Arizona Cardinals 2022 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Cardinals were the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team last season, starting the year 7-0 and, even after dropping a couple games, they still remained in the NFC’s #1 overall seed at 10-2, with just five games left in the season. However, the Cardinals lost four of those last five regular season games to not only fall out of the #1 seed, but to fall out of the division lead as well, forcing them to go on the road in the first round of the playoffs, where they were embarrassed by their divisional rival Los Angeles Rams.

In some ways, the Cardinals’ collapse was predictable, as they were very reliant on the turnover margin early in the season, with a +12 turnover margin through 12 games. Turnover margins tend to be very unpredictive on a week-to-week basis and the Cardinals’ efficiency ratings, which are more predictive, did not show them to be as good as their record through 12 games, as they ranked 9th, 14th, 12th, and 8th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and overall efficiency. In the Cardinals’ final five games, they were even in the turnover margin, which made it much tougher for them to win games.

Their failure to continue to dominate the turnover margin was not their only problem though, as they badly missed top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who missed 7 of the Cardinals’ final 9 regular season games, including their final 4 games, as well as their playoff loss, top defensive lineman JJ Watt, who missed the final 10 games of the regular season before returning to be a shell of himself in the playoff loss, and top cornerback Robert Alford, who missed the final 4 regular season games and the playoff loss. As a result, the Cardinals fell to 13th, 19th, 20th, and 15th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and overall efficiency by season’s end.

That doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals’ chances of bouncing back in 2022. Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the season, JJ Watt heads into his age 33 season with a big history of major injuries, and the oft-injured Robert Alford was not retained for his age 34 season this off-season. On top of that, the Cardinals lost Christian Kirk, their top receiver in Hopkins’ absence, Chandler Jones, their top edge defender, Jordan Hicks, their top off ball linebacker, and Chase Edmonds, their most efficient running back this off-season, with their only major addition being former Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown, who cost the Cardinals their first round pick in a trade.

Quarterback Kyler Murray will have his work cut out for him if he wants to get the Cardinals back to the post-season. The 2019 #1 overall pick, Murray has taken a step forward in all three seasons in the league, going from 29th among quarterbacks on PFF as a rookie to 12th in 2020 and then 7th last season, emerging as one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the league. In total, Murray completed 69.2% of his passes for an average of 7.87 YPA, 24 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions last season, while rushing for 423 yards on 88 carries (4.81 YPC) with 5 touchdowns.

Murray is still only going into his age 25 season and may still have further untapped upside and, even if he doesn’t, he’s likely to remain one of the better quarterbacks in the league for years to come. The Cardinals will have to make a decision on his contract long-term at some point in the next calendar year or so, with Murray set to see his salary jump to 29.703 million in the final year of his rookie deal after this season, and Murray spent some of the off-season pressuring for a big deal from the Cardinals sooner rather than later, with this being the first off-season he is eligible for a new contract. 

Murray is likely to command a top of market deal whenever he signs so there might be some logic to giving him a deal now, when the top of the market is lower than it might be in a year, with Lamar Jackson still unsigned long-term and Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert set to be eligible for extensions next off-season. However, when Murray is ultimately signed long-term, it will make it even more difficult for the Cardinals to keep talent around Murray. In the salary cap era, only Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl with a cap hit lower than 11%, so Murray will have to prove he is on that level to justify his new payday when that day comes.

One concern with Murray, given his size (5-10 207) and playing style (314 carries in 3 seasons in the league), is injuries and he did miss the first three games of his career last season, but the Cardinals were able to hold down the fort pretty well because backup Colt McCoy gave them solid play. McCoy has been a bit of an erratic backup throughout his career, with just a 80.3 career QB rating, but he had a 101.4 QB rating on 99 pass attempts in his first season in Arizona last season and seems to be a good fit for the scheme. He’s only started 33 games total in 12 seasons in the league and he’s now going into his age 36 season, so it’s very possible he would struggle if he had to start for an extended period of time, but there are worse backups. The Cardinals obviously need Murray to stay healthy though, if they want any chance at being contenders.

