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What a difference a quarterback makes. After a couple years of foundering under guys like Max Hall, John Skelton, in-depthDerek Anderson and Kevin Kolb, Arizona brought in Carson Palmer to take the helm and suddenly a three-time sub-.500 football team wins 10 games.

Palmer was less than perfect, but he was a stable veteran presence who brought calm and competence back to the signal caller spot. The Cardinals still play in the same division as San Francisco and Seattle, so 10 wins didn’t result in the postseason in 2013, but the season certainly had to create optimism in the desert, particularly when the 2014-15 Super Bowl is in Arizona.

So what do the Cardinals need to do to leapfrog the 49ers and Seahawks? And if they do, how deep a run can they make? Scott Allen, co-editor of Raising Zona, sheds some light on Arizona’s outlook heading into the 2014 season.

Zoneblitz: Arizona came on strong and had a 10-6 record but missed the playoffs. What’s your assessment of the season? Continue reading

It’s never a great sign in any given season when your team makes more noise off the field than it does on the field. That’sin-depth what happened in Miami last year when Jonathan Martin left the team amid bullying accusations against Richie Incognito.

Amidst all the noise, Miami went on to post a .500 season in Joe Philbin’s second year as the Dolphins coach. But the noise also may have covered up a number of other issues. It certainly created a couple – the offensive line wasn’t great when it was full strength. Minus Martin and Incognito the team could not create running holes or protect second-year QB Ryan Tannehill.

Yet there the Dolphins were, with two games remaining in the season, fighting for a spot in the postseason. So how far away are the Dolphins from making a playoff run? It could still be awhile if you ask Brian Miller, the lead writer and editor at Phin Phanatic.

Zoneblitz: The Dolphins went through a wild and crazy season with the Martin/Incognito situation, finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the fifth straight season. But they also kept fighting after the controversy. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

Jets head coach Rex Ryan started the 2013 season on the hot seat. New York was coming off a rough season and the in-depthteam’s draft had been panned for its inability to address the team’s lack of offensive skill position talent.

But a funny thing happened on Ryan’s way to the unemployment line. The Jets defense gelled and the team started finding ways to win games. The 8-8 finish wasn’t stellar, but it surpassed expectations for the season and bought the coach another year to continue moving the team forward.

Expectations are higher heading into 2014. Eric Decker was signed to shore up the wide receiver position and Michael Vick was added to push second-year signal caller Geno Smith. So once again, in New York, the future is now. So what will it take for Ryan to again earn another season? And how far is this Jets team from pushing the Patriots and Broncos for division and conference supremacy? David Wyatt, a writer and editor for Gang Green Nation, took some time to share his thoughts on the state of the New York Jets.

Zoneblitz: The Jets finished 8-8, one game out of the playoffs in a year when expectations were low. What is your overall assessment of the season? Continue reading

Few teams had a better opportunity to capture a division last year than Dallas in the NFC East. Washington in-depthand the New York Giants fell off the table and Philadelphia, with a new coach and system, got off to a slow start.

But the injury bug hit and a once proud defense put up some of the ugliest numbers in team history, dooming the team to another 8-8 season and keeping the Cowboys out of the playoffs.

This offseason, Owner Jerry Jones has again shaken up the staff of assistant coaches. But hampered by salary cap issues, Dallas has been relatively quiet, staying out of the running in most of the high profile free agency races. So can this team make the necessary fixes to become a contender again in the NFC? Steven Mullenax, editor and head writer for The Landry Hat, shares his thoughts. Here’s what he had to say.

Zoneblitz:  Dallas went 8-8 with a loss the last week of the season eliminating them from the playoffs. What is your assessment of the season? Continue reading

After winning the Super Bowl in 2012, cap issues and a retirement-driven roster overhaul caused the Baltimore Ravens in-depthto slide to .500 in 2013. So Baltimore sat and watched the playoffs from home for the first time in several years.

But those issues may be a thing of the past. The team has made Ozzie Newsome-like strategic additions to strengthen the offensive line and the receiving corps and the defense in 2013 was actually statistically better than it was during the Ray Lewis-led Super Bowl run.

So have the Ravens done enough to recapture dominance in the AFC North? And can Joe Flacco regain form and lead another deep playoff run? Kyle Casey, a contributing writer for Russell Street Report, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: Coming off of a Super Bowl win and a large roster turnover what are your thoughts on the 8-8 season? Continue reading

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