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If, And, But: The Arizona Cardinals Will Be in the Playoffs in 2013

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Larry Fitzgerald, Jr of the Arizona Cardinals.

Well, it was good while it lasted.

Not really.

In 2011, the Arizona Cardinals got off to a miserable 1-6 start. But the team won seven of its last nine games to finish 8-8.

Ken Whisehunt's team carried that momentum into this past season by opening 4-0. But that good fortune was gone in a heartbeat as the Cards lost 11 of their last 12 games. And following the dreadful season, Whisenhunt was gone as well.

But hope springs eternal with the hiring of the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year.

And the Arizona Cardinals will reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009…

If: New head coach Bruce Arians can work wonders with the offense. And wonders may not be enough for the Cardinals, who finished dead last in the NFL in both total offense and rushing. How bad was the Arizona running game? As a team, the Cards ran for 1,204 yards in 2012, a total surpassed by 10 players in the league. The team signed free agent running back Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers) and hope he looks like the back that he did in Pittsburgh before a knee injury in the final regular season game in 2011.

And: The Cardinals' defense remains one of the most aggressive and opportunistic in the league under new coordinator Todd Bowles. Arizona finished 12th in the NFL in total yards allowed last season, but only the Bears (44), Patriots (41) and Giants (35) totaled more takeaways than the Cards (33), who also totaled 38 sacks and allowed just 32 offensive touchdowns. There will be new faces in the secondary but it would be interesting to see how much better this unit would be with a little support.

But: If the Cardinals' offensive line doesn't make any sudden progress, it's going to be a long year for quarterback Carson Palmer, who spent the last two seasons with the Oakland Raiders. In 2012, Arizona allowed a league-high 58 sacks. And over the course of the past three seasons, Cards' quarterbacks have been dealt a lot of punishment to the tune of 162 sacks. The return of left tackle Levi Brown, who missed all of last season, figures to help. But there's a lot of work to be done here.

So what do you think? It doesn't seem that long ago that the Cardinals were winning back-to-back NFC West titles. But the team has hit hard times in the division as of later, going a combined 6-12 vs. the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams the last three seasons. But are these Cards really the team that went 1-11 the final three months of 2012, or somewhat closer to the club that opened 4-0?

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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