'All or Nothing' recap: Foreshadowing an unhappy end

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As I work my way through the eight episodes that comprise All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals, I've received several variations on the same question from colleagues who breeze by my workspace.

"So, is it better than Hard Knocks?"

The question is understandable. From the moment All Or Nothing was announced, there was speculation -- myself included -- this series would act as the season-long version of Hard Knocks that many football junkies have been waiting for.

Stream the Amazon Original Series "All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals" on Prime Video.

And, in a lot of ways, that's exactly what All or Nothing is. NFL Films didn't re-invent the wheel with the series, instead taking many of the tenets of their very successful Hard Knocks model and applying it to different part of the NFL calendar.

For the viewer, the biggest difference is perspective. Hard Knocks is all about hope. Hope the for coaches, hope for management, hope for the stars, hope for the fringe guys. Hard Knocks is consumed by its audience almost in real time, a fact that nearly puts the viewer in the moment with the team being documented.

All or Nothing comes with the benefit -- and curse -- of hindsight. It's a lot of fun watching the Cardinals fight their way through an incredibly successful regular season, but it's hard to shake the knowledge that Arizona will eventually get waxed by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. It's like trying to watch a game on your DVR after your buddy sent you a text that inadvertently spoiled the ending.

Episode Five is a perfect example of this. The Cardinals are playing a "Hat & T-Shirt" game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. A win clinches the NFC West and places Arizona on a much easier path to the Super Bowl.

The Cards take care of business, whipping the woeful Eagles in front of Al, Cris and the world. But the victory comes at a devastating cost: Quarterback Carson Palmer dislocates the index finger in his throwing hand, an injury that will eventually be tied to his drop-off in play come season's end. Then, with just two minutes to play, safety Tyrann Mathieu once again tears the ACL in his knee following an interception. The Cardinals lose the heart and soul of their defense on a nothing play. Sports are cruel like that.

In one night, Palmer is compromised and the Honey Badger is done. The Cardinals, now 11-2 division champions, celebrate in the locker room blissfully unaware of the fiery meteor heading their way.

But we know. And that is the biggest difference between All or Nothing and Hard Knocks.

Elsewhere ...

» Chris Johnson is sent to short-term injury reserve with a broken leg. We catch up with the running back in the treatment room, where a trainer does his work while Johnson communicates on two separate cell phones. Is this the first Booty Phone sighting in NFL Films history?

» This is a big episode for CJ2K's replacement, rookie David Johnson. The running back has shown flashes of greatness in his first handful of games, but his career takes off when he steps into a bigger role. Says running backs coach Stump Mitchell before Johnson's first start: "Your numbers should be high, production wise. There ain't no reason for you not to come away with at least 150 yards. Rushing and receiving, you gotta have over 150."

True story: David Johnson averages exactly 150 yards per game over the next four weeks. The long white beard gives it away -- ol' Stump is a wise man.

» Larry Fitzgerald, America's Unofficial Professional Sports Ambassador, drops an f-bomb in this episode. Legitimately jarring.

» The "Chuck It To The Bucket" game reaches its apex here. After (another) loss for the in-over-his-head Patrick Peterson, the All-Pro is forced to travel to Philadelphia in an elf costume that puts every part of his anatomy on clear display. Every part.

» What was that great song playing during the Frostee Rucker rehab montage? I got your back.

Stream the Amazon Original Series "All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals" on Amazon Prime now at amazon.com/allornothing.

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