Arizona Cardinals (2-2) at New York Jets (0-4)
I’m torn on this one. On one hand, the Jets have been inarguably the worst team in the league through 4 games, as they rank dead last by a wide margin in point differential (-66, next closest is -49) and first down rate differential (-11.66%, next closest is -8.84%). The way they’ve played, it’s hard to imagine them being competitive against anyone outside of the worst few teams in the league. They were 8.5-point home underdogs in this home game against the Cardinals on the early line last week, but we’re getting a smaller number now, with this line dropping down to 7, in large part due to the Cardinals losing their second straight game last week.
The Cardinals started out hot with two straight wins, but the public has soured on them as they’ve fallen down to 2-2, including upset losses to the Lions and Panthers. However, they won the first down rate battle against the Lions by 10.50%, only losing by 3 because of a -3 turnover margin, which is a very inconsistent metric week-to-week, and then against the Panthers, they were without three defensive starters, two of whom are expected to return this week, most importantly safety Budda Baker, who is one of their top defensive players.
Even with losing the first down rate battle against the Panthers, the Cardinals still rank 9th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +2.81%. Their 14th ranked defense probably won’t be as good going forward, as they have similar personnel to last year when they finished 30th in first down rate allowed, but they should still finish better defensively than they did last year and their 10th ranked offense could easily keep this up. Their offense finished last season 18th in first down rate and now they have Kyler Murray in his second year, a full season of Kenyan Drake, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins as a #1 wide receiver. Even if their defense falls off, this should still be a competitive mid-level team because of their offense.
On the other hand, the Jets could be a little better than they’ve been in recent weeks, for two reasons. For one, they are getting running back Le’Veon Bell back from injury, giving them arguably their best skill position player back a week after the Jets got top pass catcher Jamison Crowder back from injury. The second reason is that quarterback Sam Darnold is out with an injury for the Jets, which could prove to be a blessing in disguise, given how badly he’s been playing lately.
That’s not to say Flacco is definitely going to be an upgrade, as Flacco hasn’t been a capable starter in a few seasons and now is in his age 35 season and coming off of a major injury, but he’s a very experienced veteran who could stabilize the position a little for a couple games. I’m still taking the Cardinals, but there are enough reasons to think the Jets will be better this week than they’ve been this season, so this is a no confidence pick. The most likely result might be a push.
Final Update: The Cardinals have a bit of a surprise absence with safety Chris Banjo being unable to return from his one week absence despite practicing throughout the work. Budda Baker’s return is a much bigger deal, but the Cardinals will still be without a pair of defensive players with Devon Kennard also out. Since I was barely on the Cardinals to begin with, I’m flipping this to the Jets, still for a no confidence pick.
Arizona Cardinals 27 New York Jets 20
Pick against the spread: NY Jets +7