All In The Cards: Avoiding The Trap Game (Week 8)

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals face a potential trap game against the Cleveland Browns with a bye next week and a Sunday night matchup against Seattle the week after. Can the Cards stay focused and take care of business against the Browns? I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for my in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns

Last Meeting: W 20-17 OT vs. Cleveland (12/18/11)

After their game this week against the Cleveland Browns, the Arizona Cardinals will have completed half of their 2015 regular season and will take a much deserved bye week. Despite a few hiccups against the St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate what the Cards have already accomplished as well as plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the second half of their season. Even though the NFL is currently boasting a record five undefeated teams heading into week eight, only the two-loss Cardinals have both a top five offense and a top five defense. This isn’t me being subjective; Football Outsiders’ well-acclaimed DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) has the Cardinals as the third best offensive team and the fourth best defensive team. Here is a link to Football Outsiders’ DVOA Rankings to see every team but let’s compare the Cards to the five undefeated teams:

  • Arizona Cardinals: 3rd in Offensive DVOA, 4th in Defensive DVOA
  • New England Patriots: 2nd in Offensive DVOA, 11th in Defensive DVOA
  • Green Bay Packers: 4th in Offensive DVOA, 7th in Defensive DVOA
  • Cincinnati Bengals: 1st in Offensive DVOA, 13th in Defensive DVOA
  • Carolina Panthers: 9th in Offensive DVOA, 6th in Defensive DVOA
  • Denver Broncos: 32nd in Offensive DVOA, 1st in Defensive DVOA

First thing I want to note is that only two of the five remaining undefeated teams have both a top ten offense and a top ten defense (though I should mention that all of this was calculated before the start of week eight, thus the Patriots’ ranking doesn’t include their performance last night against the Dolphins. They will probably be in the top ten defensively next week.) and the team closest to having top five on both sides of the ball (Green Bay) ranks lower than Arizona on both sides.

However, there is a reason the Cardinals have two losses: they rank an abysmal 21st in Special Teams DVOA. You don’t have to search very long to find an occurrence where the Cardinals’ special teams almost let them down. Just this past Monday, the Arizona special teams single-handily let Baltimore make a huge fourth quarter comeback thanks to a missed extra point (which kept it a two-score game instead of making it a three-score game) and then failing to pick up the blitz on a punt block that gave the Ravens the ball on the one-yard line. The Cards were able to salvage a win but that wasn’t the case against the Rams. David Johnson fumbled the opening kickoff and the Rams took possession of the ball in the Arizona redzone. From the 13-minute mark of the first quarter, the Rams took the lead and never let it go.

So why bring up special teams right now? Almost every statistical measure says the Cardinals should obliterate the Browns this week and while that will probably happen, there is one stat that gives the Browns some hope. While the Cards rank 21st in Special Teams DVOA, the Browns rank 3rd, easily the strength of the team. I’ve mentioned a few times that the Cards struggle when they don’t create turnovers, and if that happens this Sunday we are only one bad Drew Butler punt away from Travis Benjamin scoring his second punt return touchdown of the season and giving the Browns all the momentum and potentially the lead.

What the Cardinals have this week is a bona fide trap game. By definition, a trap game is “when a team faces an opponent they are expected to beat and thus they look past their current game and start preparing for the next game, which is usually against a bitter rival or a very strong team.” While there is a bye week between this game and the next one for the Cards, that next game is against the two-time defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. You can’t find a better example of a trap game!

Does this mean the Cardinals are doomed? While the Cardinals do seem to rely on emotions more than regular NFL teams (like needing to prove to themselves they could win close games), the Cards are led by a ton of veterans who have been in this situation before and thus would be able to identify if they felt the team was relaxing and then promptly let the team know. Plus, as weird as this might sound, it helps that this team has already lost twice this season.

There’s a common saying when a team going for an undefeated season gets its first loss: “It’s better that they lost now so they can learn from their mistakes and not lose in the playoffs.” While this statement is usually nothing more than fans and media trying to cope with the fact that a team can no longer go undefeated, getting a few losses does benefit a team if they aren’t accustomed to always being the favorite. Teams who are accustomed to winning, like New England and Green Bay, gain nothing from a loss, but teams not accustomed to winning, like the Cardinals, can find positives in losses.

The Cardinals just recently transformed from the underdog to being the favorite, and for a team that built itself on being the underdog this is new territory. Opposing teams are now counter-gameplanning you, with the hope that a win could jumpstart their own transformation to becoming a favorite. It takes awhile for teams to adjust to this switch and that usually leads to upsets.

Teams in the Cardinals position can take these losses one of two ways: either the loss humbles them and reminds them of how they got to this position in the first place, or the loss spreads doubt among the players and coaches which leads to the team ultimately collapsing. If the Cardinals really are title contenders they will take those losses to heart and remember never to overlook a team like the Browns, because just a few years ago the Cards were in the Browns position. I think the Cardinals are title contenders so I don’t see them falling in this trap game.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Cleveland 10

My other Week 8 NFL Predictions:

  • New England 27, Miami 14
  • Kansas City 23, Detroit 14
  • Atlanta 31, Tampa Bay 23
  • Minnesota 26, Chicago 13
  • Pittsburgh 30, Cincinnati 27 (OT)
  • Houston 23, Tennessee 17
  • St. Louis 27, San Francisco 10
  • New York Giants 28, New Orleans 27
  • Baltimore 34, San Diego 30
  • New York Jets 23, Oakland 13
  • Seattle 27, Dallas 17
  • Green Bay 24, Denver 13
  • Carolina 27, Indianapolis 23

Week 7 Record: 9-5
Week 8 Record: 1-0
Season Record: 70-36 (.660)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Week 7 Recap

Welcome to the Week 7 NFL recap of All In the Cards! I’m still feeling the aftereffects of those final five minutes during the Cardinals-Ravens game so this week’s recap will be a little shorter than usual. Look out for my week eight preview on Friday and the return of Hoosiers In The NBA every Monday!. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis on the Arizona Cardinals. Without further ado, let’s see how I did with my week seven predictions:

How I did on my Week 7 Predictions:

