Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5)

Last week, I bet on the Rams as 4-point home favorites against the 49ers. The Rams led 17-0 at one point in the first half, but blew the second half lead and lost in overtime, the first ever blown halftime lead by Sean McVay’s Rams in five seasons. This was in large part due to the absence in the second half of both of the Rams’ starting safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp, who were both out with injury. 

Unfortunately for the Rams, Fuller and Rapp remain out this week, as they are once again 4-point home favorites, this time against the Cardinals. Fortunately for the Rams, the Cardinals should present less of a challenge for the 49ers, who are legitimately playing at a high level in the second half of the season. The Cardinals started the season 7-0 and 10-2, but they also ranked 2nd in the turnover with a +12 turnover margin during that 10-2 start, which was never likely to continue, even if the Cardinals had stayed healthy, which they did not. 

Absences further hurt the Cardinals chances down the stretch, leading to a 1-4 finish by the Cardinals in their final five games, a stretch in which they had an even turnover margin. Even at 11-6, you could still argue the Cardinals are not as good as their record, ranking 13th, 19th, 20th, and 15th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which are based on first down rate and yards per play and are much more predictive than the Cardinals 4th ranked turnover margin. 

The Cardinals are especially not as good as their record if they don’t get key players back with injury and for right now it seems like stud interior defender JJ Watt, talented running back James Conner, starting left guard Justin Pugh, starting slot cornerback Marco Wilson, and rotational wide receiver Rondale Moore are all legitimately gametime decisions, while top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top cornerback Robert Alford both remain out.

The Rams are not fully healthy either without their starting safeties, but they are otherwise in pretty good shape injury wise and they fared much better on the season in efficiency metrics, ranking 9th, 9th, 4th, and 6th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, en route to overtaking the Cardinals for the division lead late in the season, winning 4 of their last 5 while the Cardinals lost 4 of 5, including a week 14 Rams victory over the Cardinals in Arizona, setting up a third matchup in Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs.

The Cardinals beat the Rams in Los Angeles back in week 4, but the Cardinals were much healthier back then and the Rams still won the first down and yards per play battle, as they did in their week 14 victory as well. Given all the injury uncertainty the Cardinals have, it’s hard to bet the Rams with confidence right now, as the Cardinals could make this a close game if most of their questionable players play, particularly JJ Watt, but if they don’t, the Rams could be a good bet as 4-point favorites. Additionally, this line could drop if Watt and others are able to play, which could also give us enough line value with the Rams for them to be worth betting. For now, this is a low confidence pick at -4, but I may update this before gametime.

Update: All of the Cardinals’ questionable players will play, but Watt probably won’t be 100% and this line has dropped to three in some places. I would take the Rams at that number.

Los Angeles Rams 27 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (6-10) at Arizona Cardinals (11-5)

The Cardinals pulled the upset in Dallas last week to keep their chances at winning the division alive, but there is still reason to be concerned about this team long-term. They started the season 7-0, but they benefited significantly from a +8 turnover margin, which was never likely to continue (+3 in 9 games since), and they have not been the same on either side of the ball since losing top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and stud interior defender JJ Watt for an extended period of time. They are also missing wide receiver Rondale Moore, who could be filling in for Hopkins, interior defender Jordan Phillips, who is supposed to be filling in for Watt, and a pair of starting cornerbacks Robert Alford and Marco Wilson.

In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics like yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals rank 12th, 19th, and 18th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 10th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency. That rank is not as good as their record and they are probably even worse than that suggests given the key players they are missing. My roster rankings, which take injuries into account, have the Cardinals just 1.5 points above average.

The Seahawks are just 6-10, but they have been hurt by a 2-5 record in one score games and have a +21 point differential, despite talented quarterback Russell Wilson missing three games and being limited for about three games upon his return. If you exclude that stretch, the Seahawks are 5-5 with a +32 point differential, with their defense (22nd in schedule adjusted efficiency) and their special teams (4th) serving as complementary units to an offense that has still performed above average when Wilson has been healthy this season.

I wish the Seahawks were not missing top linebacker Bobby Wagner, talented run stuffing interior defender Al Woods, and a pair of starting offensive lineman Gabe Jackson and Brandon Shell, but I was considering making the Seahawks my Pick of the Week before those players were ruled out, so even missing those players, I still only have the Seahawks a half point below average and, with the Cardinals 1.5 points above average, we’re getting line value with the Seahawks as underdogs of 6 points.