Grade: A-

Receiving Corps

As I mentioned, the Cardinals traded their first round pick, 23rd overall, to the Ravens for wide receiver Marquise Brown. The Cardinals did get back pick #100, but they still gave up the equivalent of the 28th overall pick in draft capital, a steep price to pay for a wide receiver who wants a big long-term extension added on to the 15.52 million he’s due over the next two seasons on the final two years of his rookie deal. 

Brown is a 2019 first round pick who is still only going into his age 25 season and there is some believe that he’ll be able to consistently put up better numbers in a more pass heavy system, after beginning his career with the run heavy Ravens, which is a big part of the reason Brown requested a trade from Baltimore in the draft place. However, Brown has actually surpassed 100 targets in each of the past two seasons and, while his 1.69 yards per route run average for his career is solid, it’s not the kind of number that suggests he’s secretly an elite wide receiver trapped in the wrong offense.

Brown played with Murray at the University of Oklahoma and their previous chemistry, as well as the likelihood that having Brown around will keep the mercurial Murray happy, make the addition of Brown more logical, but he hasn’t proven he’s worth the top level contract he wants long-term and giving a first round pick for the right to give him that contract is very questionable. He does give them a necessary replacement for Christian Kirk (1.81 yards per route run in 2021) and he gives them a interim #1 wide receiver while DeAndre Hopkins serves his 6-game suspension, but he comes at a very steep price.

Prior to the seven games he missed last season, Hopkins has missed just two games total in eight seasons in the league from 2013-2020. Starting in his breakout season in his second season in the league, the 2013 1st round pick had seven straight seasons among the top wide receivers in the league from 2014-2020, averaging a 99/1315/8 slash line and 2.18 yards per route run, despite generally inconsistent quarterback play, but he’s now going into his age 30 season and seemed to be slowing down a little bit in 2021 even before his injury, as he was averaging just 1.76 yards per route run and was on pace for just a 71/972/14 slash line across 17 games. 

Hopkins still was PFF’s 18th ranked wide receiver across the 10 games he did play, but that was his lowest rating since his 2016 season, with five finishes in the top-7 among wide receivers on PFF the previous seven seasons prior to 2021. His age isn’t a big concern, but 30-year-old wide receivers are about 40% less likely to have a 1,000 yard receiver than 26-year-old wide receivers and, even if he doesn’t drop off significantly this season, it’s likely that is coming in the next 2-3 seasons, with 33-year-old wide receivers being 80% less likely to have a 1,000 yard receiver than 26-year-old wide receivers. Hopkins has a good chance to remain one of the better wide receivers in the league when on the field in 2022, but his best days are likely behind him and a higher than expected dropoff is certainly possible, especially if he continues becoming increasingly injury prone.

Before trading for Marquise Brown, the Cardinals brought back veteran AJ Green, but he was never a long-term solution, now heading into his age 34 season. The 4th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Bengals. Green surpassed 1,000 yard receiving in six of his first seven seasons in the league, but has had a pretty typical decline for a top level wide receiver, posting his most recent and likely final 1,000 yard season in 2017, in his age 29 season. 

Green got off to an impressive start in 2018, with a 46/694/6 slash line in 9 games, but then he got hurt, leading to him missing all of 2019 and he has not nearly been the same since. His yards per route run average in 2021 was up from the pathetic 1.02 average he had in his final season in Cincinnati on a hapless Bengals team, but he still only averaged 1.60 yards per route run in a middling at best 2021 campaign and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he declined further in 2022. He could remain a serviceable stopgap, but he could also see his abilities totally fall off and his best days are almost definitely behind him either way.

The Cardinals also have 2021 2nd round pick Rondale Moore, who figures to be the 3rd receiver to begin the season, with Hopkins out. Moore is still extremely raw, only turning 22 this season, but he had an impressive 1.64 yards per route run average as a rookie in a limited role and could be ready for a bigger role in year two. Even when Hopkins returns, Moore figures to continue seeing action in 4-wide receiver sets, which the Cardinals run about as much as any team in the league under head coach and offensive play caller Kliff Kingsbury.

