With a pair of glasses freshly cleaned by Jerry Jones’ son-in-law, let’s take a good look at the Arizona Cardinals schedule for 2012.
The logical intention is finding at least nine wins to put the hometown team into playoff contention. But there are plenty of negative checkmarks –mistake-prone quarterbacks, injury-prone running backs, an offensive line that seems to pride itself on never improving – that make the search challenging, if not downright daunting.
But nothing was ever accomplished by trying. Here we go:
Today against Seattle: For the second straight season, the Cardinals get to open the season at home against a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut. Even better – this quarterback isn’t Cam Newton. Russell Wilson might be the only passer in the league with more question marks next to his name than John Skelton, and Pete Carroll always has about 30 new players a year that need time to mesh.
Arizona outlasted the Panthers last year, but didn’t win another game until November. We’ll hope that one thing happens without the other. Cardinals 19, Seahawks 17 (1-0.)
Week 2 at New England: Well, that was fun while it lasted, huh? A cross-country flight and Eastern time zone game against Tom Brady and his band of renown receivers. Not a lot of people are picking the Pats to return to the Super Bowl, but even less think Arizona has a chance here. Patriots 31, Cardinals 13 (1-1).
Week 3 against Philadelphia: The Eagles are a dark horse pick in the NFC but no sure thing to escape a very tough division. The Eagles haven’t been to Arizona since the 2009 NFC Championship Game when Donovan McNabb faced off with Kurt Warner. The Cardinals won in Philly last year when Michael Vick had a horrible day, and that’s what you have to hope for again. Otherwise, this bat tle of the birds isn’t close. Eagles 27, Cardinals 14. (1-2).
Week 4 against Miami: Thanks to HBO, we know two things about the Dolphins: (1) Ryan Tannehill is going to be a pretty good quarterback someday and (2) someday isn’t right now. The Cardinals get even by taking advantage of another rookie signal caller. Cardinals 21, Dolphins 9. (2-2).
Week 5 at St. Louis: If the Cardinals managed to pull off a win over Philly and come in the week 3-1, things will be getting interesting about now. Even at 2-2, the chance to get above .500 offers some confidence to the fan base. The Rams are bad and the Cardinals have had good luck in St. Louis of late. Cardinals 23, Rams 20. (3-2).
Week 6 vs. Buffalo: No easy game here, even if Arizona has managed to keep their skill offensive people upright to this point. Many feel the Bills might be an AFC playoff team. This is a home game the Cardinals have to win to stay viable, but a three-game winning streak this early in the season isn’t Arizona’s style. Bills 24, Cardinals 14. (3-3).
Week 7 at Minnesota: A very winnable game. The Vikings have been one-dimensional for awhile and if Adrian Petersen doesn’t bounce back … well there she goes. But the Cardinals have had all kinds of trouble in the Metrodome – they were blown out there last year – and A.P. will have had time to round into form by late October. Vikings 30, Cardinals 17. (3-4).
Week 8 against San Francisco: Monday Night Football in Glendale. Big Audience. Big Game. Big chance for Arizona to announce intentions to stay in the race. It’s the kind of game the Big Red rarely get to play in, and the kind they rarely win. I don’t expect Jim Harbaugh to expose his chest to Ken Whisenhunt, but I don’t expect the 49ers to lose either. 49ers 20, Cardinals 7. (3-5).
Week 9 at Green Bay: A short week and a road trip to Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers. Not what the doctor ordered. Packers 35, Cardinals 17. (3-6).
Week 11 at Atlanta: After a bye week to get the beer and brats smell out of their uniforms. Another long road trip. Another top flight quarterback. Another tough day. Falcons 24, Cardinals 10. (3-7).
OK this seems to be a good time to take stock. With six games and the Rams, Jets, Seahawks, Bears, Lions and 49ers (on the road) still to play, the Big Red would have to run the table to finish 9-7, and go 5-1 just to avoid a losing season.
I’m not saying a 2-14 season and a top-five draft pick is on the horizon – actually that happens less to the Cardinals than going to the Super Bowl. But another run-of-the-mill, non-playoff, just-good-enough-to-steer-clear-of-impact-players-in-the-draft season seems more than likely.
Time to get that 2008 NFC Championship DVD out again. Was it really only four years ago?
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.