The Cardinals did win in Seattle earlier this year by 10 with backup quarterback Colt McCoy under center, but Russell Wilson was not 100% in that game, while McCoy played at a fairly high level for the three games he filled in for Murray. On top of that, just because a team won a divisional game on the road as underdogs does not mean they will beat that same opponent more easily in a same season, regular season game rematch. In fact, divisional favorites cover at just a 41.9% rate in that spot and only win straight up about half the time as favorites of 6.5 points or fewer. This isn’t a big play, but the Seahawks are bettable as 6-point underdogs.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Seattle Seahawks 20

Pick against the spread: Seattle +6

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (10-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-4)

The Cardinals started the season 7-0, but have since fallen back to earth, going just 3-5 in their past 8 games. The +8 turnover margin they had in their first seven games was always going to be unsustainable (+2 in eight games since), but the Cardinals have also suffered a significant amount of injuries that have caused this team to not play as well on either side of the ball. Quarterback Kyler Murray has returned from a three game absence, but he remains without top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and has consistently been missing at least one talented offensive lineman. 

Left guard Justin Pugh and center Rodney Hudson have returned, but this week he will be without arguably his most important offensive lineman, left tackle DJ Humphries. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense has been without top interior defender JJ Watt and top cornerback Robert Alford, who will be joined on the sideline by slot cornerback Marco Wilson and Watt’s replacement Jordan Phillips, while talented edge defenders Devon Kennard and Markus Golden could join them if they can’t return from the COVID protocols in time.

Dallas, meanwhile, is arguably as healthy as they have been all season. Left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin, right tackle La’El Collins, edge defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, wide receivers Amari Cooper, Ceedee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, and quarterback Dak Prescott have all missed at least some time with injury and have not made it through a full game together yet, but all nine of those players are available this week, which is very significant as they are among their most important players.

Despite their injuries, Dallas has still been one of the best teams in the league this year, ranking 6th, 13th, 4th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency and they have been better in recent weeks as they have gotten healthier. The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank 13th, 18th, 17th, and 9th respectively and have struggled in recent weeks because of key players missing time. We have lost a lot of line value in the past week with this line moving up to 6, but my calculated line is 10, which would become 13 if Golden and Kennard both miss. I want to lock this in now and may increase this bet up to a possible Pick of the Week depending on what changes before gametime.

Update: Both Golden and Kennard are out and the line has stayed put at six, so I want to make this my Pick of the Week.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas -6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

The Cardinals started the season 7-0 and survived a 3-game stretch without quarterback Kyler Murray in which they went 2-1, but since Murray has returned from injury, I have thought the Cardinals are an overrated team. The Cardinals may have gone 2-1 without Murray, but they managed just an even point differential against a relatively easy schedule and seemed to be missing top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top interior defender JJ Watt arguably even more than they were missing Murray, whose replacement Colt McCoy was largely a steady hand for the 3-game stretch. 

Murray returned from his injury three games ago, but Watt and Hopkins have remained out indefinitely, which makes them significantly less talented than they were during their hot start to the season. The Cardinals have also benefited significantly from winning the turnover margin, ranking 4th in the NFL with a +10 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric week-to-week. Yards per play and first down rate differential are much more predictive and in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals have never been as impressive as their record, currently ranking 9th in the NFL overall, while ranking 10th, 19th, and 12th respectively on offense, defense, and special teams.

The Cardinals being overrated after Murray’s return has proven to be the case, as they have covered in just one of three games since his return and that was an 11-point win as 7.5-point favorites over the Bears, in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 4 and likely would not have covered if one or two of those turnovers did not happen. The Cardinals’ recent rough patch culminated in an embarrassing double digit loss to the previously 1-win Lions last week, losing 30-12 as 12.5-point favorites.

That result will likely prove to be more of a fluke than anything though and, in the wake of that loss, the Cardinals may actually be a little underrated now. A week ago on the early line, the Cardinals were favored by 5 points in this matchup with the Colts, but the line has since shifted all the way down to 1.5 points. Teams tend to cover after a big upset loss like that, covering at a 57.4% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused as a result of the embarrassment and also tend to be undervalued. The latter is definitely true for the Cardinals this week, while the former is likely to be true as well.