Because of how many 4-wide receiver sets they run, the Cardinals never used a tight end much in the early days of the Kliff Kingbury/Kyler Murray era, but that changed when they acquired veteran Zach Ertz from the Eagles mid-season last year. Ertz seemed to be nearing the end in 2020 and earlier last season with the Eagles, seeing his yards per route run average drop to 1.03 between 2020 and his time with the Eagles in 2021, after averaging 1.83 in the first seven seasons of his career prior to 2020, but he managed to have something of a resurgence in what was previously considered an unfriendly offense for tight ends in Arizona, posting a 56/574/3 slash line in 11 games while averaging 1.54 yards per route run, not as good as what he averaged earlier in his career, but still an above average figure for a tight end.

Ertz’ best days are still almost definitely behind him, as he now heads into his age 32 season, and it’s very possible he could see his 2020 form return, but it’s also very possible he remains a solid starter for at least another season. The Cardinals clearly believe Ertz can remain a solid starter going forward, re-signing him on a 3-year, 31.65 million dollar deal with 14.5 million fully guaranteed in the first year, but they also hedged their bet a little bit, using their 2nd round pick on Colorado State’s Trey McBride as potential long-term successor for Ertz. 

McBride was mostly drafted for the future, but with Hopkins suspended to begin the year, we could see more two-tight end sets from the Cardinals, so the rookie could have a significant role to begin the season. The Cardinals also still have veteran tight end Maxx Williams, whose torn ACL suffered last season was what spurred the Cardinals to acquire Ertz in the first place. Williams has just 102 catches in 68 career games and injuries have been a consistent problem for him, costing him 45 games total in seven seasons in the league, but he’s an above average blocker and will be useful in that capacity if he can recover from his latest injury and stay on the field. This is a deep and talented group with a lot of potential when Hopkins is out there, but they’ll miss him early in the season and he may continue declining when he returns.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

The Cardinals employed a two-headed attack out of the backfield last season, three if you include Kyler Murray’s contributions as a runner. This off-season, both of those backs, James Conner and Chase Edmonds, were set to hit free agency. Conner had more carries (202 vs. 116) and significantly more touchdowns (15 vs. 2), but he was also the significantly less efficient back on a per carry basis (3.72 YPC and 52% carry success rate vs. 5.10 and 58% for Edmonds), so it might have been a mistake for the Cardinals to bring Conner back on a 3-year, 21 million dollar deal, while Edmonds signed in Miami on a cheaper 2-year, 12.1 million dollar deal.

The Cardinals also didn’t do anything to replace Edmonds aside from signing mediocre veteran Darrel Williams, so Conner figures to have a significantly expanded role this season, a concern considering he’s been injury prone throughout his career, never missing fewer than two games and never surpassing 215 carries in a season. Williams is likely to have at least some role as the #2 back, probably mostly on passing downs, after a 47/452/2 slash line with the Chiefs last season, and he’ll likely see at least a couple starts at some point as well when Conner inevitably misses time with injury, but that is a concern, considering Williams has averaged just 3.85 YPC on 237 carries in four seasons in the league. Even his 1.18 yards per route run average is mediocre, actually lower than Conner’s 1.27 average for his career.

It’s possible Williams could face competition for the #2 back job from incumbent #3 running back Eno Benjamin, but the 2020 7th round pick struggled when given the first action of his career in 2021, averaging just 3.47 YPC on 34 carries. He’d likely see some role if Conner gets hurt, but he would likely be just as unimpressive as Williams in an expanded role. The Cardinals are counting on Conner staying healthy as a feature back, with questionable depth behind him, but his 4.16 YPC and 1.27 yards per route run average for his career are underwhelming and he’s never been healthy enough to have more than 270 touches in a season in five seasons in the league, so he’s a questionable fit in a feature back role. It’s a concern for this backfield.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

The Cardinals’ offensive line was more of a weakness than a strength in 2021. Their expected starting five was not that bad, but all five missed at least some time with injury, so they rarely had their expected line together and their top reserves Josh Jones (852 snaps), Sean Harlow (441 snaps), and Justin Murray (90 snaps) all struggled. In addition to depth being a weakness, the Cardinals also had a weak spot on the starting offensive line at right guard to address this off-season. However, the Cardinals did nothing of note to address their depth and only replaced mediocre incumbent right guard Max Garcia with free agent addition Will Hernandez, who may not be a significant upgrade.

