Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at St. Louis Cardinals (0-0)
The line used to be -6 in favor of St. Louis, but, unfortunately, it’s dropped down to -4.5. I would have taken Arizona +6, but I’m not as confident in Arizona +4.5. That being said, I think these two teams are much more evenly matched than they’re given credit for. Everyone assumes the Rams will improve their win total this season because they have more talent, but I’m not so sure about that.
Football is a game of parity. A team sees an average change of 3 wins per season in either direction and teams that have big improvements on average regress about half of that the following season and vice versa. The Rams have been doing quite a bit of bouncing around in the past few years, going from 1 win to 7 wins to 2 wins to 7 wins and a tie. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to bounce into the playoffs at any point and if history is any indication, they are due to bounce back down, at least a little bit.
There were a couple unsustainable things that led to the Rams’ win improvement last season. They were 6th in the league in adjusted games lost, meaning they had significantly fewer injuries than the league average. This was a season after they ranked dead last in that category in 2011. They also exceeded their Pythagorean Expectations by a whole win (assuming a half win for the tie) as they were outscored by 49 points on the season and had a Pythagorean Expectation of 6.5 wins, 23rd in the NFL. They did have a really tough schedule last season, but things don’t look much easier this season.
The Rams will have to hope that all of the talent they’ve added through free agency in the past few off-seasons have paid off and that they will continue climbing the wins ladder because they are legitimately a more talented team. They’ve signed Harvey Dahl, Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells, Kendall Langford, Jake Long, and Jared Cook to significant contracts in the last 3 off-seasons, to go with Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, and Tavon Austin added in the first round of the last 3 drafts. Austin, Long, and Cook are the big additions of this off-season as the Rams made surrounding Sam Bradford with more talent the single primary concern of their off-season.
The Rams are undoubtedly a more talented team this season, but they would have probably seen another bounce down (at least a few games) this season if they hadn’t added the extra talent. I just have a hard time seeing them improve on last year’s record in the loaded NFC. They have talent, but they’re not a great team or anything and you look at the rest of the NFC, I don’t know if there’s a single NFC team that you can say, they’re definitely worse than the Rams.
That includes the Cardinals. Remember, they were 4-0 to start last year and Kevin Kolb, their only competent quarterback, was 4-2 with this team. Carson Palmer isn’t great or anything, but he’ll look like Joe Montana compared to the Ryan Lindley/John Skelton/Brian Hoyer combination that combined to throw 3 touchdowns to 18 interceptions. They only game they won involved numerous big special teams plays and return touchdowns. If you had played another 16 games after the end of last season, the Cardinals would have been lucky to win 2 of them.
New Head Coach Bruce Arians put Carson Palmer in a position to throw downfield to an underrated trio of receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Andre Roberts. Their failure to drastically improve the offensive line, especially with 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper out for the season, as well as some losses defensively, including Daryl Washington for the first 4 games of the season with suspension, will hold them back from being as good as they looked at the start of last season, but they’ll be an improved team this year. I see a field goal game here, but I’m not confident enough to put anything on the Cardinals.
Also, one note, I’m changing how I do picks this year. I’ll be grouping my picks into high confidence, medium confidence, low confidence, and no confidence picks. I’ll also have one pick of the week.
St. Louis Rams 16 Arizona Cardinals 13
Pick against spread: Arizona +4.5