  • Arizona 26, Baltimore 18: Looks like the Cardinals finally won a close game. Of course, the game never needed to be that close. Nevertheless, a good psychological win for the Cards. Through seven weeks I think we know who the Cards are: an explosive offense, an elite defense, and a very shaky special teams unit. Arizona has the offense and defense to make the Super Bowl and win it, but if they don’t it will most likely be the special teams fault. Also the Ravens may be the best 1-6 team in NFL history. (1-0)
  • Seattle20, San Francisco 3: The Seahawks took care of the 49ers easily and seem to be back on track. However, that still doesn’t change the fact that they are two games behind the Cards in the NFC west. Seattle has Dallas and then a bye before its first matchup with Arizona. That will be the game that tells us whether or not the Seahawks are still contenders. (1-1)
  • Jacksonville 34, Buffalo 31: I’d like to thank the Jaguars for always making me look silly when I pick their games. Other than the New England blowout, I think I have been wrong every time I have analyzed Jacksonville (I may not have gotten the pick wrong but it never goes how I thought the game would go). Huge win for an organization that is trying to use this season as a launch pad for a potential breakout 2016 season. On the other side, it seems the Bills have the same injury bug the Cardinals had last season. (1-2)
  • Atlanta 10, Tennessee 7: I’m still trying to figure out why this game was so close. It seems the Atlanta offense doesn’t play with urgency in the fourth quarter unless its trailing The Falcons outscore their opponents in the fourth quarter 55-19 when they come into period trailing. However, when they have the lead going into the final period the Falcons are outscored 28-6. This tells me that what the Falcons have been doing to other teams (fourth quarter comebacks) could happen against them if they continue this trend. (2-2)
  • St. Louis 24, Cleveland 6: Todd Gurley may become the best back in the NFL as soon as next season. He has given life to the Rams’ offense and by extension the Rams’ defense as they can put that front seven to good use against trailing opponents. This is the Rams team the organization has been hoping for, and the Rams team that the other NFC West teams have been dreading to see. (3-2)
  • Minnesota 28, Detroit 19: When I saw Stefon Diggs tear apart the IU defense last year as a Maryland Terrapin, I had a feeling he would make a good pro. I just never envisioned he would be this good and so quickly at that. His 19 catches for 324 yards through his first three games can only be topped by Anquan Boldin (23 catches for 378 yards in 2003 with the Cardinals) in the past 50 years. If Diggs really is going to be as good as Anquan Boldin, the Vikings could be Super Bowl contenders as quickly as next season. (4-2)
  • New Orleans 27, Indianapolis 21: So much for any momentum after a close loss to the Patriots. Just because you have the ability to come back from being down 27-0 doesn’t mean you should make that a regular occurrence. The Colts defense can only do so much, so when the offense turns the ball over three times in the first half (with 13 of the Saints’ points scored off those turnovers), you can’t expect to win games. Now they have undefeated Carolina next. Thank goodness the Colts play in the AFC South. (4-3)
  • Kansas City 23, Pittsburgh 13: Part of what made Landry Jones so effective against the Cardinals is that the defense Jones was facing had gameplaned completely for Michael Vick. Against a defense that has a gameplan for Jones, the Steelers were unable to get anything going as the Chiefs got a much needed win. Good news for Pittsburgh is that they get Ben Roethlisberger back. Bad news is they face the undefeated Bengals in what has become a must-win if the Steelers want to win the AFC North. (4-4)
  • Miami 44, Houston 26: U-G-L-Y! That is the only way you can describe that first half for the Texans. I mean give credit to the Dolphins (first team in 75 years to have four touchdowns of over 50 yards in a single half) but the Texans defense, the supposed strength of the team, looked downright pitiful. I’m a little worried that the Dolphins are riding too much of a high and that they will get a big wake-up call Thursday against New England. (5-4)
  • New England 30, New York Jets 23: This game definitely lived up to all the hype. Any Patriots’ fan dreaming of another 16-0 regular season should be very afraid of the week 16 rematch at MetLife Stadium. Even though they lost in the second half (when Todd Bowles usually shines as a coach), I still walk away from this game believing the Jets are a legit playoff team. (6-4)
  • Washington 31, Tampa Bay 30: The Redskins’ franchise-record 24-point comeback was very impressive but when looking at the state of the two teams the outcome was actually kind of predictable, at least a little bit. The Redskins have been an up-and-down team all season so it’s no surprise they got in a big whole and then proceeded to climb out of it. Meanwhile the Buccaneers looked like a young team that was not used to holding a lead and thus made the mistakes necessary for the Redskins to win. (7-4)
  • Oakland 37, San Diego 29: I called this game perfectly. Don’t let the score fool you: the Raiders annihilated the Chargers. If anything, the Chargers’ 23 points in the fourth quarter just further demonstrates how much pressure the Chargers put on Philip Rivers to win games. Rivers throws two interceptions in the first half and the Chargers trail 30-6 at the break. Sure Rivers made a couple of mistakes but Rivers didn’t give up 30 points in the first half. (8-4)
  • New York Giants 27, Dallas 20: First I need to give some credit to the Cowboys for finally showing some life in the midst of a four-game losing streak and after being obliterated by the Patriots in their last game. In fact they would have won this game had they not turned the ball over four times. The Giants meanwhile bounce back from their embarrassing performance against the Eagles. (9-4)
  • Carolina 27, Philadelphia 16: The Panthers kind of remind me of the last two Seahawks teams, matching a run-oriented offense led by a mobile quarterback with a ferocious defense that always makes teams pay I still think they will get their first loss sometime in the next two weeks (they face the Colts and Packers) but I think it is time we consider the Panthers as a legit contender. (9-5)

Week 7 Record: 9-5
Season Record: 69-36 (.657)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

Hoosiers In the NBA: Everyone’s Goals Entering the 2015-2016 Season

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

Welcome to a new season of Hoosiers In the NBA! Just like Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller (who were the main focus back when this was just called Zeller and Oladipo Watch) this column is entering its third season. Also just like them, I hope I am able to improve upon the progress I made last season and I hope you all continue to enjoy reading it. For this week’s addition, I’ll begin by posting each ex-Hoosier’s previous season stats and their preseason stats this year. I’ll also go over everyone’s goals for the upcoming season as well as how I think they can attain those goals. Finally, I’ll give my statistical projections for each Hoosier. Now, let’s take a look at the players we will be following this season and what they are trying to accomplish:

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

2014-2015 stats: 13.4ppg, 2.6rpg, 3.8apg, 0.82spg, 0.23bpg, 2.0tpg, 2.4fpg, 41.1% FG, 44.8% 3FG, 80.5% FT, 33.1mpg. (61 games)

2015 Preseason stats: 13.4ppg, 2.2rpg, 1.6apg, 1.00spg, 0.6tpg, 2.0fpg, 34.0% FG, 32.0% 3FG, 78.6% FT, 24.4mpg. (5 games)

This season’s goals:

  • Stay healthy
  • Continue to shoot around 40% from three-point range
  • Have the occasional throwback game when the team needs it

How to obtain those goals: Some things you can’t control and that can be especially true when it comes to injuries. However, one way Gordon can avoid injuries is to not take too any unnecessary risks. By this I mean don’t go diving out of bounds to save a loose ball. I know some people may disagree with what I am saying, but Gordon is a bigger asset to the Pelicans healthy than sitting on the bench. Of course that example is circumstantial. If that loose ball occurred in the final minute of a game in late March with New Orleans fighting for playoff positioning, then Gordon should take the risk and dive for that loose ball. It’s those throw away loose balls in the middle of the second quarter in December that he should avoid altogether.

Gordon is very important to this Pelicans team, as he is basically the team’s best guard and arguably their second best player at the moment. With Tyreke Evans out a couple months and Jrue Holiday being put on a minutes restriction, Gordon needs to be healthy and play well these first few months so the Pelicans don’t fall behind early in the season. That means Gordon may have to reach back and play aggressively (drive to the basket, generate more free throws) for the first few months so any and all unnecessary risks need to be eliminated. When Evans returns and Holiday is off his minutes restriction, Gordon can reprise his role from last season, a knockdown three-point shooter. Last season was a career year from behind the arc and while I doubt he will near 45% again this year, as long as he doesn’t neglect that part of his game the first part of the season when he’s playing more aggressively, he should find his stroke and average around 40% for the rest of the season.

Predicted stats: 14.3ppg, 3.1rpg, 4.2apg, 46% FG, 40% 3FG, 83% FT.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

2014-2015 stats: 17.9ppg, 4.2rpg, 4.1apg, 1.67spg, 0.26bpg, 2.8tpg, 2.6fpg, 43.6% FG, 33.9% 3FG, 81.9% FT, 35.7mpg. (72 games)

2015 Preseason stats: 10.1ppg, 3.9rpg, 2.6apg, 1.38spg, 0.25bpg, 1.1tpg, 2.1fpg, 47.6% FG, 40.9% 3FG, 66.7% FT, 24.3mpg. (8 games)

This season’s goals:

  • Improve on defense
  • Become a more efficient offensive player/better three-point shooter
  • Cut down on the turnovers

How to obtain those goals: Coming into the NBA, it was thought that Oladipo was guaranteed to be a great defensive player who could become a great overall player if he developed his offensive game. Two years in and it turned out that the opposite was true. Oladipo has blown away expectations offensively, nearly averaging 18 points in his sophomore campaign and shooting decently from three-point range until a late-season slump brought down his shooting average. It has actually been the defensive side of his game that has troubled Oladipo. To a lot of people’s surprise, the Orlando Magic actually gave up 4.6 less points per 100 possessions when Oladipo was off the floor than they did when he was on the floor. Part of the reason has been that Oladipo has focused more on the offensive side of the ball because the Magic had a very hard time scoring for most of the season, but he no longer has that excuse. In addition to rookie Mario Hezonja and an improving Elfrid Payton likely to make the offense more lethal, the Magic brought in new head coach Scott Skiles, who is one of the better defensive NBA coaches in the league. Oladipo needs to learn everything he can from Skiles and regain his defensive form, because if he does he has the potential to become the superstar this team needs.

While Oladipo has been a successful offensive player, there are still a few things he needs to fix. He still needs to be a more consistent shooter. While not as bad as his rookie season, Oladipo still had far too many games where he just kept putting up brick after brick. That leads me to the other part of his game that needs fixing: forced turnovers. Oladipo improved a lot in terms of ball security last season, but he can improve even more this season. Part of that is realizing that while it doesn’t show up as a turnover on the stat sheet, a bad shot is basically the same thing as a turnover. Oladipo needs to play more disciplined offensively and if he can do that he will become a more efficient scorer.

