All In The Cards: The Top Ten Moments From An Amazing Cardinals Season

IMPORTANT NOTE: Thank you all for your support this season! Even the though the playing season is over, I will still be covering the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason so look forward to more content to come. For this article I’m going to focus more on recapping the Cardinals season, but I will have a few thoughts on the NFC Championship game at the bottom of the article. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for analysis of all Arizona Cardinals news.

The greatest season in Arizona Cardinals franchise history came to an abrupt end over this weekend, as the Cardinals were unable to write a happy ending to a storybook season. While this team failed to make the Super Bowl and win the Lombardi Trophy, it’s very hard not to consider this season a success. Along with breaking almost every single franchise record, the Cardinals also gained national respect, something the franchise lacked even during prior winning seasons. Part of the reason was that Arizona was 5-0 on nationally televised games before losing to the Panthers. It was a surprise in the past when the Cardinals succeeded but now it’s expected, and this season marked that transition.

For my season recap, I’m going to list the top ten moments from this unforgettable season. Some were great in the moment but will likely be forgotten with the passage of time, while others will be remembered forever. Here are the top ten moments from the Arizona Cardinals’ 2015 season:

10) Chris Johnson’s Cut-Back Run Against Ravens – Possibly the best run of Chris Johnson’s renaissance season. Johnson has always been known as a speedster who just outran every defender so for him to transform into an inside back who isn’t as fast but is fast enough to break tackles is pretty incredible. No run this season showed his new ability to break tackles then his cut-back 26-yard touchdown run when he went right, stopped on a dime and switched back to the left while breaking a tackle and beating everyone to the endzone.

9) Palmer Scrambles for Game-Winner Over 49ers – This past NFL season had a lot of instances of older, less-mobile quarterbacks having huge plays with their feet. Carson Palmer is no exception as Palmer scored the game-winning touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers when he escaped the pocket in the redzone and jogged into the endzone. I say “jog” but he actually ran but it didn’t look like it. Then Palmer nearly gave himself a concussion when he tried to spike the ball but fell over. It was like watching a middle-aged father getting a little too competitive at a family tow-hand touch football game and it was glorious to watch in the moment.

8) Cory Redding Stiff Arms Lacy, Scores TD – It’s always fun when a defensive lineman scores a touchdown, but what made this eve more great was that Packers running back Eddie Lacy made a real effort to stop Cory Redding but Redding just threw Lacy aside and kept rumbling towards the endzone. If it was any other running back that wouldn’t be a big deal but Lacy weights 235 pounds and is built like a linebacker. Redding made people forget that mometarily the way he stiff-armed him.

7) Palmer Leads Game-Winning Drive Against Bengals – One minute to go in a tied game with no timeouts. Palmer not only led a Cardinals’ drive that set up the game-winning field goal, but he did it against his former team. There were quite a few game-winning or go-ahead drives that Palmer led this season but this one was probably the most special one.

6) Fitzgerald Catches 5 TDs In 2 Games – After what was likely his worst statistical season last year, Larry Fitzgerald was a man on a mission to show he wasn’t done being an elite receiver. In route to what was likely his best statistical season, Fitzgerald had amazing back-to-back games during weeks two and three of the season where he scored a combined five touchdowns. Against the Chicago Bears Fitzgerald hauled in eight catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns, while against the 49ers he grabbed nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 109 receptions for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns.

5) Back-to-Back Pick-Sixes – That 49ers game in week three also produced another memorable moment when the Arizona secondary scored on two interceptions during the first six minutes of the game. Justin Bethal took his first career interception to the house at the 11:06 mark of the first quarter. Then on the very next drive, Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Colin Kaepernick and returned that one to the endzone at the 9:03 mark of the first quarter. Overall, the Cardinals intercepted Kaepernick four times and the Cardinals destroyed the 49ers 47-7.