The Colts did have an impressive victory over the Patriots last week, but that was a game in which they lost the first down rate and yards per play battle despite being slightly favored, so that should not have triggered that big of a line shift, especially since the Colts have since lost both of their talented starting guards to COVID protocols, meaning they will be down three of five starters on an offensive line that normally would be the strength of this roster. Even though I don’t think the Cardinals are quite as good as their record, my calculated line still has them favored by a field goal over the short-handed Colts, so we are getting line value with the Cardinals at -1.5. It’s not enough to bet on them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Unfortunately for the Colts, stud linebacker Darius Leonard tested positive before the game and won’t be able to play. This is obviously a huge loss and pushes my calculated line up to Arizona -5.5, but the line has also shifted to Arizona -3 and I don’t think there’s enough line value for this to be worth betting. I may reconsider before gametime, especially if the line drops back down under 3, but for now I’m keeping this as low confidence.

Arizona Cardinals 26 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -3

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at Detroit Lions (1-11-1)

The Cardinals went 2-1 in the three games that Kyler Murray missed, but when Murray returned I said the Cardinals were in more trouble than that suggested, as they faced a relatively easy schedule without Murray and still had just an even point differential in those three games, due to injury absences beyond Murray. In addition to Murray being out, the Cardinals were also without top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and talented left guard Justin Pugh on offense, while their defense was without one of their best players, interior defender JJ Watt. The Cardinals won Murray’s first game back, but they needed to win the turnover battle by 4 to beat the Bears by 11 and then last week the Cardinals lost at home to the Rams, who were missing key players due to COVID protocols.

Hopkins returned for the past two games and Pugh returned last week, but Hopkins is now out indefinitely, while Pugh was still very limited in practice this week and, even if Pugh does play, the Cardinals will be without at least one offensive line starter, with center Rodney Hudson in COVID protocols, so Murray will have less help than he has had since returning. Meanwhile, their defense has really not been the same without Watt, who will now be joined on the sidelines by top cornerback Robert Alford, which is another big loss for this defense, given how thin they are at the cornerback position.

Given that, it’s hard to justify them being 12.5-point favorites on the road. The Cardinals are facing the Lions, who have the league’s worst record, but the Lions are at home and they have been competitive in most of their games, as just four of their 13 games has resulted in a loss that would have led to the Lions failing to cover a 12.5-point spread. The Cardinals could also overlook the Lions, with this game sandwiched in between a tough loss to the Rams and a much tougher game against the Colts on deck next week. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.4% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage more than 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage and that applies here.

The Lions are short-handed as well, again missing tight end TJ Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift, who both missed the Lions’ blowout loss in Denver last week, but they got center Evan Brown back and could also get back both running back Jamaal Williams and safety Tracy Walker, which would be big re-additions. Depending on the status of those players and other key questionable players (Pugh, Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, Lions left guard Jonah Jackson), I may place a bet on the Lions, but there is a lot of uncertainty here right now.

Update: Tracy Walker is playing, but Jamaal Williams is out, as is Jonah Jackson, while both Justin Pugh and Zach Ertz will play for the Cardinals. I am leaving this as a low confidence pick.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit +12.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

The Cardinals stand alone with the league’s best record at 10-2 and their +119 point differential, third in the NFL, seems to suggest they have been as good as their record. However, they have benefited significantly from the turnover margin, ranking second in the NFL at +12, which is not a predictive metric. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals rank 9th, 14th, 12th, and 8th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively.

The Cardinals’ offense should be better now that they have gotten starting quarterback Kyler Murray and top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins back from injury, but their defense has not been the same since losing top interior defender JJ Watt for the year and, as a result, the Cardinals are not the same team they were when they got off to their hot 7-0 start, even if their offense has gotten significantly healthier in recent weeks. 

As part of that 7-0 start, the Cardinals beat the Rams in Los Angeles and by a pretty convincing margin, with a final score of 37-20, but the Rams actually had a slight edge in first down rate (+2.95%) and yards per play (+0.1). That loss also puts the Rams in a good spot this time around, as divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate in a same season regular season rematch against a team that they previously beat as road underdogs, which was the case for the Cardinals in Los Angeles earlier this year.