Predicted stats: 18.6ppg, 5.1rpg, 4.7apg, 48% FG, 37% 3FG, 84% FT.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

2014-2015 stats (Charlotte Hornets): 3.3ppg, 3.4rpg, 0.2apg, 0.16spg, 0.36bpg, 0.4tpg, 0.8fpg, 39.5% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 69.2% FT, 10.3mpg. (25 games)

2015 Preseason stats: 6.4ppg, 7.9rpg, 0.4apg, 0.29spg, 0.43bpg, 0.9tpg, 2.3fpg, 44.2% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 53.8% FT, 22.6mpg. (7 games)

This season’s goals:

  • Continue to learn the game
  • Continue to develop the three-point shot
  • Take advantage of every opportunity

How to obtain those goals: Although the goals I laid out for Vonleh may seem silly, you need to remember that this guy, or should I say kid, isn’t even old enough to legally drink. Vonleh just turned 20 years old two months ago, making him around the same age as many of this year’s rookies. For the most part he still is a rookie after he wasted away on the Hornets bench neither being good enough to play in the NBA but at the same time too talented to play in the NBA’s D-League. While Vonleh is still a backup in Portland, his role is much more different and much more beneficial for his growth. He will be a part of the Trail Blazer’s second team lineup and will routinely see 10-15 minutes each game against other team’s first and second unit players. This should help develop Vonleh more than when he was just playing in garbage time, when you can’t guarantee that the opponent will be going all out, especially if they are the ones with the big lead. Vonleh needs to take advantage of this opportunity so that when he eventually gets his chance at starting he will have experience playing against high-level competition.

That brings us to Vonleh’s game. The former Big Ten Freshman of the Year was a lottery pick in 2014 for his upside, especially as a rebounder and a three-point shooter. While last season was a disappointing year for Vonleh, he did confirm to everyone that his rebounding skills will easily transfer to the NBA, averaging nearly 12 rebounds when adjusted to 40 minutes per game. Now he needs to work on his outside shot. While he didn’t shoot badly from behind the arc, it’s the fact that we don’t have that much of a sample size to judge him. Vonleh’s potential to stretch the floor makes him a valuable player, and if Vonleh wants to be starting by the end of this season or the start of next season, he’ll need to prove that he can consistently hit three-pointers, which means he needs to focus on that part of his game in practice until shooting threes becomes natural for him.

Predicted stats: 5.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 0.8apg, 48% FG, 35% 3FG, 71% FT.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

2014-2015 stats: 7.6ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.6apg, 0.56spg, 0.79bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.5fpg, 46.1% FG, 100.0% 3FG, 77.4% FT, 24.0mpg. (62 games)

2015 Preseason stats: 7.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.5apg, 0.88spg, 0.25bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.3fpg, 60.6% FG, 66.7% 3FG, 57.7% FT, 22.1mpg. (8 games)

This season’s goals:

  • Continue last season’s defensive improvement
  • Become a more reliable offensive player
  • Find your niche on the team

How to obtain those goals: Just like Oladipo, Zeller has also defied expectations, but for the exact opposite reason. Expected to be an offensive threat who would struggle to defend bigger players, Zeller ranked as one of the 25 best defensive players in the NBA according to Defensive Plus-Minus (+2.5). Subjective and complicated stats aside, Coach Steve Clifford, a coach who values defense heavily, is expected to still start Zeller at power forward even after an offseason where the Hornets brought in big men such as Frank Kaminsky, Tyler Hansbrough, and Spencer Hawes. Despite each one likely being an upgrade over Zeller offensively, Zeller’s defense is so crucial for the Hornets that Clifford will live with Zeller’s offensive shortcomings. Now that speaks volumes of a players defensive skill.

Now about those offensive shortcomings. Zeller holds the Indiana University record for best career shooting percentage. While college performance doesn’t always translate to NBA performance, there is a big drop off from being a 59% shooter in college to being a 44% shooter in the NBA. Those scouting reports that talked about Zeller struggling against bigger players were correct, but it has been bigger defenders that have given Zeller problems. Last season, Zeller shot better away from the basket than he did under the basket. You read that correctly: Zeller made 46.1% of his shots last season but when only counting layup attempts he shot 42.6%. Zeller has two options, either he bulks up and continues to try and battle in the post, or he can finally use his range to good use and become a stretch-four or a stretch-five. This is the season Zeller has to choose and it seems he has chosen the stretch big man route which I think is for the best. While it would be great to see Zeller dominate the post like he did back when he was donning the candy stripe pants, Zeller knows his niche in the NBA is currently his defense, as his athleticism and mobility let him guard both traditional and stretch power forwards. Bulking up would only slow him down and take away from his defensive versatility. If Zeller can start knocking down threes (he hit only one three last season but he hit dozens of 20-footers), we may start to see Zeller’s full potential.

Predicted stats: 9.2ppg, 7.4rpg, 2.0apg, 54% FG, 33% 3FG, 79% FT.

All In The Cards: Can Arizona Overcome Its Monday Night Woes? (Week 7)

Welcome back to a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals will have a chance to showcase their high-flying offense and ferocious defense on a national stage as they play the Baltimore Ravens Monday night. It will be the first of the Cards’ three nationally televised games planned for this season (I say planned because NBC has the option to switch in better games for Sunday Night Football later in the season). Let’s take a look at the Cardinals recent history with Monday Night Football and how they matchup with the Ravens. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

Baltimore Ravens @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: L 30-27 at. Baltimore (10/30/11)

Even though it occurred nine years ago last week, you can’t mention the Arizona Cardinals and Monday night football without quoting former Cards’ head coach Dennis Green’s famous postgame comments.

The quote has since taken on a life of its own so many might not remember what Green was talking about during his press room meltdown.

The stage was Monday Night Football, week six of the 2006 NFL Season. The Chicago Bears, who came into the game 5-0 and would eventually make it all the way to Super Bowl XLI only to lose to the Indianapolis Colts, faced off against the 1-4 Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals had a great defensive gameplan, as they harassed Bears quarterback Rex Grossman and forced him to turn the ball over four times in the first half (two fumbles and two interceptions). Because of those added possessions, the Cards found themselves leading 20-0 at halftime. The defense never let up as they forced two more Grossman interceptions and allowed the Bears offense to score only one field goal the entire game.

Then the epic collapse that spurred Green’s comments ensued.

On the final play of the third quarter with Arizona up 23-3, Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart was stripped by defensive end Mark Anderson and safety Mike Brown scooped it up for a three-yard touchdown. The Cards played scared the entire fourth quarter and it cost them. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the great Brian Urlacher stripped the ball from running back Edgerrin James and cornerback Charles Tillman picked up the fumble and returned it 40 yards to cut the Cards lead to 23-17. Two minutes later the Cardinals offense was stopped again and forced to punt. That ball was punted to Devin Hester, who promptly returned it 83 yards to give the Bears the 24-23 lead. To add insult to injury, the Cards had one last chance but saw their kicker Neil Rackers (who led the NFL the previous season in field goal percentage) miss the game-winning 40-yard attempt.

While it has never gotten that bad since, the Cardinals have still struggled when it has come to playing the final game of the week. Over the past ten years, the Cardinals are 2-5 when playing on Monday nights, with wins coming only in 2008 (29-24 win over San Francisco) and in 2014 (18-17 win over San Diego). Interestingly enough, the other four losses have all come against the 49ers (20-17 in 2007, 24-9 in 2009, 27-6 in 2010, and 24-3 in 2012).

From all of that, I think one can see the importance of this week’s game for Arizona. The Cards are expected to destroy the 1-5 Ravens on national television and prove to the public that these are not the same old Cardinals. It’s a chance for them to show the public they are who we think they are (a Super Bowl contender).

The matchup heavily favors Arizona. The Ravens are both 27th in passing defense (286 yards per game) and turnover differential (-5). On the other side of the ball, only three teams have thrown the ball more than Baltimore (San Diego, Detroit and Houston), and the Ravens have already abandoned the running game before this season, which is a bad decision against Arizona’s ninth ranked pass defense (224 yards per game).

The Cards SHOULD win this game easily but history dictates that this game will be much harder than expected. The Ravens are a proud team and while their season is probably over, that won’t stop them from trying to turn things around. It should be a fun one in the desert.

Prediction: Arizona 33, Baltimore 17

Fantasy Advice:

Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, and John Brown are must starts against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. The Ravens have allowed an average of 222 receiving yards against opposing wide receiver groups and have given up nine touchdowns. For the Ravens, I actually recommend Joe Flacco, who has the second most pass attempts in the NFL and will probably have to throw a lot again if the Ravens fall behind early. Just be weary of potential turnovers.

