today in defensive end Robert Quinn. Playing in the best division in the NFL will certainly be an advantage to the winner. Being battle tested for six games can only benefit them come playoff time and don’t be surprised to see the Arizona Cardinals perched atop the NFC West mountain looking to be the first team in NFL history to host the super bowl in their own stadium.
Phoenix Sports-Kings Contributor, Manuel Childs