The Rams have fallen back to earth after a 7-1 start and now sit at 8-4, but their efficiency metrics suggest they have been better than their record, ranking 5th, 6th, 20th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively. Their offense hasn’t been the same since losing talented wide receiver Robert Woods for the year, while quarterback Matt Stafford has not been 100% with an injury of his own, but the Rams acquired Odell Beckham who can somewhat replace Woods and is growing into his role after being with the team for about a month, while Stafford looked healthier in the Rams’ big blowout win over the Jaguars last week. 

Meanwhile, the Rams’ defense is getting better as another key mid-season acquisition, edge defender Von Miller, is growing into his role as well, so, despite losing three of their past four games, the Rams are still well-positioned for the stretch run. I wish we were getting a full field goal with the Rams as underdogs in this game, but we are still getting some line value with the Rams at +2.5 because my calculated line is Rams -1. 

Between that and the good spot the Rams are in, the Rams seem like a decent bet this week, but I’d rather bet the moneyline at +120 (or +115) than the spread unless we happen to get a field goal before gametime. I would also consider betting on the Rams if the Cardinals continue to be without starting left guard Justin Pugh and/or running back Chase Edmonds, who are considered legitimate gametime decisions to return from extended absences.

Update: Another team I picked loses significant players to COVID protocols before gametime. I knew the Rams would be without running back Darrell Henderson when I wrote this, but he was out last week with injury anyway, so that wasn’t a big deal. However, now the Rams will be without talented right tackle Rob Havenstein, stud cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and starting tight end Tyler Higbee. At least I only locked in a money line pick and not a pick against the spread. I am keeping this as a low confidence pick, as the line moved up to a full field goal, meaning we’re getting an appropriate adjustment for the Rams’ key absences. It’s only a half point, but three is the biggest key number, with about 1 in 6 games being decided by exactly a field goal. I would guess the Cardinals are going to win this game if I wasn’t locked into a Rams money line bet, but I would still take the Rams against the spread for pick ’em purposes at +3.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Arizona Cardinals 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +3

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (9-2) at Chicago Bears (4-7)

Yet again, a point spread has been posted for a Cardinals game even though we don’t have anything definitive on the status of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. In each of the past three games, the oddsmakers have posted a spread that has expected both to play and in all three games, both players missed the game, causing the oddsmakers to drastically change the line, in some cases the morning of the game. 

In two of the games, it didn’t really matter, as the Cardinals won once as underdogs and lost once as favorites, but in their last game the Cardinals spent most of the week as favorites and then became underdogs before gametime, meaning if you had bet against them as money line favorites early in the week, you could have then bet on them as money line underdogs later in the week and guaranteeing you would win money regardless. The oddsmakers aren’t taking as big of a chance this week, but it’s odd to see them so confidently posting lines despite major injuries.

Murray and Hopkins seem likelier to play this week than they have in the past, coming off of a bye week and practicing more this week than they had in recent weeks before the bye week, but the Cardinals could continue being cautious with one or both against a losing team, with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck. I also think we are getting good line value with the Bears even if Murray and Hopkins do play, as both could be limited and their return does not solve all of the Cardinals problems.

The Cardinals went 2-1 without Murray and Hopkins, but they had just an even point differential across an underwhelming schedule, despite winning the turnover battle by three, which is not a predictive metric. Their offense actually held up pretty well without Murray and Hopkins and obviously getting both back, even at less than 100%, will be a boost for this unit, but they are unlikely to be as good as they were at the beginning of the season, not only because Murray and Hopkins could be limited, but also because they are still missing running back Chase Edmonds and starting left guard Justin Pugh. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense has not been as good in the past few weeks since losing key interior defender JJ Watt and they could be even more short-handed this week, after top cornerback Byron Murphy got hurt in Friday’s practice. The Bears aren’t a tough opponent, but the Cardinals just aren’t as good as they played earlier in the season or as good as their record, even if Murray and Hopkins play, and we’re getting line value with the Bears at +7.5, as my calculated line has the Cardinals favored by 5, with Murray and Hopkins playing, but not at 100%. 

If one or both of Hopkins and Murray end up not playing, we will obviously be getting even more value with the Bears, so I like locking this one in right now. Big road favorites typically do well after a bye week, covering at a 64.2% rate all-time as favorites of 3.5 or more, but that could be somewhat cancelled out by the Cardinals having a much tougher game next week. This isn’t a big play, but there is enough value here with the Bears to lock in a bet before the line potentially moves down.

