Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
Every year there is at least one team that proves to be overhyped. The Cardinals seem like the leading candidate going into this season. Much of their hype is based around second year quarterback Kyler Murray, who many are expecting will follow in the footsteps of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson and breakout as an elite quarterback in his second season, after a nondescript rookie year.
However, Mahomes and Jackson are the exception to the rule when you look historically and Murray has a long way to go to become that level of a quarterback. He doesn’t have the size of either quarterback, the athleticism of Lamar Jackson, or the throwing ability of Patrick Mahomes and finished his rookie year as just Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. Despite that, he enters the season with the 6th highest MVP odds, ahead of much more established players like DeShaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Drew Brees.
That hype is showing up in this line, favoring the reigning NFC Champion 49ers by just 6.5 points at home over the Cardinals. The Cardinals have more talent around the quarterback this season with Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins, but they still have issues on the offensive line and their defense, which finished last season 30th in first down rate allowed, isn’t noticeably improved either. The Cardinals should be a better team this season, but they finished last season 27th in first down rate differential last season at -3.87%, so they have a long way to improve.
The 49ers, on the other hand, finished last season 2nd in first down rate differential at +5.29%. This season, they have injuries in the receiving corps and they won’t have their normal homefield advantage in this one, but they’re still close to last year in terms of talent level. It’s typically tough for teams to be as good as the 49ers were last season in back-to-back years, but the typical risk factors for regression aren’t really present here.
The 49ers didn’t benefit from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+4). They didn’t win an unsustainably high amount of close games (5-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer). They didn’t stay unsustainably healthy, actually having the 6th most adjusted games lost to injury of any team in the league last season. They also mostly avoided the significant personnel losses that high level teams often have, ranking 4th in the NFL in snaps returned from last season and generally doing a good job of replacing the few key players they lost. They also bring back all key members of their coaching staff. They should be able to win this one with relative ease, so I like them a lot if you can get them less than a touchdown. Including playoffs, the 49ers won 10 of their 15 games by a touchdown or more last season.
San Francisco 49ers 27 Arizona Cardinals 17
Pick against the spread: San Francisco -6.5