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Looking Toward 2015 Cardinals' Schedule

Noteworthy narratives for this year's opponents

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The Cardinals' preseason schedule is set, and the regular season dates are expected to be released next week. Once again, the team has a tough journey, with games against the Packers, Ravens, Eagles, Bengals and Steelers among the outer-division games in addition to the NFC West slate. Here are some of the main storylines for each opponent in 2015:

STEELERS: From 're-fired' to rejuvenated

When Bruce Arians left the Steelers' offensive coordinator job following the 2011 season, it was announced as a retirement. It wasn't until later Arians revealed he was forced out, good-naturedly calling himself 're-fired.' Arians legitimately believed he was done with the NFL and began envisioning life after football, until Chuck Pagano called him to work as offensive coordinator of the Colts in 2012. Arians famously took over as interim coach for a 12-game stretch as Pagano fought a cancer diagnosis – guiding the Colts to a 9-3 record -- then was hired as head coach of the Cardinals. He is 21-11 in two seasons with the Cardinals and fresh off a Coach of the Year award, and this will be his first regular season game in Pittsburgh since the split. Arians was on the opposite sideline when the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals hope he can help them exact a measure of revenge this time around.

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PACKERS:Another dance with Rodgers

The Cardinals made the playoffs last year, but their most recent postseason victory came at home in 2010 over the Packers. That Green Bay team was led by a younger Aaron Rodgers, who was making his first playoff start. Rodgers finished the game 28-of-42 passing for 423 yards and four touchdowns, while the Cardinals countered with one of the greatest passing performances ever courtesy of Kurt Warner (29-of-33 for 379 yards and 5 TD). In the end it was a defensive play which ended the shootout, as the Cardinals got a 17-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown from Karlos Dansby on the third play of overtime for a 51-45 victory. Rodgers is back and fresh off an MVP season, and his presence keeps Green Bay on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. The Cardinals would love to knock him off again.

EAGLES: Chips on the table

Coach Chip Kelly has quieted questions about his ability to use a fast-paced, spread offense in the NFL, finishing 10-6 in each of his first two seasons in Philadelphia. Now, though, he's under scrutiny for his personnel decisions. Kelly was given control of the roster this offseason and wasted no time making wholesale changes. Star running back LeSean McCoy was dealt to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso, DeMarco Murray was added to replace McCoy and quarterback Sam Bradford was acquired for Nick Foles. Kelly was bold in reshaping his roster, going against conventional wisdom at times. Many are interested to see how it shakes out for the Eagles, and the Cardinals will get an up-close look in 2015 in an encore to last year's thrilling home win.

BEARS: Arians on the other sideline?

Bruce Arians' Kangol hat and quick wit have become signature sights in Arizona, but the Bears could have altered that history two years ago. Both teams had coaching openings in January of 2013, and Arians interviewed for the Chicago job first. The Bears passed on him, choosing Marc Trestman as their coach instead. Arians excelled from the get-go in Arizona and is the reigning Coach of the Year. Trestman went 13-19 and was fired this offseason, replaced by John Fox. The Bears are in a state of flux, as quarterback Jay Cutler didn't progress as hoped in the two seasons under Trestman's watch. The Cardinals' trajectory is more positive, and they hope to pick up a road win over Chicago.

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SEAHAWKS: Another shot at Goliath

After racing out to a big division lead last year, the Cardinals watched in vain as the Seahawks tracked them down and captured the NFC West in the regular season finale. While both teams made the playoffs, Seattle earned the first-round bye and eventually made it to the Super Bowl. Two-fifths of the Cardinals' losses came to the Seahawks, who have now added star tight end Jimmy Graham to the fold and again look like the NFC's best team. If the Cardinals have designs of winning the division in 2015, they'll almost certainly need to beat Seattle at least once – something they showed they could do in 2013, but struggled with last year without quarterback Carson Palmer for either matchup.