This week’s Thursday night pick:

  • Prediction: San Francisco 20, Seattle 17
  • Actual Score: Seattle 20, San Francisco 3
  • Whoops, it seems I didn’t follow my own advice for picking Thursday night games. Hindsight is 20/20, but it looks like a shorter week benefited the Seahawks more as they were able to put their fourth-quarter troubles behind them by shutting out the 49ers in the fourth quarter. Despite all the problems, there is still hope in Seattle. If the Seahawks can win again next week (they face a reeling Cowboys team so the odds are in Seattle’s favor) they’ll go into their bye week back at .500 with a Sunday night home matchup against the Cardinals to follow. The Seahawks proved they still owned the 49ers, so there’s hope that they still own the Cardinals as well.

Other NFL Week 7 Predictions:

  • Buffalo 23, Jacksonville 20: With EJ Manuel set to take the start for the Bills, I’m really tempted to pick the Jaguars. Against my better judgment, I’ll stick with the Bills because I think they are a better football team even with Manuel running the offense.
  • Atlanta 38, Tennessee 13: When you combine a Falcons team trying to bounce back from their first loss of the season with a Titans team that will have Zach Mettenberger starting at quarterback, you’re going to end up with a blowout.
  • St. Louis 19, Cleveland 16: Todd Gurley will play his first home game against the worst run defense in the NFL. I’ve underestimated the Browns plenty of times this season, as well as overestimate the Rams, but that matchup is too tempting not to pick the Rams.
  • Minnesota 17, Detroit 13: I’m happy to see that the Lions got their first win of the season last week, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are a flawed football team going against quietly one of the best defenses in football. I expect a lot of turnovers in this game and another ugly win for the Vikings
  • Indianapolis 31, New Orleans 24: Fake punt aside, the Colts actually looked fairly impressive against the Patriots and can really start building momentum with a win against the Saints. Andrew Luck should be able to carve up the Saints’ secondary as he continues to turn his season around.
  • Pittsburgh 24, Kansas City 6: With an improving defense and an offense that found a spark behind backup Landry Jones, I see the Steelers demolishing a Chiefs team that looks like it is in a complete downward spiral. If the Chiefs want to turn it around this is probably their last chance.
  • Miami 23, Houston 21: Both teams are looking up after promising wins last week but I think the Dolphins’ turnaround has more substance. Last week was the first time this season we saw the Miami team we all thought we were going to see at the beginning of the season, and I see the Dolphins making it back to .500 with a win.
  • New England 26, New York Jets 20: The game of the week features Todd Bowles’ first crack at gameplanning against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. I think the Patriots will come out of this game still undefeated, but the Jets are going to give them one heck of a fight.
  • Washington 27, Tampa Bay 17: A complete toss-up for me, so I’ll go with the home team. The Redskins have played well enough over the course of the season that a Washington win looks more likely, but then again they have lost a few games late. Let’s just move on before I change my mind again.
  • Oakland 37, San Diego 31: You can only put up so many amazing performances like Philip Rivers has done this season and not get depressed by the results. This might be that game. I expect Rivers to have another fantastic performance but I feel the Chargers as a whole will not be able to do enough to beat the Raiders.
  • New York Giants 23, Dallas 13: I don’t think Matt Cassel is a big enough upgrade over Brandon Weeden for me to consider taking the Cowboys over the Giants. Plus New York is trying to bounce back from the disaster that was the Philadelphia game and should be locked in from the first snap.
  • Philadelphia 24, Carolina 20: I know the Panthers will get their first loss soon but I’m not sure how soon. If not this week, then probably during the next two weeks when they go against the Indianapolis Colts and the Green Bay Packers. I’m going with the Eagles because they know a win would set them apart from the rest of the NFC East.

All In The Cards: Opinionated Edition (Week 6 Recap)

Welcome to the week six NFL recap of All In The Cards! I thought about writing a whole article outlining the Cardinals current problems, but I was afraid it may end up turning into a 5,000-word rant and I know no one wants to read that so I’ll go straight to the short-recap format, which will still be highly opinionated but at least it won’t be focused all on the Cards. All future recaps will be written in this style since the NBA season is almost here (which means Hoosiers In The NBA is almost here!) and I want to continue posting these on Tuesday. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

How I did on my NFL Week 6 Predictions:

  • Pittsburgh 25, Arizona 13: While it is true that the change from Michael Vick to Landry Jones messed with the Cards’ defensive gameplan, there are other reasons behind the loss. If you look at the game stats, you’ll notice two big differences between games the Cardinals win and lose: turnovers and redzone efficiency. The Cardinals like to take risks on offense, thus they have turned the ball over in five of their six games (the lone exception being against Detroit). That’s not a problem, as long as the Arizona defense also forces turnovers. The Cards defense has been able to make up for the offense’s 10 turnovers by forcing opponents into 13 turnovers through six games. Actually, it would be more accurate to say the Cardinals defense has forced 13 turnovers in their four wins. They forced zero turnovers against the Rams and Steelers. If the offense doesn’t get those extra possessions then each mistake becomes amplified. Just like with the turnovers, redzone efficiency also follows this pattern. The Cards have scored 16 touchdowns in 17 trips to the redzone during wins, while they have only scored two touchdowns in nine redzone trips during losses. Going forward, succeeding in these two categories will be important for the Cardinals to win. It will also be the key to stopping them. (0-1)
  • New Orleans 31, Atlanta 21: Here’s a trick for picking these supposedly “wacky” Thursday night games: Pick the team that benefits most from the shorter week. In this case, the Falcons were coming off their fourth second half comeback as the beat the Redskins 25-19 and were being praised for never giving up and always coming through in the clutch. On the other side, the Saints were coming off an embarrassing 39-17 loss to the Eagles and wanted to forget that game ever happened. So basically the Saints were focused on their next opponent right away while the Falcons were distracted by all the hype they were receiving. You can overcome those types of distractions during a normal week of preparation but not on a short one. (1-1)
  • Cincinnati 34, Buffalo 21: While I personally think Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are more valuable to their teams, there is no doubt that Andy Dalton is the leading MVP candidate at this point in the season. The main reason is voter fatigue. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term “voter fatigue”, the best way to understand it would be to look at the history of the NBA MVP. Both Michael Jordan and LeBron James have four MVPs, but both were obviously the most valuable player for more than just four seasons. Voters get tired of giving the award to the same person so they look for someone new to give it to when they can. Rodgers is the reigning MVP and Brady is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, so they’ve been celebrated recently, which means now the voters will feel that it’s Dalton’s turn if he keeps up this performance. (2-1)
  • Detroit 37, Chicago 34: A week removed from being obliterated by the Cardinals, the Lions were able to fend off a recently-improved Bears team and earn their first win of the season. This was a crucial win for an organization that started hearing whispers about possibly going 0-16 again after seemingly turning the franchise around. The Lions still won’t be good this season, but as long as they are not bad either, this season will just be a bump in road instead of a full-on dumpster fire. The Bears will be fine; they just need to score more touchdowns in the redzone. (2-2)
  • Denver 26, Cleveland 23: First off, I’d like to give a big shout out to ex-Cardinal great Karlos Dansby for the spectacular performance this week (seven tackles, two pass deflections, two interceptions and a touchdown).However, the main story is the Broncos continuing to win despite being terrible offensively. I brought up Peyton Manning’s projected stats last week so there is no need for me to rehash them again this week after another subpar performance. Instead let me talk about the Broncos offense as a whole. The offense has accounted for just 54 of the team’s 139 points. The rest of those points were scored by the Broncos kicker (Brandon McManus has made 16 field goals in addition to his 13 extra points) and the Broncos defense (two touchdowns by Aqib Talib and one touchdown each for Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby). Even if you want to credit extra points after offensive touchdowns to the offense, 63 of 139 is still less than 50%. The offense needs to start pulling its own weight or else this great start may end in an epic collapse. (3-2)
  • Miami 38, Tennessee 10: It’s these types of occurrences that make sports management and fans think that firing a coach is an easy solution for turning a team around. I’m not claiming it doesn’t work, it obviously worked this week for the Dolphins, but the circumstances have to be right. You need to make sure that the reason the team is under-performing is because they are either disagreeing or ignoring their coach, and not that the team isn’t good enough to execute the coach’s gameplan. It was obvious that the Dolphins and Joe Philbin were not connecting anymore, and since they had a suitable replacement in Dan Campbell, the Dolphins were right to make the move. However, if a team isn’t 100% sure whether or not the coach is more to blame than the players and it doesn’t have a suitable replacement, it should never make a coaching change just for the sake of change. (3-3)
  • Minnesota 16, Kansas City 10: There’s not much to say about this game other than I feel really bad for Chiefs fans. The offense looks like a complete mess without Jamaal Charles and we’ve known for a long time that Alex Smith is a considerably worse quarterback when he doesn’t have a run game to help him. Meanwhile, the Vikings have to be ecstatic about Stefon Diggs’ performance Sunday as well as the possibility of him becoming the go-to receiver for Teddy Bridgewater in the years to come. (4-3)
  • New York Jets 34, Washington 20: With a coach who has a personality as strong as Todd Bowles, it wasn’t a matter of if the team would take on his personality, but rather how quickly will the team take on Bowles personality? By personality I am specifically talking about his uncanny ability to recognize a problem and, in the short 15 minutes each team gets at halftime, come up with a gameplan to counter those problems. Well it seems like the answer was week six. The defense was already playing like a Bowles defense, but against the Redskins the offense also took that step forward. The Jets, trailing 13-10 at half, scored 24 straight points to start the second half and ran away with the win. As long as this team believes in Bowles, I see a trip to the playoffs as a real possibility this season. (5-3)
  • Houston 31, Jacksonville 20: Here’s hoping Texans’ head coach Bill O’Brien has finally made his decision at quarterback. Brian Hoyer was great in the Texans comeback and finally showed what this offense is capable of when they have consistent quarterback play. It helps that DeAndre Hopkins is having a breakout season and that Arian Foster is back. As for the Jaguars, this is the second time in three weeks they have blown a fourth quarter lead, the other one being against the Colts. If they want to start seeing vast improvement they’ll need to learn how to hold on to those leads. (5-4)
  • Carolina 27, Seattle 23: Speaking of blowing fourth quarter leads, did you know that the Seahawks have had led in the fourth quarter of every game they have played this season? I can already tell you don’t believe me so let’s recap:
    • Week 1 (@ St. Louis): The Seahawks scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter against the Rams to lead 31-24 with 4:39 left to go, only to allow a game-tying touchdown with 53 seconds left and lose in overtime.
    • Week 2 (@ Green Bay): After trailing 13-3 at half, the Seahawks scored two touchdowns in third and led 17-16 heading the fourth quarter. The Packers outscored Seattle 10-0 in the final period.
    • Week 3 (vs. Chicago): Seattle won 26-0 so obviously they led in the fourth quarter.
    • Week 4 (vs. Detroit): The Seahawks led 13-3 entering the fourth quarter and then proceeded to give up a fumble return for a touchdown and allowed the Lions to drive 90 yards before Seattle was saved by an officiating blunder.
    • Week 5 (@ Cincinnati): A Bobby Wagner fumble return has Seattle up 24-7 after three quarters, only to see Andy Dalton rip apart the Legion Of Boom in the fourth quarter as the Bengals score 17 points in the period and win in overtime.
    • Week 6 (vs. Carolina): At home, the Seahawks had a 23-14 lead halfway through the fourth quarter. Then in the final four minutes the Panthers score two touchdowns to win 27-23.