4) David Johnson goes “Beast Mode” On Eagles – David Johnson had a fantastic rookie season and may finally give the Cardinals a workhorse back that they haven’t had in a very long time. He cemented that feeling when he ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles during week 15. Johnson had quite a few big runs in the game but none were bigger or more impressive than his 47-yard touchdown run near the end of the second quarter that quickly reminded many of Marshawn Lynch’s legendary “Beast Mode” run in the 2010 playoffs. Johnson broke through as many as five tackles as he sprinted down the sideline to give Arizona a 17-10 lead in a game where the Cardinals would never trail again.

3) Freeney Strip Sacks Bridgewater – Dwight Freeney showed this season that even at age 35 that his spin move is still unstoppable. No moment was the veteran pass-rusher needed more than when he strip-sacked Teddy Bridgewater to end the Minnesota Vikings attempt to send the game to overtime. On the play, Freeney executed his famous spin move and obliterated left tackle Matt Kalil so he was able to get to Bridgewater before he could throw it away. Calais Campbell scooped up the ball and the Cardinals earned a playoff spot thanks to that victory.

2) Ellington Seals Win In Seattle – Although he did have the same kind of numbers as the Johnson duo, Andre Ellington made an impact for the Cardinals when he did play. No run was more important than the one that sealed Arizona’s win over the Seahawks in Seattle. Holding onto a 32-29 lead after holding the Seahawks to a punt, Ellington at first converted a 3rd-and-4 near midfield but didn’t stop there as his tightrope act along the left sideline kept him in-bounds and let him get enough separation to beat a Seahawks defense to the endzone on a play they likely gave up on thinking he had stepped out of bounds. It sealed an important road win and caused Drew Stanton to have one of the greatest celebrations in history.

1) Fitzgerald Wills Cardinals Over Packers in Overtime – Even though the Cardinals only won one playoff game, the way it was won was very special. While the winning touchdown on the shovel pass was both a great play call and executed perfectly by the players, it was the 75-yard pass reception by Larry Fitzgerald on the first play of overtime that earns the best moment from this past Cardinals season. Palmer executes a perfect spin move to escape pressure and finds Fitzgerald completely wide open and had a Cardinals first down at midfield. Yet, as described by Fitz himself, he said forget first down and cut back to the middle of the field and went for the walkoff. While he didn’t quite make the endzone he score two plays later but his decision to turn a 30-yard pass into a 75-yard pass showed how one player could will a team to victory.


Final Thoughts About Arizona’s NFC Championship Game Loss:

  • The stage was definitely too big for the Cardinals as many great players folded under the pressure. It’s hard to win when your stars aren’t performing well, and Calais Campbell (two false starts), Patrick Peterson (fumbled punt return), and especially Carson Palmer (six turnovers, many other bad decisions) were not playing like stars. Even Larry Fitzgerald, statistically the greatest wide receiver in NFL playoff history, dropped two passes on the night. When Fitzgerald drops a tipped pass that was still catchable and Ted Ginn does catch a tipped pass, it’s just not your night.
  • Piggybacking on the idea that the stage was too big for the Cardinals, I think in hindsight it was too much to ask this Cardinals organization to win a championship during the team’s first season as a contender when the role is so foreign for the franchise. I get the urgency because a lot of the key guys have only a limited time left in the NFL, building a winner is a step-by-step process and Arizona already completed a bunch of steps this season.
  • While there were still a few chances to come back later in the game, the Cardinals were destined to lose after Peterson tried to get a few extra yards out of a punt return and fumbled it back to the Panthers. Although the Cards were down 17-7, they had taken back momentum thanks to some excellent running by David Johnson and then immediately forced Cam Newton and the Carolina offense into a three-and-out. Then Brad Nortman, the Carolina punter, shanked a punt that only traveled 34 yards and was heading out of bounds. If Peterson had left the punt alone, things could have gotten interesting. I’m not going to claim the Cards definitely would have won but it would have been a much better game. Instead, the Panthers recover and proceed to score a touchdown.
  • Lastly I want to give major props to a Panthers team that has building towards this for three years and were without a doubt the better team. Because the NFL is a pass-happy league, Carolina’s run-oriented offense seems out of place and I feel that is part of the reason people have been skeptical of the Panthers. All I hear is “if you stop the run, can they pass to win?” The answer is yes because Cam Newton has improved so much with his passing that he’s making his receivers better instead of needing great receivers to bail him out. That’s the same trait that Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have in them. The Panthers are going to be a team to reckon with for the next five to seven years.