Update: Both Murray and Hopkins are active and this line has stayed put at 7.5, but Hopkins at least sounds like he will be limited, while Murray could be rusty in his first game back and he won’t have one of his top blockers with Justin Pugh out. Byron Murphy will be active on defense, but this defense still has not been the same since losing JJ Watt. The Cardinals should still win this game, but it’s a lot to ask them to go on the road and cover a spread of more than a touchdown against anyone other than the worst teams in the league. The Bears are not one of the worst teams in the league and, in fact, are getting healthy on the offensive line and have probably their best quarterback under center, with Andy Dalton playing over raw rookie Justin Fields.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (8-2) at Seattle Seahawks (3-6)

This game is a tough call because both quarterbacks have significant injury question marks. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will play, but he returned very early from a hand injury and did not look close to 100% in his first game back last week, while Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is reportedly a gametime decision after being limited in practice all week and missing the past two weeks with an ankle injury. It sounds like he’s expected to play and he definitely practiced more than the past two weeks, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be. It’s very possible he’ll be closer to 100% than Wilson is because he wasn’t rushed back, but there is a lot of uncertainty here. 

The Cardinals may have the slight quarterback health edge, but the Seahawks are much better than their 3-6 record, as they faced a tough schedule early in the year, starting 2-3, then they went 1-2 without Russell Wilson, but outscored their opponents, with both losses being winnable games, and then last week they lost 17-0 in Wilson’s first game back, largely due to Wilson’s struggles. If he’s closer to 100% this week, the rest of this team is playing well enough for the Seahawks to be a tough opponent again. 

The Seahawks are also the healthier team overall, as the Cardinals’ injuries go well before Murray, as top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, talented left guard Justin Pugh, and stud interior defender JJ Watt are all out once again this week, after being big parts of the reason for their early success this season. With both quarterback injuries factored in, I have this line calculated at even, with the Cardinals missing all of the other key players they are missing, so we are getting some line value with the Seahawks at +1.5. 

I also like getting Russell Wilson off of a loss, a spot he is 31-21 ATS in during his career, including 17-8 ATS at home, though his injury situation makes me less confident that he’ll bounce back than I would if not for the injury. The Seahawks are not worth betting against the spread, but they should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up, so there is some value betting on the money line, especially on the off chance that Murray does not play. If that happens, the Seahawks will likely become the favorite and I could hedge by making a small bet on them as well, ensuring I would make at least some money regardless of who wins this game. Or I could just stick with the Seahawks and enjoy betting against Colt McCoy as a road favorite against Russell Wilson.

Update: Now it sounds like Murray will not be playing once again and this line has shifted to favoring the Seahawks by 3 points as a result. If you bet the Seahawks money line when the Cardinals were favored, you can now bet the Cardinals money line (+135) and ensure you make money either way. I am not heding and will be sticking with my original bet because I don’t have much confidence in Colt McCoy on the road in Seattle in a must win game for Russell Wilson and an underrated Seahawks team, who has lost three of their six games by three points each. My calculated line if Murray is out is Seattle -6.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Arizona Cardinals 23 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Seattle +1.5

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-5) at Arizona Cardinals (8-1)

There is still a lot of uncertainty on the status of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins in this game, as both are being called gametime decisions, but a line has still been posted for most of the week at Arizona -10. The Cardinals were only 2-point underdogs in San Francisco for most of last week despite the uncertainty of Murray and Hopkins, before the line moved to 5.5 by gametime when both were ruled out, so this line being posted favoring Arizona by double digits isn’t a guarantee that Murray and Hopkins play, but this does seem like a different situation than last week, at least for Murray, who returned to practice Friday and seems to be on the right side of questionable.

Murray might not be 100% though and Hopkins may be on the wrong side of questionable, not practicing at all this week for the second straight week. Hopkins plays despite not practicing more than maybe any player in the league and last week was just the third missed game of his 9-year career, playing through multiple ailments throughout his career, so if anyone can play despite missing the last two weeks of practice, it’s him, but the missed practice time is not a good sign for his status. 