A second round pick by the Giants in 2018, Hernandez looked like a long-term above average starter after a solid rookie season in which he made all 16 starts and finished as PFF’s 24th ranked guard. However, that has proven to be his peak thus far in his career, as he’s finished below average on PFF in each of the past three seasons and was even benched for a stretch in 2020. Garcia finished the 2021 season as PFF’s 64th ranked guard out of 90 eligible, but Hernandez was even worse, finishing 68th. Hernandez is an experienced starter (56 career starts) and may still have some bounce back potential, but he’s already in his age 27 season and is unlikely to have significant untapped upside. I wouldn’t expect him to be more than a serviceable starter and even that may be wishful thinking.

The Cardinals’ depth concerns upfront are even more concerning as several of their starters are on the wrong side of 30, with left guard Justin Pugh going into his age 32 season, center Rodney Hudson going into his age 33 season, and right tackle Kelvin Beachum going into his age 33 season. Pugh was an injury concern even when he was younger, playing all 16 games just twice in nine seasons in the league and missing 30 games total over those nine seasons, and he’s unlikely to become more durable now in his 30s. He was still a solid starter last season, but early career injuries largely sapped his abilities, as he hasn’t been more than a solid starter since 2016, and he could easily fall off significantly in 2022, given his age.

Hudson had a significant drop off last season, in his first year with the Cardinals after being acquired from the Raiders for a third round pick last off-season, finishing 28th out of 41 eligible centers, after finishing in the top-13 among centers in each of the previous seven seasons, with five top-10 finishes in those seven years. Hudson could bounce back a little bit in 2022, but his best days are almost definitely behind him and he also could just as easily drop off even further, as he goes further into his 30s. Beachum was still a capable starter in 2021, but he did earn his worst grade from PFF since 2016 and also could easily continue declining. Even if he doesn’t decline, he hasn’t been much more than a middling starter for most of his career, though he is plenty experienced with 130 career starts in 10 seasons in the league.

The Cardinals will need Pugh, Hudson, and Beachum to hold up as at least capable starters for another season because Josh Jones, Sean Harlow, and Justin Murray remain as their top reserves and none of them are likely to be significantly better than a year ago. Jones has the most upside of the bunch, as a 2020 3rd round pick, but he was horrendous last season, finishing 85th out of 90 eligible guards on PFF, after barely playing as a rookie. Even if he takes a step forward in his third year in the league, he could easily still remain a below average option. Harlow, meanwhile, is a 2020 undrafted free agent who struggled in the first significant action of his career last season and is no guarantee to be better going forward, while Justin Murray is a career backup who has never been more than a middling injury fill-in.

The only above average starter on this offensive line in the prime of their career is left tackle DJ Humphries, who heads into his age 29 season. A first round pick in 2015, Humphries took a year to earn a starting job and dealt with a lot of injuries early in his career, so he only had 27 starts in the first four seasons of his career, but in three seasons since, he’s missed just one game total and has developed into a consistently above average starter. His best season came in 2020 when he finished 5th among offensive tackles on PFF and, while he hasn’t consistently been that good, it shows the highest ceiling he has. Other Humphries though, this is a pretty underwhelming group.

Grade: B-

Edge Defenders

As I mentioned earlier, the Cardinals lost Chandler Jones in free agency this off-season, with Jones signing in Las Vegas on a 3-year, 51 million dollar contract. Jones is going into his age 32 season, but he still had the 7th double digit sack season of his career last season and the Cardinals top’ returning edge defenders Markus Golden and Devon Kennard are also on the wrong side of 30, going into their age 31 seasons in 2022. The Cardinals used 3rd round picks on San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas and University of Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders in this year’s draft, but they probably won’t play huge roles as a rookie, so the Cardinals will be relying heavily on the veterans Golden and Kennard at this position in 2022.

Golden actually led this team with sacks last season with 11, while also totaling 9 hits and pressuring the quarterback at a 11.4% rate, and he’s mostly been an above average pass rusher throughout his career, with 44.5 sacks, 73 hits, and a 12.8% pressure rate in 94 games in 7 seasons in the league. He was limited to just 15 games total from 2017-2018 by injury, but has bounced back nicely to only miss one game over the past three seasons. He could easily have another above average season rushing the passer, but his age is becoming a concern and if his pass rush ability significantly declines, he would become a liability because his run defense has always been a problem. 