Now you can take this one of two ways: either you’re still positive because the Seahawks have played well all season but have just had some trouble in the fourth quarter, or you’re wondering if there is something psychologically wrong with the Seahawks for them to continuously fall apart in the fourth quarter. I’m starting to lean towards the latter statement. (5-5)

  • Green Bay 27, San Diego 20: This stat should show you just how much pressure the Chargers place on Philip Rivers to keep this team competitive: Rivers became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 500 yards in a game with no interceptions and still lose the game. I know that when a quarterback is throwing for a lot of yards it is usually because they are trailing, but that still doesn’t change the fact he’s the first to accomplish this and still lose. Talk about not getting any support from your team. Then again one could also consider it as a testament to how well the Packers are playing. (6-5)
  • San Francisco 25, Baltimore 20: Since getting destroyed in Arizona, the 49ers have quietly rebounded. They hung tough with the undefeated Packers for a half, came very close to upsetting the Giants at MetLife Stadium, and held on to beat a desperate Ravens team. They now get a reeling Seattle team on a short week, and as I stated, the team that benefits the most from a short week usually wins the Thursday night game. With as much turmoil as there is with the Seahawks, I’d say a short week benefits San Francisco more. Hard to believe but if the 49ers do pull off the win and then beat St. Louis the following week, they’ll find themselves back at .500 halfway through the season. (6-6)
  • New England 34, Indianapolis 27: Recall what I wrote about the Dolphins: “You should never make a coaching change if you are not 100% sure that the coach is more to blame than the players.” This fits the Chuck Pagano situation perfectly. Was the fake punt risky? Yes, it was extremely risky but it was worth the risk just to line up and see how the Patriots would respond. The center Griff Whalen should have snapped the ball only if the Patriots defense didn’t look prepared. As it turns out, they were prepared and the Colts should have taken the delay of game or called a timeout instead. If the Colts were leading the Patriots then I would switch positions, but the fact was that the Colts were down seven against a team that has owned them for a long time. It’s not as dumb of a decision as people might think. (7-6)
  • Philadelphia 27, New York Giants 7: This is why I didn’t want to say the Giants were in control of the NFC East last week because truthfully no one really has control in that division. That being said, the Eagles now find themselves as the division leaders and have a good chance to stay at the top if their defense continues to play like it did Monday night. The problem is I still don’t completely trust the offense and Sam Bradford in particular. However, the Eagles do have a great opportunity to prove me wrong when as they face the undefeated Panthers this week. (7-7)

Week 6 Record: 7-7
Season Record: 60-31
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Week 6

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week we see the Arizona Cardinals face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Besides being a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII, this game is really personal for the Cardinals, especially for their head coach. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

Arizona Cardinals @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Last Meeting: L 32-20 vs. Pittsburgh (10/23/11)

Welcome to the Bruce Arians revenge game.

After being forced out after the 2011 season, Arians will finally face the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. As offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Arians really developed Ben Roethlisberger as a quarterback and was a part of two Super Bowl teams, which includes the 2009 Steelers who beat Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.

Now Arians returns to Pittsburgh with his own team, a team that mirrors those previous Steeler teams. Since Arians arrival in the desert, the Cardinals have transformed into the late 2000s Steelers, with an unstoppable vertical passing game, a running game that is better than it looks, and a defense that forces turnovers at an incredible rate. With how Arians’ Cardinals obliterated the Bears (who interviewed Arians in 2013 but then decided to hire Marc Trestman instead), you would think Arizona would demolish a Roethlisberger-less Steelers.

Amazingly enough that’s not the case. Even without Roethlisberger, the Steelers have quite a few favorable matchups. Mobile quarterbacks still present the biggest challenge to this Cardinals defense, and at age 35, Michael Vick may have lost some skills but he is still very mobile. Le’Veon Bell is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL and we have seen screen passes to running backs burn the Cardinals before. The Steelers have 16 sacks on the season, and while the Cardinals have done a relatively good job of protecting Carson Palmer (seven sacks allowed in five games), six of those sacks have come in the past two weeks, showing it may have had more to do with facing terrible pass-rushes instead of the Cards having great pass-protection the first three weeks.

In the end, I see the Cardinals finding a way to win this game for their beloved Coach Arians. As long as Palmer can stay standing, he will expose the Steelers defense through the intermediate passing game (also known as Larry Fitzgerald’s sweet spot) and the defense will force Vick to have to win the game with his arm. It will just be harder than people might have expected, and may have been impossible if Roethlisberger was healthy.

Prediction: Arizona 27, Pittsburgh 17

Other NFL Week 6 Predictions:

  • New Orleans 26, Atlanta 24
  • Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 17
  • Chicago 19, Detroit 13
  • Denver 24, Cleveland 12
  • Tennessee 20, Miami 17
  • Minnesota 24, Kansas City 10
  • New York Jets 23, Washington 16
  • Jacksonville 23, Houston 17
  • Seattle 24, Carolina 20
  • Green Bay 31, San Diego 18
  • Baltimore 28, San Francisco 27
  • New England 38, Indianapolis 20
  • New York Giants 27, Philadelphia 23

All In The Cards: Arizona’s Fountain Of Youth

Welcome to this special edition of All In The Cards! I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis:

In the early sixteenth century, a popular legend spread about a magical fountain that could rejuvenate the elderly. In 1513, Spanish Conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon’s search for that mythical place led him to discover Florida, and to this day St. Augustine uses this story to create tourism. No one ever found the fountain, so it became an unattainable myth. I guess nobody checked Glendale, Arizona.

Around 500 years later in the year 2013, Steve Keim became the Arizona Cardinals General Manager and set out to rebuild the franchise. With new head coach Bruce Arians, Keim built his team around the draft, retain young talent, and fill out the rest of the roster out with veterans who would help mentor the younger players. To get the best mentors, the Cardinals needed players who were great but past their prime and at the tail end of their careers.

