After coming just short of their first playoff appearance since the 2015-16 season, the Arizona Cardinals went into this offseason on a positive note. Arizona made a splash this offseason when they went out and signed JJ Watt. Last season was definitely a good year to build off of as they had a 3-win improvement from their 2019 campaign. The Cardinals went from having the first overall draft pick to within a game away from making the playoffs in just two years. Last year, second-year quarterback Kyler Murray accounted for 3,971 yards through the air, along with his 819 on the ground. Just over 20 percent of Murray's rush yards came in 3rd down situations. He averaged 5.7 yards per rush attempt on 3rd downs as well. Murray recorded both passing and rushing touchdowns in 9 games which set an NFL record. His rushing numbers were nearly cut in half between the first 8 and last 8 games due to a leg injury (543 to 276). The former Heisman Trophy winner did take steps in the right direction last year as he threw for almost 300 yards and 6 touchdowns more in 2020 than the year prior. Arizona also did a much better job of keeping Kyler upright as they cut his sacks nearly in half from 48 to 27. All these improvements came together to lead the Cardinals to the 6th best offense among the league averaged 384.6 total yards per week.
After being cut from the Texans, the 4-time defensive player of the year award winner JJ Watt decided that he would sign a 2 year 28,000,000 dollar contract to take his talents to the desert. Arizona hopes to pair him with guys like Chandler Jones and their first-round selection Zaven Collins to build on their defense that already ranked 4th in sacks last season (48). Zaven Collins was taken by Arizona with the 16th overall selection. Collins racked up 53 tackles and 4 sacks last season for the Golden Hurricanes to go along with being named the winner of the 2020 Chuck Bednarik Award as the Defensive Player of the Year in all of college football. The Arizona defense ranked 13th among the league in yards allowed per game. They were a middle-of-the-pack unit in major categories such as points allowed, rushing yards allowed, and passing yards allowed last year. They also had a turnover differential of zero as they both got and gave up 21 takeaways.
The Cardinals 2021 schedule consists of 9 games against 7 teams that were in the 2020 playoff field. They start the season with 4 of their first 6 games being on the road. 3 of those 4 games are against playoff teams, including the Titans, Rams, and Browns. They are forced to cross over time zones 3 times in that span as well. There bye week does not come until week 12 between games at Seattle and at Chicago. With the addition of the 18th week this year, that adds their week 6 matchup at the Browns. Although the beginning weeks of their schedule are difficult, they also finish up the regular season facing 4 playoff teams in their remaining 6 weeks.
Depending on what you read, this off-season Kliff Kingsbury could be on the hot seat in year three with Kyler Murray. I don't think that is the case. Missing the playoffs by one game last year with a hobbled Murray late in the season was impressive. If Murray were healthy at Los Angeles in week 17, this team would have a whole new look. Instead, they signed some veterans like JJ Watt and AJ Green to have some leadership in the locker room. They will miss Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald if he does indeed retire. The Cardinals play in a very competitive division where the Rams and Seahawks made the playoffs last year, and San Fransisco is two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. An over/under of eight makes the bet nine to cash. It's a tough schedule, but 9-8 seems right. Week 18 at home against Seattle looks like a playoff berth could be on the line.
Arizona Cardinals over 8.