Kennard, on the other hand, is in many ways the opposite, as he’s never been much of a pass rusher, with 26.5 sacks, 36 hits, and a 9.7% pressure rate in 111 games in 8 seasons in the league, but he’s also generally received above average grades from PFF for his run defense. He’s played more of a reserve role over the past two seasons since joining the Cardinals, playing just 22.8 snaps per game in 28 games, but he played 44.3 snaps per game in his first six seasons in the league prior to the past two seasons and now will need to play a bigger role with Jones gone. How effective he’ll be in that larger role, now on the wrong side of 30, is questionable though. The Cardinals will need Golden and Kennard to not show any signs of decline and they will need good production from their rookies for this to be an above average group. More likely, they’ll be more of a middling group.

Grade: B-

Interior Defender

JJ Watt returns to the Cardinals this season, which is important because their defense fell off significantly when he missed the final 10 games of last season. Watt is going into his age 33 season and has missed at least half the season with injury in four of the past six seasons though, so he’s not that reliable of an option. Watt still played at a pretty high level when on the field last season, pressuring the quarterback at a very impressive 12.9% rate from the interior and ranking 10th among interior defenders on PFF across the seven games he played, but he still finished with the 3rd lowest PFF grade of his 11-year career, with his previous season in 2020 being the 4th lowest grade of his career, so he’s clearly on the decline. Even a declined JJ Watt could still be one of the better players in the league at his position, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he continued declining further, considering his age and injury history.

If you’ve noticed something of a theme on this Cardinals team, it’s having key players who have been accomplished in the past, but who are now on the wrong side of 30. In addition to Watt, edge defenders Markus Golden and Devon Kennard, offensive linemen Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, and Kelvin Beachum, and pass catchers DeAndre Hopkins, AJ Green, and Zach Ertz are all on the wrong side of 30 and those nine players could all easily be starters for this team. 

It’s not hard to see how this could be one of the oldest teams in the league this season in terms of average age of snaps played, which is a concern, because older players tend to drop off suddenly. If that happens to a few of the aforementioned players, the Cardinals will be in trouble, given that efficiency ratings suggested they were a middling team last season, even before off-season departures and potential drop offs from key players. 

Watt dropping off significantly would especially be a concern, not just because of how well he still played last season before the season, but also because the Cardinals have next to nothing at the interior defender position behind him. Jordan Phillips (284 snaps) and Corey Peters (362 snaps) were their only other interior defenders to earn even an average grade from PFF last season, but those two veterans are gone and the Cardinals didn’t do anything to replace him, so they will be banking on getting better play from some of their young players at the position.

Those younger player sare 2019 3rd round pick Zach Allen (684 snaps), 2020 4th round pick Leki Fotu (371 snaps), fellow 2020 4th round pick Rashard Lawrence (219 snaps), and 2019 7th round pick Michael Dogbe (263 snaps), who all had roles last season and who are candidates to see their roles expanded in 2022, despite all of them finishing below average on PFF in every season of their careers. Allen led this position in snaps played last season, so there might not be much room for his role to grow, but either way, he will have a big role, which is a problem because he is a significant liability against the run. His career 6.4% pressure rate is not bad and he’s still only in his age 25 season and may have untapped upside, but he’ll need to improve his run defense to become even a capable starter.

Fotu, Lawrence, and Dogbe all may have untapped upside as well, but they’ve shown even less than Allen has thus far in his career, with Fotu and Lawrence also struggling on snap counts of 284 and 166 respectively as rookies in 2020 and Dogbe only playing 123 snaps total in two seasons in the league prior to earning a slightly bigger role in 2021. It’s very possible none of them ever develop into useful contributors, which is a concern because the Cardinals will need at least a couple of them to do so this season, for this to be a solid group overall. JJ Watt’s presence elevates this whole position group, but he has become increasingly unreliable in recent years.