My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16 – Correct (NE 27-20) (3-2)
  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 27 – Correct (Ari 26-20 OT) (4-2)
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23 – Correct (Car 31-24) (5-2)
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13 – Correct (Den 23-16) (6-2)

My Conference Championship Picks:

  • New England 24, Denver 16 – Incorrect (Den 20-18) (6-3)
  • Arizona 31, Carolina 29 – Incorrect (Car 49-15) (6-4)

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-4 (.600)
Total Record: 165-101 (.620)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Recapping The Stupidly Crazy End To Arizona’s Win Over Green Bay

Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. If someone ever questions that fact, show them the Green Bay-Arizona game from this past weekend. The amount of insane things that happened in that game still boggles my mind and the mind of many other football fans even a few days removed from watching the spectacle. So for part one of All In The Cards’ coverage of the Arizona Cardinals this week, I will go over every crazy situation, one by one, from the fourth quarter and overtime of Saturday night’s thriller. Prepare yourself for some strong opinions, especially about a certain coin toss. 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. Let’s go over the weirdest hour of sports I can remember:

Start of the 4th Quarter: Green Bay 13, Arizona 10

Palmer’s 2nd INT: This drive started late in the third quarter  and the first play was yet another reminder that the NFL desperately needs to properly define a catch. I personally think that four steps and a knee down should constitute a catch regardless of if the ball came out at the end. I know that in a similar situation last playoffs that Dez Bryant was called for an incompletion but the differing of calls only illustrates why this needs to be fixed, not that the call was wrong.

Now to the interception. While the pass was much shorter than it needed to be, the real cause behind this interception was the fact that Green Bay wasn’t afraid of Arizona running the ball. The play started as a play-action pass that immediately got snuffed out by a blitzing linebacker. It was a good risk considering the Cardinals only rushed for 40 yards on 19 rushing attempts. With the added pressure, Carson Palmer threw off his back foot and was unable to put enough behind his pass as Damarcus Randell incepted a pass that should have been out of his reach. Palmer had some bad throws Saturday night, but this one was a little more understandable. (Green Bay 13, Arizona 10 – 14:10 left)

The tip-drill, go-ahead score: This entire drive was a soap opera. The first play was a miscommunication between Palmer and Andre Ellington, not a great first pass after a back-breaking interception. What does Palmer do the next play? Throw a picture-perfect pass just above Packer linebacker Jake Ryan’s outstretched arms to John Brown. At this point we have now entered into “full gunslinger” mode for Palmer. Two plays later Larry Fitzgerald shakes two defenders and reaches out the ball for the first down marker and barely gets it by the narrowest of margins. Then during the Cardinals’ first play in the redzone, Palmer forces a pass to Michael Floyd that cornerback Sam Shields lets bounce off his hands. That pass was much worse than the endzone interception the previous drive and probably would have ended the game. Yet the game didn’t end as a pass between two defenders to David Johnson gets the Cardinals another first down, this time by an even smaller margin than Fitzgerald’s first down.

The true madness began the next play. Arizona ran a pick play with Jaron Brown to get Fitzgerald open on a slant route in the middle of the field. Yet despite Brown’s best (and probably illegal) effort, a defender was able to get an arm and break up the pass. However, instead of the pass falling to the ground, the ball jumped into the air only to land in Floyd’s hands in the back of the endzone. In the span of a second, it went from being a touchdown, to a probable interception, to a touchdown. At this point it seemed that the Cardinals uncharacteristically lucky season after decades of heartbreak would continue. (Arizona 17, Green Bay 13 – 3:44 left)