Images from the Sunday Night Football game against Seattle

49ERS: The other side of the rivalry

Darnell Dockett was a fixture on the Cardinals' defensive line for the past decade, amassing 40½ sacks and making three Pro Bowls before getting released this offseason due to salary cap restraints. He signed a two-year deal with the 49ers, meaning he will face off with the Cardinals twice next season. Dockett's never been one to mince words, and it's clear he will be motivated for those meetings. The Cardinals raided San Francisco of an impact player as well. Offensive guard Mike Iupati was signed to bolster the running game, and he could be matched up against Dockett at times next year.

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VIKINGS: Counting on Adrian Peterson

There has been no shortage of Adrian-Peterson-to-the-Cardinals speculation, but the most likely scenario still has the top-flight running back returning to the Vikings following his NFL reinstatement on Thursday. If that happens, the Cardinals will have to figure out a way to stop him. There are still raw feelings in Minnesota, but the Vikings' brass has been adamant it won't trade its superstar. The Vikings went 7-9 last year with several close losses, and if their premier running back returns, it could put them in playoff contention.

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SAINTS: Scoring points still a Brees?

Saints quarterback Drew Brees slipped some last season, but he's still regarded as one of the top signal-callers in the NFL. However, New Orleans was pressed against the salary cap this offseason, forcing them to unload some key pieces, chief among them star tight end Jimmy Graham. The defense is below average and the Saints struggled to a 7-9 record in 2014. Brees will have to be special to return New Orleans to double-digit victories this year, and he no longer has the same high-octane weapons around him in the passing game.

RAVENS: Terrell Suggs returns to the Valley

Cardinals fans likely still wince at the mention of Terrell Suggs after the team passed on him in the 2003 draft to trade down for Calvin Pace and Bryant Johnson. Suggs has put together an excellent career in Baltimore with 106½ career sacks, including 12 last year at the age of 32. The Chandler Hamilton High School and Arizona State product played against the Cardinals in Arizona as a rookie but hasn't been back since. He is still a premier pass-rusher, and the Cardinals' offensive line must do a good job keeping him out of the backfield in this showdown.

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BENGALS: Palmer hopes to get best of former team

We know how quarterback Carson Palmer feels about playing against his first NFL team, the Bengals, because he did so last preseason. He downplayed that matchup and figures to do so again in 2015, but there's no denying this is a key date on the schedule. Both teams won double-digit games last year and made the playoffs, and return this year with high aspirations. Palmer and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton have similar career quarterback ratings, and the one who plays better will give his team the advantage.

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LIONS: Will the Cardinals' dominance hit the road?

The Lions have vacillated between subpar, mediocre and good the past three years, but no matter what product they've put on the field, the Cardinals have had their number. The teams will face off for the fourth straight season in 2015 and Detroit hopes to break an 0-3 streak. Each of those games has been played in Arizona, but this one will be in Detroit. Overall, the Cardinals have beaten the Lions in six consecutive meetings dating back to 2006.

RAMS: Does new quarterback Foles hold the key to success?

The Sam Bradford era in St. Louis came to its conclusion this offseason when the former No. 1 overall pick was dealt to the Eagles for Nick Foles. Bradford never reached the lofty heights expected of a player drafted that high, underwhelming early in his career and then suffering torn ACLs in each of the past two seasons. The Rams bulked up an already-fearsome defense with the addition of defensive tackle Nick Fairley in free agency, but the team's success will be tied to its quarterback. Foles had an unbelievable 2013 before coming back to earth – and getting hurt – last season. If he delivers even average quarterback play, the Rams may finally be ready to make the step forward to playoff contender.

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BROWNS: Can Johnny – or anyone – throw the football?

The rookie season for Johnny Manziel couldn't have turned out much worse in Cleveland, as he struggled on the field and couldn't stay out of the news off it. Manziel reportedly left rehab earlier this month and will have an uphill battle to be the starter next year after the offseason addition of Josh McCown. Cleveland is another place Arians coached, where he worked with former No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch. Couch had an up-and-down career and never panned out as expected. Manziel and the Browns are hoping for a better end result this time around.

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