Grade: C+

Linebackers

The Cardinals used back-to-back first round picks on off ball linebackers in the 2020 and 2021 NFL Draft, taking Isaiah Simmons 8th overall in 2020 and then taking Zaven Collins 16th overall in 2021. Simmons only saw 376 snaps as a rookie, but he moved into an every down role in year two in 2021. Collins was supposed to join him and his selection was expected to lead to the Cardinals trading or releasing veteran Jordan Hicks, but instead Hicks took a pay cut and stayed ahead of Collins on the depth chart all season, limiting Collins to 220 snaps as a reserve. In fact, Hicks was the Cardinals’ best off ball linebacker overall in terms of PFF grade and finished 27th in overall grade among off ball linebackers.

Hicks was still let go this off-season, a move that saved the Cardinals 6 million, freeing up the job for Collins, but there is no guarantee Collins is as good in his first year as a starter, even if he is a first round talent who flashed a lot of potential as a rookie. On top of that, Simmons hasn’t shown much more than middling play thus far in his career, though he obviously has the upside to take a big leap forward in year three. Both Collins and Simmons have the upside to be a very talented off ball linebacker duo long-term, but there is no guarantee they reach their potential and, even if they do, it might not be in 2022.

Collins and Simmons are also both somewhat non-prototypical linebackers, with the 6-4 230 pound Simmons having the athleticism to play on the slot and to move to the edge and the 6-4 260 Collins having the size to also play some defensive line, so there will be snaps available for at least one reserve off ball linebacker to see action. The most likely candidate for that role is veteran free agent signing Nick Vigil, who is plenty experienced, with 51 starts in 85 games in 6 seasons in the league, but who also has never been more than a middling linebacker and who finished last season as PFF’s 80th ranked off ball linebacker out of 94 eligible across 718 snaps. He’s not a bad reserve option, but he’ll likely struggle if he has to see extended action. This group has upside, but obvious downside if neither Collins nor Simmons take a step forward and it’s very possible they’ll miss Jordan Hicks, their best player at the position a year ago.

Grade: B-

Secondary

Robert Alford definitely wasn’t the biggest name on the 2021 Cardinals, but he was by default their top cornerback and his absence down the stretch last season was as big of a reason as any why the Cardinals declined down the stretch. Alford is oft injured, playing just 28 games total over the past 4 seasons, and was heading into his age 34 season in 2022, so the Cardinals opted not to retain him this off-season and he could easily have struggled even if he was brought back, so it’s understand why they let him go, but the Cardinals also didn’t replace him, so cornerback looks like it will be a very questionable position for the Cardinals this season.

Byron Murphy (967 snaps) and Marco Wilson (748 snaps) both played significant roles last season in three cornerback sets with Alford and both remain on the roster, but they finished 89th and 117th respectively out of 134 eligible cornerbacks on PFF and will likely be underwhelming starting options again in 2022. Wilson was only a rookie, but he was also only a 4th round pick and it’s far from a guarantee that 4th round picks ever develop into long-term starters, even ones that see playing time early in their career. Wilson could take a step forward in year two, but he played badly enough last season that a step forward wouldn’t necessarily make him even a capable starter.

Similarly, Murphy is a 2019 2nd round pick who was a little better in 2020 than he was in 2021, but he was still only a middling cornerback in 2020 and he finished 122nd out of 135 eligible cornerbacks as a rookie in 2019, so he’s had an inconsistent at best three years in the league thus far. Still only in his age 24 season, there is still time for him to develop into an above average starter and, even if that doesn’t happen this season, he could still be better than a year ago, but that’s far from a guarantee.

Without any significant additions being made to this group this off-season, the Cardinals will likely turn to Antonio Hamilton as their third cornerback. He was decent on 313 snaps last season, but that was a very limited sample size and it was still a career high in defensive snaps for a 6-year veteran who has primarily been a special teamer in his career. Now in his age 29 season, it’s unlikely he’s suddenly going to break out as even an average #3 cornerback.