No player fit this description better than John Abraham. One of the greatest pass-rushers in NFL history, Abraham was on the verge of retiring when he got a call from the Cardinals. In 2013, at the age of 35, the long-time veteran proved he wasn’t done by recording 11.5 sacks, the most he had since 2010.

Also in 2013, the Cardinals saw one of their former franchise players, Karlos Dansby, return home after three disappointing years with the Miami Dolphins. At the age of 32, Dansby produced more sacks (6.5) than he did in his three years with Miami (6). Dansby also intercepted a career-high four passes and scored two defensive touchdowns. After his renaissance season, Dansby was rewarded in free agency with a multi-year contract from the Cleveland Browns, something that looked impossible when he signed his one-year contract with Arizona.

While Dansby stayed only one season, his success opened the floodgates for the Cardinals. In 2014, several top older veterans signed with the Cardinals hopeful of revisiting their primes. While Larry Foote (34 years old) and Tommy Kelly (33) played big roles for Arizona’s first playoff team since 2009, cornerback Antonio Cromartie (30) did the most to prove you can resurrect your career in Arizona.

Forced to play opposite Patrick Peterson, Cromartie was constantly targeted by opposing offenses as the matchup they could exploit. However, by the end of the year opponents were more likely to target Peterson’s man instead after Cromartie continuously made teams pay for throwing against him. Cromartie finished with 48 tackles, which was his most in a season since having 64 in 2008 with the Chargers, and added three interceptions. He became one of the most recruited free agents this past offseason and ended up back with the New York Jets on a multi-year deal.

With back-to-back successes, even more veterans came flooding in this season. Those signings included LaMarr Woodley and Sean Weatherspoon, who may not be old but were looking to turn their careers around after major injuries.

However, the biggest story so far this season has been the resurgence of former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson. After playing six seasons with the Tennessee Titans and rushing for 7,965 yards, Johnson had his worst season in 2014 with the Jets. Only months away from his 30th birthday (usually the expiration date for running backs) he had rushed for only 663 yards and one touchdown, and he looked like a small speedster who had finally taken one too many hits. Things got worse in the offseason. Johnson was shot in the shoulder in March and found himself without a team going into training camp.

Johnson was thinking about retirement when the Cards expressed interest in him during the preseason as Andre Ellington’s backup. The result has been nothing short of incredible: Through five weeks Johnson is tied for second in the NFL with 405 rushing yards. Johnson is on pace for 1,200 yards and averaging his most yards per carry (5.1) since his 2,000-yard season in 2008 (5.6). There is no way he will top that season, but 1,200 yards would be an accomplishment itself.

This veteran rejuvenation isn’t restricted to one-year rental players. Now in his third season with the Cardinals, Carson Palmer has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL the last two seasons, when he’s been healthy. Becuase of his recent performance, it might be hard to remember that Palmer’s career looked like it was over before he found himself in the desert. Palmer was traded to the Cardinals during the 2013 offseason and in exchange the Oakland Raiders received a seventh-round draft pick. In contrast, the Raiders had to trade a first- and a second-round draft pick to the Cincinnati Bengals to acquire Palmer in 2011. That’s how far his value dropped in just two seasons as the Raiders’ starting quarterback. Now at age 35 he’s playing just as well as he did during his best seasons in Cincinnati.

Other Cardinals, such as defensive end Frostee Rucker, have been having career years despite being their thirties. Last season Rucker, at age 31, had a career-high five sacks and tied his career-high for forced fumbles with two.

This season the most unlikely of players is having a career year: Larry Fitzgerald. The only time he has had more catches (35) for more yards (490) through five games was 2005, when he had 36 catches for 504 yards, and only in 2009 did he have as many touchdowns (5) through five games.

The reason that Fitzgerald is having a career year at 32 is because he has become just as dangerous in the slot as he was as an outside receiver. Fitzgerald can now line up anywhere to create mismatches for the defense. Being in the slot means not being covered by shutdown corners, and if teams do decide to shift their best corner onto Fitzgerald when he is in the slot, they risk putting a weaker defensive back on one of the outside receivers (John Brown or Michael Floyd) and getting burned on the long ball. It’s amazing to think that a guaranteed future hall-of-famer may not have completed his best season yet.

How Has This Been Happening?

It’s worth noting that many athletes have resurrected their careers in Arizona, most famously with the Phoenix Suns and their top-level medical/training staff. However, the Cardinals’ Fountain of Youth is separate from that of the Suns. The Cards’ Fountain of Youth is linked to one individual: Bruce Arians.

In 2013, the almost 61-year-old coach finally achieved his goal of becoming an NFL head coach and told many people that “this is my last stop so I’m going to have fun with it.” That attitude has spread to his veteran players, who see Arians as an inspiration. Here is a man almost twice as old as most of his players acting like he is in the prime of his life. When you play for Arians, age is not an excuse. So older players give it their all and are rewarded with important roles on the team.

The secret behind why washed-up veterans do so well for the Cardinals is that Arians and his staff give them roles instead of positions. Instead of trying to make a player fit into a position, the coaching staff develops plays and creates gameplans centered on letting these players do what they do best within the context of the game. Abraham’s job in 2013 was to rush the passer, so when a play called for extra coverage and thus no extra blitzers, Abraham was trusted to create that extra pressure to make the quarterback feel like he was still being blitzed but without the benefit of having a wide-open receiver.

That brings us to this week, as the Cardinals signed former Colts pass-rusher Dwight Freeney in the wake of Alex Okafor’s injury. One of the best defensive ends in NFL history, Freeney has accumulated 111.5 sacks and has had seven seasons with 10 or more sacks. With this signing, Arizona hopes Freeney can fill in for Okafor and improve the pass rush as a whole when Okafor returns. However, at age 37, Freeney hasn’t been great in a long time, last having double-digit sacks in 2010.

You may want to shake off the signing of Freeney as unimportant, but based on the Cardinal’s track record, this may become the pass rush help this team has needed since Abraham retired. If is anything left in Freeney’s tank, he’ll find it in Arizona.

All In The Cards: Which Teams Have Hope And Which Do Not? (Week 5 Recap)

Welcome to the week five recap! With the Cardinals recent signing of Dwight Freeney I’ll be having a separate column tomorrow detailing how the Cards have been able to get the most out of players like Freeney who look old and washed-up before reviving their career in the desert. For now let’s take a look at the week 5 scores and determine which teams are having a slow start and which teams are probably doomed to agonizingly trek through the rest of this season. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis:

How I did with NFL Week 5 Predictions:

  • Arizona 42, Detroit 17: I hate to say this because I have quite a few friends who are Detroit Lions fans and they are dedicated to this team, but the other fans who attended the game really contributed to the Lions collapse against the Cards. Home field advantage is more than just playing in a familiar place. Home field advantage is also knowing that you have a stadium’s worth of people cheering and supporting you and then feeding off that energy to go the extra mile. The Lions had none of that Sunday. Despite turning the ball over twice in the first ten minutes, the Lions held a 7-0 lead over the Cardinals and held them to their only scoreless quarter of the season. Yet the boos kept coming and when the Lions fed off that negative energy they imploded in the second quarter. Let me make this clear: I am not blaming the Lions fans in attendance for the loss. The Cards had a better matchup and would have most likely taken control of the game sometime around the end of the third quarter. However, I do believe the Lions gave up during the game because the fans gave up. I don’t care how many interceptions Matthew Stafford throws, subbing in Dan Orlovsky at quarterback is giving up. While I don’t blame the Lions fans for being frustrated, it is a fans job to support their team through the good times and the bad times. The Lions are going through some bad times right now, and they’ll need the support of my friends as well as other dedicated Lions fans to help get them through this season. (1-0)
  • Indianapolis 27, Houston 20: The Colts have won their last three games after starting the season with two straight losses. Does that mean they have bounced back? Well let’s look at those wins: all three games were against AFC South teams (who are a combined 3-8 this season when you remove the three games against Indianapolis), all three games were decided by one score, and two of those games saw the Colts trailing in the fourth quarter. I’ll give credit for winning the last two without Andrew Luck but Matt Hasselbeck is a lot better than your typical backup quarterback. Indy will probably lose to New England (which is okay because everyone else outside of Denver and maybe one of the two New York teams will lose to them as well) but it will be their next two games afterwards (home against the Saints and away at the Panthers) that will tell us if the Colts have rebounded or not. (2-0)
  • Atlanta 25, Washington 19: The Redskins continue to play very competitively and were almost able to hand the Falcons their first loss. With the way the NFC East has performed so far this season I wouldn’t discount the Redskins from the NFC East race, at least not yet. Meanwhile the Falcons are the physical manifestation of a gambler on a hot streak. Their blowout win over Houston showed that they can control a game from start to finish, which is a relief because that is what they’ll need to do when this hot streak in the fourth quarter inevitably dries up. (3-0)
  • Buffalo 14, Tennessee 13: I still believe the Bills are a good team but they have just been decimated by injuries on offense. With talk of Tyrod Taylor possibly missing time, it may just be one of those circumstances where a team won’t reach their potential due to outside forces. The Bills probably won’t beat the Bengals this week even if Taylor plays but he will be necessary for their next two games against the Jaguars and Dolphins. (4-0)
  • Chicago 18, Kansas City 17: Let’s all take a moment to appreciate Jay Cutler and finally give him his props. That is now two comeback victories in a row for a team that looked like it was vying for the first overall pick just two weeks ago. As for the Chiefs, the loss of Jamaal Charles makes it easier for me to say they are finished. Here’s hoping he is healthy and ready to go by next season and that he doesn’t try to risk playing again this year. (4-1)
  • Cincinnati 27, Seattle 24: During last week’s recap I wrote about how the no call for the Seahawks against the Lions would probably give them the momentum they needed to play like themselves again. At no time did that feel more apparent than when Bobby Wagner scored on a fumble return in the third quarter to put Seattle up 24-7. Then that momentum died. The unimpressive Seahawks team that somehow found their way to .500 appeared in the fourth quarter and the Bengals made them pay. These are the two-time defending NFC champions and I know no one wants to count them out, but at some point we need to look at the present instead of the past. The present does still show promise but it has yet to provide confidence. (5-1)
  • Cleveland 33, Baltimore 30: I was against it at first but it seems the Browns got it right when they decided to stay with Josh McCown at quarterback. Cleveland has had a very easy schedule up to this point so you can’t put too much stock in their record. However, if they can win three of their next five games (which include games against Denver, Arizona, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger probably back) then we can talk. As painful as it is for me to say that a talented team like the Ravens are done, they just look too out of sorts to get things turned around in time. (5-2)
  • Philadelphia 39, New Orleans 17: Every team in the NFC East still has a shot at the division title but the Eagles have to feel a lot better about their chances after this performance. Granted it came against a Saints team that will probably get a top ten draft pick, but the important thing was that all of the offseason acquisitions contributed to this win. Whether or not this is a sign of the team finally getting comfortable with each other will be determined in the following weeks against the Giants and Panthers. (6-2)
  • Green Bay 24, St. Louis 10: Things we learned from this game: the Packers defense is a lot better than what I gave them credit for last week, Aaron Rodgers is not a robot and is capable of turning the ball over (though don’t expect it to happen that often), Todd Gurley really does have the potential to be the next great running back, and last but not least the Rams continue to play a lot worse when facing teams outside of the NFC West. (7-2)
  • Tampa Bay 38, Jacksonville 31: Both teams looked impressive and are giving their fans hope for the future. The best sign for the Jaguars is that Sophomore Blake Bortles looks nothing like rookie Blake Bortles. The best sign for the Buccaneers is that Doug Martin is showing life again, rushing for over 100 yards for the second game in a row. Last time Martin had back-to-back 100 rushing yard games was in 2012, his rookie season. (7-3)
  • New England 30, Dallas 6: There’s no denying that the Patriots are the favorites after a quarter of the season. However, for as good as this Patriots team is, their championship hopes are tied directly to Tom Brady’s health. I know that statement is true of many teams who have elite quarterbacks, but the reason I bring it up is that Brady took some terrible hits against Dallas including one where he was leveled on a touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. Because of his age (38), history with serious leg injuries, and the fact he plays for a coach in Bill Belichick who rarely takes him out even during blowouts, Brady and the Patriots are in a position similar to that of Carson Palmer and the Cardinals. Both teams need to be extra careful with their quarterbacks or else the championship dream will disappear. (8-3)
  • Denver 16, Oakland 10: After week five is when you can start looking at season projections as a more reliable way of forecasting a player’s performance. Let’s just say that the forecast looks gloomy for Peyton Manning. Manning is on pace for his first sub-4,000 yard season since 2005, his first 20+ interception season since 2001, and his first season ever with less than 20 passing touchdowns. Sure this could just be a slow start, but he’ll need to produce some big numbers soon as I don’t expect his play to get any better than this when it turns December in Denver. (9-3)
  • New York Giants 30, San Francisco 27: Like the Colts, the Giants started the season 0-2 and have rebounded with three straight wins. If I was to choose which of the two teams has more likely turned things around, I would go with the Giants. Despite the narrow win against a bad 49ers team, the Giants performance over the winning streak has been a little more convincing and against better opponents. However, I’m not ready to hand the NFC East to the Giants just yet. A lot rides on this week’s matchup with the Eagles. A win for the Giants would definitely make them the favorites. (10-3)
  • Pittsburgh 24, San Diego 20: With how the Steelers have been able to perform without Ben Roethlisberger, I’m convinced that the Steelers are one of the top threats to preventing New England from returning to the Super Bowl. Sure the last two games have been close and could have gone either way, but the goal right now is surviving until their quarterback returns, something Dallas hasn’t been able to do. What once seemed like a potential season-ending stretch is now two games at home against Arizona and Cincinnati and a trip to Kansas City against a Chiefs team that is dealing with the loss of their own star. (11-3)

Week 5 Record: 11-3
Season Record: 53-24
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Week 5

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals try to rebound from a disappointing loss to the St. Louis Rams by taking on the Detroit Lions. Both recent history and statistics say the Cards have a great shot at winning but anything can happen in the NFL. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

Arizona Cardinals @ Detroit Lions

Last Meeting: W 14-6 vs. Detroit (11/16/14), Cards have won last six meetings (last Detroit win was 11/13/05)

We all knew the Arizona Cardinals wouldn’t go undefeated and I even said last week that there was a chance it would end against the Rams. With the Cards losing there are now six teams left in the NFL without a loss. That’s not too surprising on its own; what is surprising is that in contrast there is only one team without a win: the Detroit Lions. The Lions have been in this position quite a few times, having started the season with four or more consecutive losses four times since 2000. However it has been awhile, with the last instance occurring in 2010. With the amount of parity in the NFL, there should be no fear of the Lions going 0-16, like they infamously did in 2008. However, the fear of missing the postseason is on full tilt as a loss this week eliminates any chance of playing in January.

The Lions will have to hope for a reversal of fate as they take on a Cardinals team that has owned them for a decade. The last time the Lions defeated the Cardinals was week 10 of the 2005 season, when Joey Harrington threw three touchdown passes to Roy Williams to lead the Lions to a 29-21 victory. My first takeaway is that I feel old because I remember those Lions teams very well. My second takeaway is that I believe Larry Fitzgerald is the only player on either team that played in that game and will play in Sunday’s game. In that 2005 matchup, Fitzgerald had nine catches for 141 yards and a score so you would reasonably think that that Fitz continued to shred the Lions and the Cards ended up winning those games because they got better players around him. That is actually wrong. During the Cards six-game winning streak over the Lions, Fitzgerald has accounted for 22 catches, 228 yards and three touchdowns TOTAL. Fitz already has more catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns so far this season.

What’s really intriguing about this streak is that almost every win was memorable because of its timing. The first win, a 17-10 victory in 2006, gave Arizona its first win since week one, snapping an eight-game losing streak. That’s not even the longest losing streak the Cards snapped against the Lions, as they ended a nine-game losing streak in 2012 in what would be Arizona’s only win after starting the season 4-0. In 2009, a Cardinals win over the Lions coupled with a San Francisco 49ers loss in week 15 gave Arizona its second consecutive NFC West crown. The Cardinals victory over Detroit in 2013 marked Bruce Arians first win as Arizona’s head coach. Finally, the Cardinals victory last season came in the first game following Carson Palmer’s season-ending injury.

You can see by now how one would think that the Cardinals have owned the Lions. Despite most of the games being rather close, the Cards always got the win they needed. They need a win this week too so they can move on from their loss to St. Louis. However, Detroit needs it more. Will fate shine on the Lions or will the Cardinals continue to use them as their stepladder?

