Cards' improvements could be hard to notice in stacked NFC West

Craig Morgan sits down with ESPN's Mike Sando to discuss the state of the Cardinals and the NFC West.

July 30, 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Will Carson Palmer’s presence equate to more wins for the Cardinals? Is it too much to expect San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson to sustain their level of play? Even if the Cards improve, will we know it in the rugged NFC West?

We sat down with ESPN NFC West blogger Mike Sando to get his take on these questions and a few others on Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

How do we know that Palmer is an upgrade?

Sando: “He’s going to be so much better than what they had that if they’re competitive at home and win some of those games that were going the other way, that’s a start. This isn’t Year 3; it’s Year 1 for (coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim). It’s not like you have to get to 10 wins. You just have to feel like this is an improved team, and you’re not hitting your head against the wall, doing the same old thing, over and over.

“Everybody can do the eyeball test and see Palmer is better, but one of the tools we have at ESPN is the total QBR metric. It looks at more than just the simple quarterback rating. It really examines how a quarterback affects winning and losing.
The difference between where the Cardinals played last year and where Palmer played last year is about three wins over a 16-game season. Three wins doesn’t sound like much, but it is.”

Is it reasonable to expect Wilson and Kaepernick to duplicate last season’s success?

Sando: “When you look at both of those teams, they are largely defined by their running games and their defense. With a guy like (the Colts’) Andrew Luck, he was really carrying that whole thing. It doesn’t mean he’s way better than those other two, but he was pulling a heavy sled in an offense that was vertical down the field. He had Reggie Wayne and not a whole lot else.

“Seattle and San Francisco have elite backs, strong defenses, Seattle’s got a great home-field advantage and San Francisco still has a pretty good one, so there are a lot of things helping these guys be good – things that haven’t existed (in Arizona) recently.”

Did Wilson, in particular, surprise you?

Sando: “Yeah. They were very high on him in camp, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘we heard that about Max Hall, too.’ When you look at Russell Wilson, he’s got huge hands, he has long arms, and he’s a legitimate athlete who played pro baseball. You just wondered if he’d be a little gimmicky. There was some of that, but he was a really good pocket passer, too. He would have been a very high pick if he had been 6-2, 6-3.”

What about the Rams?

Sando: “I think they’re definitely trending up, but they have so many young players that there are a lot of unknowns. I wouldn’t guarantee their record will be better than last year (7-8-1), but I think it will be similar, and I think they’ll be competitive.

“They’re counting on (QB) Sam Bradford to be the focal point of that offense. They don’t have (RB) Steven Jackson any more. I think he can do it. I think he’s had an historically bad cast around him the last few years that has held him back, but until he does it, we won’t know.”

Even if the Cards are improved, will we know it in a division where two teams – San Francisco and Seattle – are considered Super Bowl contenders and the other, St. Louis, went 4-1-1 in the division last season?

Sando: “You can’t pick your family members, and these teams are the Cardinals’ NFC West family, for better or for worse. With San Francisco or Seattle, they both won 11 games last season. If one of them had gone 13-3 or 14-2 last year, I’d say ‘yeah, they’re due for a natural regression, but I think 10 or 11 wins is a reasonable expectations for both of those teams. 

“Picking a win/loss record for the Cardinals is tough. They were 4-0 last year, but I don’t think that’s the team they were. I think the team that fired a coach and was 1-11 was that team. I think they’re going to be a lot better than that. I think they’ll be more competitive offensively with Palmer and an improved offensive line. Their backups aren’t guys who aren’t going to have a job if they’re cut. 

“But are they going to be way better than 5-11? I don’t know. There are so many unanswered questions. There have been so many changes. They’ve made 80-some roster moves since January. What does that mean for Week 1 when they could be finding their way?

Also today on

-- Cardinals notebook: The defensive line is showing versatility and depth and an injury update.

-- Carson Palmer understands the Kurt Warner comparisons, but he sees vast differences in their comparative situations.