NFC West

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After a dismal 2016-2017 season, it is easy to start drawing conclusions. If any team has any sort of negative turnaround there starts to become speculation because well, it’s easy. One of the main questions that circles the Arizona Cardinals is, Does Carson Palmer have enough left in the tank? In an interview with “Tiki and Tierney” on CBS Sports, head coach Bruce Arians had something to say about that.

“Physically, body-wise, it’s like he’s 28 right now,” Arians said. “Sports science is amazing right now. He can play easily until he’s 42 if he wants to. He is hungry as hell right now. I wouldn’t let him go in OTAs. It was like taking candy away from a kid.” Arians continued.

As a coach dubbed “the quarterback whisperer”. I think he knows what he is talking about. Just in case, let’s see the numbers from last season. Carson finished the year with 26 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, amassing a total of 4,233 yards on the season. He finished the year ranking ninth in yards and tenth in touchdowns among active quarterbacks. So even though the Cards had a bad year, he is still a top-ten quarterback.

Palmer is not stopping the Cardinals from reaching the next level. There needs to be a certain level of veteran leadership on any elite team. The only people that are in the way of that happening is themselves. Football is just as much of a mental game as it is physical.

Coach Arians blames the entire season on one game, the week one loss against the New England Patriots. Why?

“I think a lot of it goes back to the New England game,” Arians said. “Had we won the game like we should have, with the field goal, I think the whole season is different. Why we didn’t finish the (Week 4) Ram win? Those first two losses at home set us way back for the season, because you had to fight from the back end of the hole the rest of the way.”

The issue for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 was not Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, the offensive line, or the defensive line. It was the inability to win close ball games. If Arizona won those two close games like they should have against a Tom Brady-less Pats team and the over-hyped Los Angeles Rams, the Cardinals would have made the post season as wild card team.

The 2016 season was a fluke for the Arizona Cardinals. Even with it being a fluke, they still finished second in the NFC West. This season they are going in with a completely new mindset and after some exciting picks in the draft and because of that, the Arizona Cardinals and their fans will be able to forget about last season completely.

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With the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected Temple linebacker Haason Reddick. Besides his passionate showing on the field, (recording 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in his last season of college), he also has a inspirational story that must be told.

In an interview with Jim Rome, Haason Reddick stated, “I didn’t know that you could go to college and walk on. I thought you needed a scholarship to be able to play on the team. So at first, I thought my football career was done.” Reddick said.

At Temple, Reddick walked on as a freshman with no scholarship, showing that he has determination and that is just the type of mentality the Arizona Cardinals are looking for. After he walked on, he not only earned a scholarship, but the respect of his coaches and teammates through skill, persistence, and determination.

“He’s everything right with college football.” His former coach at Temple Matt Rhule continued, “He’s tough, he’s hard-nosed. He got his degree and played so hard for us and so well for us and helped us turn this program around.” Rhule said.

One major perk besides his game-time mentality is the fact that he can play both outside and inside linebacker. His former coach at Temple spoke of this in an interview with Vince Marotta of Arizona Sports by saying, ““He’s a guy who can play off the ball and be a weak side inside linebacker and use that 4.5 speed to cover guys out of the backfield. At the same time, I think he can be a tremendous weapon blitzing. Not many running backs are going to be able to block this kid.” Rhule commented.

It looks like the Cardinals did okay with their first round pick this year, however, only time will tell. Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said that he will not be red-shirting to start. Instead, he will play behind two Pro Bowl linebackers in Karlos Dansby and Deonne Buchannon. Reddick will be on the field in nickel formations. He will have great mentors in Dansby and Buchannon, giving the Arizona Cardinals a very bright defensive future.

Reddicks’ selection is a feel-good story as over 100,000 fans gathered at the steps of the famous Philadelphia Art Museum to watch the first round of the NFL Draft. Reddick went to Temple University in Philadelphia and a very loud cheer rose as his name was called as they witnessed the local boy make good.

Check out this video of his path to the NFL from childhood to first round pick below.

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Every football media pundit on television lauds the NFC West as the by far best division in football. On some shows it has even been mentioned that the NFC West is the toughest division in sports regardless of the sport. While the NFC West is definitely the talk of the league division-wise, it is hardly a forgone conclusion that the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are the best division in football.

The AFC West would beg to differ. While not as defensively dominant as the NFC West, the AFC West excels in the opposing category. The AFC West is the most offensively dominant division in football. The 1754 points scored by the AFC West teams best the closest division, the NFC North, by over 100 points (1,648).  The NFC West led the league in fewest points allowed with a paltry 1,191. The next closest division was the NFC South with 1377 points allowed, a difference of 186.

