Anyone who has ever talked about the NFL with me knows that during that conversation, sooner or later, I’ll find a way to bring up my current opinion on the Arizona Cardinals. So why not create a weekly article where I write about those Cardinals? This column will differ from my “Hoosiers In The NBA” as I won’t be relying as much on stats, at least not early on in the season where one good/bad performance can skew the stats greatly.
Don’t worry: this will not just be a weekly long-winded rant about my favorite team (though if you want me to, just to pick my brain for psychological studies, I’d be more than happy to comply). Instead I will go over the Cards current matchup and give my prediction. Also, since fantasy football has almost become bigger than real football, I’ll give the Cardinal I feel will have the biggest fantasy performance this week as well as the best fantasy option from the opposing team based on their matchup with the Cards. Lastly I’ll make my picks for the week and give a short description explaining my pick. I’ll follow-up on it Tuesday to see whether I was right or wrong, but let’s not waste any more time with my explanations and get right to it.
New Orleans Saints @ Arizona Cardinals
Last Meeting: L 31-7 @ New Orleans (9/22/13)
The last time these two teams met, Drew Brees picked apart the Cards secondary to the tune of 342 passing yards and three touchdowns as the Saints rolled. While many players and coaches remain on both sides from that matchup two years ago, there is one glaring exception. To say Brees constantly read the defense and found the open man isn’t completely true. He basically found a weakness and abused that weakness until the game was out of reach. That weakness was the Cardinals inability to cover Jimmy Graham properly. Graham’s performance was proof that Graham vs. Gronk was a legit argument two years ago: nine receptions, 134 receiving yards, and two touchdowns.
The fact that the Cardinals still have trouble with great receiving tight ends is unfortunate since they’ll face Graham twice this season since he’s now in Seattle. However we are talking about New Orleans right now and there’s a hole in their offense without Graham. Sure Brees can still sling it but without a good tight end that can draw secondary help, Patrick Peterson and Co. can focus in on Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks. The Saints do have Ben Watson and Josh Hill filling in at tight end but Watson will be 35 by the end of the season and Hill has only proven to be a good redzone option and that was with Graham drawing coverage away from him. The Saints could run the ball with Mark Ingram but the Cardinals defense prides itself as one of the elite rush defenses so that will be easier said than done.
On the other side of the ball we see the return of Carson Palmer and he has been impressive in the preseason. Both Palmer and the coaching staff agree that his arm strength is the best it has been in a long time. Good thing too as he’ll be able to take advantage of having deep threats John Brown and JJ Nelson. Brown in particular is set up for a breakout season after amassing 696 receiving yards and five touchdowns during his rookie campaign. His ability to get behind almost any safety makes him a long touchdown pass waiting to happen. Also there is still Larry Fitzgerald, who may not be as fast as he once was but he is still a dangerous target in the redzone. A potential problem for the Cardinals offense is the fact they will have two backup offensive linemen starting with Mike Iupati and Bobby Massie being out to begin the season. This may be an issue in the coming weeks but not against a Saints’ defense that gave up the fifth most points last season and already have number big injuries on that side heading into week one.
Overall I don’t think I’m being biased when I say that the Cardinals are the favorite in this matchup. Add to the fact that University of Phoenix Stadium has been one of the best home field advantages since Coach Bruce Arians arrived and that the Saints have a tendency to struggle away from the Superdome and I think the Cardinals start the season with a win. The score will probably be closer than the actual game, with a high likelihood that the Saints will add a score late in the fourth in one final push.
Prediction: Arizona 27, New Orleans 20
I think Carson Palmer will have a big day as he hopes to start the season off on a great note. Palmer likes to share the ball around so picking one wide receiver is tricky but I just got done writing that John Brown will have a breakout season so I’d call him the safest bet, especially since he can outran nearly anyone who tries to cover him. For the Saints I like Drew Brees to rack up a lot of yards but if you are in a league where touchdowns from skill players mean more I’d go with Mark Ingram as he is the safest bet to score at the goaline as well as rack up some good yards over the course of the game.
Week 1 Predictions:
- New England 27, Pittsburgh 17: Picked this before the game last night (you can check the timestamp on my Facebook and Twitter post if you don’t believe me.) Thought getting Tom Brady back at the start of the season would prove key and it did. Also there’s Gronk and the since-dead “Best Tight End” debate.
- Indianapolis 23, Buffalo 13: I’ll go ahead and say that I’m picking the Colts to win the Super Bowl this season so I expect them to take care of business week one, even if it is against a pretty good team.
- Green Bay 34, Chicago 20: Losing Jordy Nelson stinks but as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy the Packers offense is unstoppable. Tough first task for a revamped Bears defense.
- New York Jets 16, Cleveland 10: I may have made the score too high. Both teams’ defenses are miles ahead of their offenses. Going with the Jets because their defense is more likely to score a touchdown.
- Houston 24, Kansas City 23: Call it a hunch. I think Houston will be better than people think and they’ll catch the Chiefs by surprise.
- Seattle 24, St. Louis 16: I’m very intrigued by the Rams as they have continuously added young assets the past couple of years. However, now is the time to start profiting or else they may go in rebuilding mode again. If it wasn’t against a division foe who knows how dangerous this team can be, I would have taken the Rams.
- Miami 31, Washington 14: Before last night I was going to write that the Dolphins have a really good chance of taking the AFC East crown from the Patriots but that seems a lot less likely now. Still think Miami is a playoff team while Washington is not.
- Jacksonville 20, Carolina 16: It’s going to take awhile for the Panthers’ offense to start clicking again after the injury to Kelvin Benjamin. The Jaguars are still a year or two away from being a playoff team but I see them showing their fans that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
- San Diego 27, Detroit 23: This one is also a hunch. I want to pick Detroit but this seems just like a game the Lions would choke away. I’m not too high on San Diego but I think they get the win here.
- Cincinnati 27, Oakland 10: Oakland is a little further behind than the Jaguars but there is hope. However in this matchup, I don’t see any hope.
- Denver 35, Baltimore 27: In what may very likely be Peyton Manning’s last season opener, I don’t see him losing even if it is against a good team like the Ravens.
- Tampa Bay 23, Tennessee 20: Both teams have a lot to look forward to in the coming seasons but not so much this year. I could totally see both Winston and Mariota exchanging fourth quarter scoring drives. Picking the Bucs because they’re at home.
- New York Giants 33, Dallas 31: It’s almost become a yearly tradition to see the Giants beat the Cowboys at Jerry World. I don’t really see anything that would tell me it can’t happen again.
- Atlanta 28, Philadelphia 24: New Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn is set up for a great first season and I think that season starts with a win. I’m still not entirely sure I trust the Eagles.
- Minnesota 24, San Francisco 13: I’ve rooted against the 49ers longer than any other team but even I can’t help but feel bad. I’d like to say they win their stadium opener but Minnesota is poised for a big season if Teddy Bridgewater continues to improve.