Change we can believe in
After several years at the bottom of offensive line metrics, the Cardinals finally found an answer at left tackle in Jared Veldheer. Even if Veldheer is merely league-average in pass protection, it's a major upgrade on the swinging doors guarding the blind side in 2012 and 2013. The early returns on left guard Jonathan Cooper's return from a broken leg don't inspire much hope, but he has the talent to become a factor later in the season. An improved offensive line, a bigger role for playmaking tailback Andre Ellington, the arrival of speedy rookie John Brown and a return-to-2011-form for Larry Fitzgerald are all reasons to believe Carson Palmer will have his best season in a half-decade.
The Cardinals quietly paced the NFL in run defense last season, with defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, as well as inside linebackers Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby, among the premier players at their positions. The latter three have been lost to a season-ending injury, a season-long suspension and free agency, respectively. According to NFL Media's research department, Arizona's defense allowed 3.4 yards per carry with Dockett on the field last year versus 4.5 when he was on the sidelines. The absence of three stalwart starters in a formerly stout front seven is a major problem.
Training camp surprise
Third-round rookie John Brown's offseason hype has translated to preseason production. Coach Bruce Arians is prescribing 60 percent of the offensive snaps for Brown, who has already drawn comparisons to Marvin Harrison, T.Y. Hilton and Anquan Boldin (for instant impact) in his short time in the desert. Brown has joined Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews and Kelvin Benjamin as Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates in a stacked 2014 class.
What we'll be saying in February
The trio of Brown, Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd has displaced the wide receiver corps of the Bears and Falcons atop the NFL, but the defense lost too much firepower to keep pace with the NFC West superpowers.
Around The NFL's predicted finish: Third place in NFC West, No. 8 in ATL's Power Index.