Making matters worse, the Cardinals don’t have any real depth to speak of behind their shaky top-3 cornerbacks. Breon Borders was probably the most significant addition the Cardinals made to this group this off-season and he flashed potential on 360 snaps with the Titans in 2020, but the 2017 undrafted free agent has played just 166 other defensive snaps in his career, including just 70 last season for the Titans, so he’s a highly unproven option as well. The Cardinals took cornerback Christian Matthew in the 7th round, but he would very likely struggle if forced into significant action as a rookie. This is one of the shakiest cornerback groups in the league.

Things are fortunately better at safety, although somewhat by default. Budda Baker is arguably the Cardinals’ best defensive player with Chandler Jones gone and Markus Golden and JJ Watt getting up in age, but Baker is also coming off of a down year. He still finished above average on PFF, but he fell to 47th among safeties on PFF after finishing 33rd in 2019 and 10th in 2020. He’s only in his age 26 season though and he’s been an above average starter in all five seasons of his career, so he has a good chance to bounce back and even if he doesn’t, he should remain a valuable player.

Jalen Thompson was actually the better of the two starting safeties last season, finishing 37th among safeties on PFF in his first full season as a starter. A 5th round pick in the 2019 supplemental draft, Thompson actually became a starter midway through his rookie season, when he made 9 starts in total, but his second season in the league was ended after 4 starts by injury. He fared well when on the field in his first two seasons in the league though, so it wasn’t surprising that he had a solid season as a full-time starter in his 3rd year in the league. He should remain at least a solid starter and, still only going into his age 24 season, he may still have some untapped upside.

Depth is a bit of a concern at safety though, with Deionte Thompson being their only notable reserve. The incumbent #3 safety, Thompson should remain in that role, but the 2019 5th round pick has struggled in limited action in his career and would likely be a big weakness if forced to start for an extended period of time. He’s played just 655 snaps total in his career, with just 71 of those snaps coming last season. The Cardinals will need their starting safeties to stay healthy because they’ll have to try to mask the Cardinals’ big weakness at cornerback.

Grade: B-

Special Teams

The Cardinals’ special teams was slightly below average last season, finishing 20th in special teams DVOA. Kicker Matt Prater had a better good season and returns for another year, but, sticking with the theme of this team, he’s getting up there in age, even for a kicker, in his age 38 season, while punter Andy Lee is in his age 40 season and coming off of a significantly down year, finishing dead last out of 35 eligible punters on PFF.

Rondale Moore will likely remain their primary return man, even if he has to play a bigger role on offense when DeAndre Hopkins is suspended, but he was underwhelming last season and is not a guarantee to be better in year two. On top of that, one of the Cardinals’ two best core special teamers, veteran Demetrius Harris, is no longer with the team, leaving Dennis Gardeck as their only top-50 special teamer on PFF from a year ago. Because of that, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this group was even worse in 2022, especially given the age of their kicker and punter.

Grade: C+

Conclusion

The Cardinals went 11-6 last season, but they needed a +12 turnover margin to win that many games, finishing just 15th in efficiency, and they were exposed in a big way down the stretch last season. Even if they brought back the same team as a year ago, they likely would not win 11 games again, as they would not be able to count on dominating the turnover margin again, as turnover margin is not predictive year-to-year, but the Cardinals also look worse than a year ago.

The aging Cardinals lost top edge defender Chandler Jones and top cornerback Robert Alford this off-season, both over 30, which will be big losses, and they still have nine players over 30 who could easily start for them this season and if even a few of them drop off significantly, that will be very noticeable. The absence of JJ Watt and DeAndre Hopkins was a big part of the reason for their struggles in the second half last season, but Watt is a highly injury prone player in his age 33 season, while Hopkins is also on the wrong side of 30 and will sit for at least the first 6 games with a suspension. 

The Cardinals also lost running back Chase Edmonds and linebacker Jordan Hicks this off-season, key players from last season’s team, and had to trade their first round pick to get Marquise Brown to replace another departure Christian Kirk, meaning the Cardinals didn’t get much out of the draft. There is still talent on this team, but they should be worse than a year ago and they’re starting from a lower base point than their 11-6 record a year ago would suggest. The NFC is the weaker of the two conferences by a wide margin, but the Cardinals play in probably the toughest division in the conference and are not guaranteed to even get a wild card berth again. I will have a final prediction at the end of the off-season when all previews are completed.

Prediction: TBD, TBD in NFC West

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