The AFC and NFC West are the classic example of unstoppable force meets the immovable object.

That story played out in the last season’s Super Bowl as the highest scoring team in the league, the 13-3 Denver Broncos with 606 points scored faced the team that allowed the fewest points in the league, the 13-3 Seattle Seahawks with 231 points allowed. Both teams reached the same record in completely different fashions. Another old adage played out in this contest. Defense wins championships. The Seahawks embarrassed the Broncos 43-8, solidifying their season-long dominance with the Lombardi trophy. The win also put the NFC West as the best division going today.

But are they?

The NFC West was long the laughing-stock of the league until only three years ago. Keep in mind in 2010 the Seattle Seahawks created a national firestorm among football purists and analysts when they made the playoffs by winning the NFC West with a 7-9 record. It was during these three seasons that the NFC West rebuilt itself starting with the Rams drafting Sam Bradford in 2010. The 49ers drafted quarterback Colin Kaepernick  in the 2011 draft. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was drafted in the 2012 draft. Add to the mix players that are now household names like Seattle’s Legion Of Boom members Walter Thurmond (2010), Earl Thomas (2010) and Richard Sherman (2011) or San Francisco’s Aldon Smith (2011) Navorro Bowman (2010) to show how this division has risen only after years upon years as the NFL’s doormat.

On the other hand, the AFC West has long had dominant teams represented with the exception of the 2008 and 2011 seasons when San Diego and Denver won the division with 8-8 records, respectively. In both cases, they won the wild card game and lost in the divisional round. League dominance by a division is cyclical. The last time the NFC West dominated the way they have been in present years was the Steve Young era 49ers in the 90’s. During the second half of that decade, the division also featured the Kurt Warner-led ‘Greatest Show On Turf’ St. Louis Rams team. Now the NFC West looks primed for another long run of dominance as players like Kaepernick and Wilson mature and the team around them gets better suited to their talents. The question is, at this point, are they that much better than the AFC West?

Take a look at the principal teams. In the NFC West you have Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona as the heavies while St.Louis toils away in the basement. In the AFC West you have Denver, San Diego and Kansas City jockeying for control with Oakland living in the cellar.  The AFC West was the only division to get three teams in the playoffs last season. The NFC was close to getting three teams in as well as Arizona went 10-6 but failed to make the playoffs. Call them victims of circumstance, but the Cardinals did lose three games last season by a field goal including a loss to the lowly Rams in the season opener. The big three in  NFC West had 2 more wins than the big three in the AFC West by a 35-33 margin. They were by far the top two divisions in the NFL when you take a win count of the top three teams. They may be lapping the rest of the league, but not each other.

Look at the starting quarterbacks. Representing the NFC West you have Wilson, Kaepernick and Carson Palmer representing the Cardinals. In the AFC West you have Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith. If you had to select one group of quarterbacks, team notwithstanding, to carry your team a for full season which group would you pick? The NFC group is the young upstarts, (Palmer notwithstanding) but Palmer is only in his second season in Arizona. The AFC West feature the proven quarterbacks. Manning and Rivers can light up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree. Kaepernick and Wilson are on the rise but their best days are ahead of them. The AFC West crop are winding down their careers but Manning and Rivers represent the most dangerous quarterback tandem in any division.

Leaving Palmer and Smith out of the formula for a moment, in Manning and Rivers you have two of the most cerebral quarterbacks in the league. Give them time and they will eat defenses for lunch. There’s nothing they haven’t seen and they are the old-fashioned stand in the pocket, lead-footed gunslingers that are fading out of style in the NFL. Instead, teams fancy the new breed of quarterback with Wilson and Kaepernick as the prime examples. They are quick to scramble to extend a play. They are also very intelligent, game managers. They capitalize on field position granted by their stalwart defenses. Manning and Rivers have rarely had the benefit of top five defenses, instead making their mark with their arms and their superior knowledge.

This season, these divisions will battle it out in the regular season and when the smoke clears two things will be evident. One, neither division will get three teams in the playoffs. Two, we’ll know which division is truly the best in football because as you can see, no other division comes close.  However, to answer the pundits, the NFC West is not without a doubt the best division in the NFL. They may be in the lead as they can boast the current Super Bowl champion but not by far. The safer thing to say is the WEST is the best division in the NFL, regardless of conference. Will the unstoppable force or the immovable object come out on top this year? Let the games begin.

 

What do you think? Which division is better?

 

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The Greg One

 

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