The Lions will need all the luck they can get as this matchup really favors the Cardinals. With the Cardinals recent history of having trouble covering tight ends and other big receiving targets, you would think that Calvin Johnson would give the Lions a big advantage. While Johnson has been effective (37 catches, 368 yards and two TDs in five games) he has never been able to score on the defense with the exception of 2013 when he scored both of his touchdowns. This year “Megatron” hasn’t looked like himself, having yet to top 100 receiving yards in a game despite averaging nearly 12 targets and having only one touchdown.

It’s not like those yards are transferring over to the run game either as the Lions have rushed for a total of 188 yards this season or 47 rushing yards per game. To put that in perspective, five teams have already rushed for more in a single game than the Lions have all season. That means even more pressure has been placed on Matthew Stafford, who has already throw 165 passes this season (second only to Ryan Tannehill’s 171) Stafford is on pace to throw 652 passes this season, which would mark the fifth consecutive year he has thrown over 600 passes. That is just one less season than if you added Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s 600 pass seasons together and the only quarterback with more is Drew Brees with seven such seasons. For all those passes, the Lions barely rank in the top half of the league in passing yards (245.8 per game, good for 15th). They now face the eighth best defense against the pass in the Cardinals, who have allowed just a yard under 200 per game.

Unlike last week, the Lions don’t have the defense to slow down Arizona’s offense enough to keep them in the game. The Detroit defense is 23rd in passing yards allowed (271.5) and are the second worst team in the NFL when it comes to holding teams on third down (allowing opponents to convert 46% of the time). While the three turnovers helped the Rams get ahead of the Cardinals, it was allowing only two third down conversions in 11 attempts that won St. Louis the game. I don’t think the Lions can replicate that kind of success. Unfortunately they’ll need to in order to pull off the upset, end the losing streak and have any hope of turning this season around. That is going to take way too much luck for me to even consider picking the Lions, but you never know. Maybe this time things will finally go Detroit’s way.

Prediction: Arizona 30, Detroit 13

Other NFL Week 5 Predictions:

  • Indianapolis 23, Houston 16
  • Atlanta 27, Washington 17
  • Buffalo 28, Tennessee 20
  • Kansas City 31, Chicago 17
  • Cincinnati 23, Seattle 19
  • Baltimore 30, Cleveland 17
  • Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 24
  • Green Bay 34, St. Louis 10
  • Jacksonville 17, Tampa Bay 16
  • New England 33, Dallas 18
  • Denver 24, Oakland 14
  • New York Giants 34, San Francisco 17
  • Pittsburgh 24, San Diego 20

All In The Cards: Neither Passing Nor Failing The First Test (Week 4 Recap)

Welcome to the week four recap! I think that for now on I’ll stick to a straight rundown format for these as they are easier and quicker for me to write. That means I can possibly post these on Tuesdays and Hoosiers In The NBA on Mondays, but we’ll see if that holds true once the NBA season starts. However, let’s get back to the NFL and see how I did with my week four picks. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis:

How I did with NFl Week 4 Predictions:

  • St. Louis 24, Arizona 22: The Cards faced their first test of the season and even though they lost I wouldn’t say they failed that test. Sure it wasn’t worthy of being placed on the kitchen fridge but it was still somewhere between a C- and a B-. Arizona’s offense could move the ball with ease and the defense basically shut down the Rams for most of the game on drives that didn’t follow turnovers. It was the intangibles that lost the Cards this game. Turnovers are always an uncontrollable variable, but the Cardinals performance in the redzone is what really cost them. The best way to explain how a team that scored 11 touchdowns in 12 prior redzone trips is that the first few stops affected the Cards psychologically and thus prevented them from succeeding the rest of the game. (30-19)
  • Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 17: I wanted to give up on the Ravens but the matchup (Steelers on a short week and playing their first game without Ben Roethlisberger) was too good to pass up. I’ll give credit to Michael Vick, he did an adequate job filling in at quarterback. It’s hard for a quarterback who came in just a month ago to run an offense as intricate as Todd Haley’s scheme. However, there’s no doubt this game would have been too far out of reach for a Ravens comeback if Big Ben was on the field. (31-19)
  • New York Jets 27, Miami 14: For everyone who took my advice to start Chris Ivory in fantasy football (29 carries, 166 yards and 1 TD) you are welcome. With the Bills playing inconsistently, could it be the Jets who have moved into the spot of Patriots opposition for the AFC East? You know, the position we thought the Dolphins would be at the beginning of the season. (32-19)
  • Atlanta 48, Houston 21: I called this Atlanta’s first easy game of the season but I wasn’t thinking that the Falcons would be leading 42-0 after three quarters. The Falcons offense has really found a spark with Devonta Freeman in the backfield, which is bad news for Tevin Coleman when he finally returns from his rib injury. Coleman did win the job during the preseason so there is a chance they’ll just split carries, but I wonder if Freeman has already done enough during the last two weeks to take full control of the job. (33-19)
  • New York Giants 24, Buffalo 10: With the Eagles a mess, the Cowboys struggling since they lost Tony Romo, and the Redskins only being a decent team, I think the Giants proved they are in control of the NFC East after they took care of business in Buffalo against a pretty good Bills team. That’s right, I still think the Bills are good; they’re just inconsistent. (33-20)
  • Chicago 22, Oakland 20: This is one of the rare times where both teams come away from a game satisfied with their performance. The Raiders tenacity continues to impress me and the Bears resolve after the Jay Cutler fourth quarter interception shows real progress. Also I feel happy for Cutler being able to make up for his interception by leading the offense down the field for the game-winning field goal. (33-21)
  • Cincinnati 36, Kansas City 21: I still feel like no one really respects the Bengals as much as they should. What’s sad is the Bengals will probably have to beat the Seahawks this week to get that respect, which is unfair considering what they have accomplished so far this season. Also Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill might be the best young running back duo in the NFL. (34-21)
  • Indianapolis 16, Jacksonville 13 (OT): I expected a blowout but given the fact the Colts were without Andrew Luck I’ll give them a pass. What I learned from this game is that the Colts are really lucky to have a backup of Matt Hasselbeck’s caliber and that having a reliable kicker is a lot more important to a team’s success than we give credit. (35-21)
  • Washington 23, Philadelphia 20*: What if I told you that I had a sports almanac from the future and used it to make this pick similar to how Biff made his fortune in Back To The Future 2? In all seriousness, I knew that this Redskins team was better than how they played against the Giants last week and that this Eagles team is a complete mess. However I did get really lucky with my second perfect score prediction of the season. (36-21)
  • Carolina 37, Tampa Bay 23: Jameis Winston set a lot of career-highs in this game: completions (26), pass attempts (43), passing yards (287) and tied a career-high in touchdown passes (2). He also threw a career-worst four interceptions. He’s made some improvements, but every scout who said Winston would be a turnover machine have been proven right so far. Meanwhile, it looks like Josh Norman is on his way to a career year and may be worthy of some defensive player of the year discussion if he keeps it up. (37-21)
  • San Diego 30, Cleveland 27: It is so unfortunate that this game had to end with the Browns jumping offside on a missed field goal because it overshadowed a really good game. Philip Rivers continues to put the Chargers on his back, this time to the tune of 358 passing yards and three touchdowns. (38-21)
  • Denver 23, Minnesota 20: The Broncos are continuing to prove they are a great overall TEAM. In previous years, if Peyton Manning only threw for 213 yards and had two interceptions that would spell defeat for Denver but now the Broncos defense can relieve some of the pressure off of Manning’s shoulders. Meanwhile Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in rushing with 372 yards, which means the leading rusher isn’t even averaging 100 yards a game. (39-21)
  • Green Bay 17, San Francisco 3: Surprised the Packers didn’t put up more points but the story is Colin Kaepernick. I know the 49ers meant well when they decided to narrow the offensive playbook down but you can tell that defenses are able read the plays so easily now, thus making Kaepernick ineffective. I don’t know the ramifications of complicating an offense in-season but they may have to do it as the offense is to predictable right now.(40-21)
  • New Orleans 26, Dallas 20: First off congrats too Drew Brees on his 400th career touchdown. To believe that 10 years ago we were wondering if his arm injury would cut his career short makes this even sweeter. As for the Cowboys, while it is true that they have been struggling without Tony Romo, don’t blame these two losses on Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys defense has performed considerably worse the last two games. (41-21)
  • Seattle 13, Detroit 10: Have you ever met that one person who always gets their way regardless of if they deserve it or not? Sure I’m bitter about the missed illegal batting call probably giving a ton of momentum to the Seahawks’ season but what’s really sad is that it came at the expense of basically ending the Lions season after just four weeks. (42-21)

Week 4 Record: 12-3
Season Record: 42-21
Perfect Score Predictions: 2