On top of that, the Cardinals could be without Rondale Moore, who would be Hopkins’ replacement, but is currently in the concussion protocol and may not be cleared by gametime. The Cardinals’ defense is missing a key player as well, with JJ Watt out for the season, so this team is not at the same strength it was when they started the season 7-0. Even if they were, it’s possible the Cardinals will slack off a little bit this week after beating the 49ers with a backup quarterback last week, similar to how the Cowboys disappointed last week as big home favorites in Dak Prescott’s return, after beating the Vikings in Minnesota with a backup quarterback.

Despite all that, I still want to pick the Cardinals, as my calculated line even with injury uncertainty taken into account is Arizona -13. The Panthers are 4-5, but three of their wins have come against among the worst teams in the league, the Falcons, Jets, and Texans and they didn’t win any of those games convincingly. Their defense is one of the best in the league with Stephon Gilmore and Shaq Thompson now in the lineup healthy, but their offense has been one of the worst in the league and is worse than their defense is good.

Starting quarterback Sam Darnold was part of the problem for this Panthers offense, but him being injured is not necessarily a good thing for this team, as his backup PJ Walker could easily be a downgrade, given how poorly the former undrafted free agent and XFL product has played in his limited NFL career thus far, completing less than 50% of his passes with one touchdown to five interceptions and a 42.0 QB rating. He’s arguably the least qualified backup quarterback in the NFL. There is too much uncertainty here to bet on the Cardinals, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes as of right now. If Murray is ruled out, this line will obviously change and I will update this pick, but I don’t see myself betting either side regardless of what happens.

Update: Rondale Moore is expected to play, but both Murray and Hopkins seem unlikely to play. I don’t know why the odds makers have posted a line without any certainty about Murray’s status in back-to-back weeks, but they have been quickly lowering this line, down to 7.5 now. I don’t know if it will keep falling when Murray and Hopkins are officially ruled out, but my calculated line if both don’t play is Arizona -6.5, so I am going to be on the Panthers for the time being, as it will be tough for Colt McCoy to play at the same level he played at last week and go on the road and beat a great defense by multiple scores. I will have a final update before gametime.

Update: Murray and Hopkins are out. I wouldn’t recommend betting Carolina at +7.5, but if you are going to do so, you’ll need to lock it in soon as the line has started to drop to 7 in some places.

Arizona Cardinals 16 Carolina Panthers 10

Pick against the spread: Carolina +7.5

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (7-1) at San Francisco 49ers (3-4)

The Cardinals have significant injury uncertainty this week, with their star quarterback Kyler Murray and their top offensive playmaker DeAndre Hopkins both missing practice all week and being considered gametime decisions at best. Normally in situations like this, I like to wait until there is more certainty on the injury situations and often times there won’t even be a line posted, but the 49ers are currently listed as 2-point home favorites against the injury riddled Cardinals and at that number the 49ers are good enough to bet even if both Murray and Hopkins play, assuming both will be going at less than 100% if they can even play.

The 49ers are just 3-4 this season after going 6-10 last season, but their biggest problems in both seasons have been injuries and turnovers. The 49ers had the most adjusted games lost to injury last season and the 2nd worst turnover margin in the league at -11, while this season the 49ers rank 4th worst in turnover margin at -6 and have continued to be as injury plagued as any team in the league, with key absences on both sides of the ball throughout the season.

The good news is that the 49ers are getting healthier, most notably with stud tight end George Kittle set to return this week, and also that turnover margin is very unpredictable week-to-week. Despite the 49ers injury absences, they still rank 6th, 10th, and 14th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, which are much more predictable and predictive than turnover margin, so the 49ers have overall played noticeably better than their record and should be better going forward with key players returning in the past couple weeks. The Cardinals, meanwhile, also are without top interior defender JJ Watt, even if Murray and Hopkins are able to go.

Even if Murray and Hopkins played, I would have the 49ers a point better than the Cardinals in my roster rankings and if they don’t play, we are obviously getting a steal with the 49ers as just 2-point favorites. The 49ers are also in a great spot, as they are favored in the first of two tough games, with favorites covering at a 54.1% rate all-time when facing an opponent with a winning percentage of more than 60%, before facing another such team the following week (in this case, the 49ers’ game against the Rams). Lock this in at -2 (or anything under 3) while you can.

San Francisco 49ers 26 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -2

Confidence: Medium