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Under The Microscope - Arizona Cardinals

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Welcome to a new season of Under the Microscope! This column is back, and I'll be bringing it to you each and every week with an all-new format for 2005. For those of you wondering what happened last year, I simply wasn't able to devote enough time to this column between being a new father and my other duties on Fantasy Sharks. Rather than crank out a weaker, watered-down version of The Microscope, I decided to forgo the year and put some thought into improving the format and making the column a valuable weekly tool for your entire fantasy season.

Now for a quick overview of the new format. I'll open with some brief observations about the team, and dive right into the team stats. Next, I've added a new section, the stat analysis, where I break down the numbers from a fantasy perspective to give you a realistic expectation of what this team's strengths and weaknesses are. Then comes the schedule, including two new stats, opposing defensive rankings, and average opposing defensive ranking. The schedule analysis gives you an idea of what the team will be facing in the next 10 weeks, and how your fantasy players might perform. Finally, I present the depth chart and player notes. Instead of writing up a silly blurb on each player, I'll just lay out the official depth chart from the team's website, and make a few notes on any players that I think are important or interesting from a fantasy perspective. The overall goal of this restructuring is to present the information that's most important to fantasy owners in the most clear, concise way possible. I'd like to know what you think and hear your suggestions for improvement! E-mail me at pfountain@fantasysharks.com or leave a message on our Article Discussions board in the Shark Tank. And as always, thanks for swimming with the Sharks!

Observations
Everyone has been hopping on the Cardinals' bandwagon this offseason. For perhaps the first time since they moved to Phoenix, (or maybe the first time ever?) the Cardinals are a consensus pick to win their division. They've even rolled out some shiny new uniforms and a new, meaner looking logo. This team is hot, and not just because they play in the middle of the desert. As we will see when we peer into the microscope, there are some very legitimate reasons for all this hype. Let's get right to the numbers:

Team Stats (numbers in parentheses are NFL Ranking)
NOTE: Until week 5, we will be using 2004 season stats.


Stat Analysis
Despite having a talented collection of receivers, and a new coach who favors the passing game, the Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the league in passing yards and touchdowns, and scored once more on the ground than through the air last year. That is partly attributable to Anquan Boldin being out for the first 6 games of 2004. This year, the offensive numbers should improve across the board. The addition of Kurt Warner at quarterback and young tailback J.J. Arrington gives the Cardinals a full complement of offensive weapons. If everyone can stay healthy, opposing defenses will be stretched to the limit trying to stop Arizona's attack.


Schedule Analysis
The NFC West is the weakest division in the NFL, especially on defense. Six games against the Seahawks, Niners, and Rams will produce some nice fantasy scores for your Cardinals. But the non-division opponents aren't such pushovers - even though the average ranking is low, Carolina, Tennessee, and Dallas should all be much improved on defense this year. Keep an eye on your matchups, and be wary about starting Warner and the Arizona receivers against teams with a good pass rush.

Depth Chart

Player Notes
We will never again see the same MVP-type numbers from Warner that he had with the Rams, but I expect that he will be a viable fantasy starter this season. The Cardinals' O-Line is still a question mark, but if they give him enough time to make plays, Warner can pick apart defenses in the short passing game. Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald should both be consistent starts at WR, and Bryant Johnson may produce enough to warrant a start as a WR3 from time to time. Arrington has averaged just 2.6 yards/carry in the preseason, so keep your eye on Marcel Shipp as a possible waiver pickup. Neil Rackers should be a decent start at kicker, but there is no fantasy value at TE or DEF/ST.

Next Week... Our first AFC team to go under the microscope this season will be another new-look squad, the Oakland Raiders.