Arians passes on 2nd down: Then Bruce Arians’ aggressive approach backfired on him. I was really disappointed in the numerous amount of people who questioned Arians and said the pass was a dumb play call after praising him for doing the exact same thing earlier in the season and succeeding. Should he have run the ball? Of course he should have but this is who Arians is and the Cardinals and their fans know and accept Arians’ aggressive approach. Palmer completes that pass to Fitzgerald (or draws a pass interference call) and the game is over. As Arians says, “no risk it, no biscuit.” (Arizona 20, Green Bay 13 – 1:55 left)

Rodgers throws two Hail Marys: After the Cards finally got their first and only sack of the game, it looked like it was over at fourth and 20. Then Rodgers escapes to his left and, with Calais Campbell chasing him, throws a laser to Jeff Janis who was able to get behind the defense thanks to Rodgers extending the play. Then Rodgers decides not to spike the ball and runs another play which not only runs 20 seconds off the clock but an illegal shift by Richard Rodgers stops the clock and backs the Packers up five yards.

At this point Rodgers has two shots at the endzone. Both times, the Cardinals sent seven men on the blitz to hurry up Rodgers’ throw. The first time it worked perfectly as Rodgers kept backpedaling until he threw it away. However the second time Rodgers escaped to his left and threw up a beautiful pass to Janis for the game-tying touchdown. It should be noted that the reason Janis beat Patrick Peterson to the ball was because earlier in the drive Janis got behind the coverage and played deeper so it wouldn’t happen again. That backfired as Janis was able to get in front of the pass to complete the hail mary.

One thing that should be discussed is whether or not Mike McCarthy should have gone for the win with a two-point conversion instead of opting for the extra point to send the game to overtime. To me, the decision should be based on whether or not you believe in momentum. If you do, then you should go for the kill now immediately with the Cardinals still trying to get their head around the fact that the Packers just scored. If you don’t believe in momentum, then you go with the sure bet and go to overtime. There isn’t really a right or wrong decision; it just depends on your philosophy. (Arizona 20, Green Bay 20 – end of regulation)

The overtime coin toss: This may be the most stupid controversy I have ever seen and the fact that some people think that the coin flip prevented the Packers from winning is so asinine that it had me tearing my hair out just reading and listening to this.

First off, in the NFL rulebook it is not stated anywhere that the coin needs to flip on a coin toss. The referee Clete Blakeman was not obligated to do-over the coin toss but did do it because he thought the first toss wasn’t fair. I personally was okay with doing another toss, but the Packers shouldn’t have acted like it was their right to have a do-over. It was a nice gesture by Blakeman and with the Cardinals winning both tosses, the situation should have ended there.

Then Rodgers made his postgame statements. I met Rodgers for a short time back when he was Brett Favre’s backup and from what I can tell he is a good person. Honestly, I think his remarks after the game were just a result of him being frustrated the Packers lost. That being said, I blame him for making this a bigger controversy than it ever needed to be in the first place. He may have just been letting off steam but he needs to realize that he is one of the key players in the NFL and if he complains about something the masses will respond to that complaint.

Rodgers said after the game that he was upset he didn’t get to choose which side of the coin he wanted on the retry. Rodgers said he chooses which side to call based on which side is showing. On the first flip heads was showing so Rodgers called for tails. Since the coin didn’t flip it landed on heads. When Blakeman went for the second toss, he flipped the coin with tails showing. Because of that, Rodgers said he wanted to change his call to heads. The coin landed on heads again and the Cardinals won the toss again.

Some people think Rodgers should have been allowed to change his call but that’s ridiculous. He was already given a gift in the form of a second toss, so also asking to change your call sounds greedy. Also I’ve watched the whole exchange numerous times and I still don’t see how Rodgers could have had enough time to notice the coin being turned over, think about his coin toss ritual, and try to ask for the chance to change his mind. To me this sounds like hindsight bias, with Rodgers  trying to come up with an excuse for the Packers losing. Again it probably wasn’t intentional but he can’t make those kinds of statements.

Fitzgerald takes over: Then Fitzgerald made overtime end so quickly that now people are complaining that this set of overtime rules are unfair because Rodgers didn’t get a chance to go back on the field. If Rodgers wants to look for an excuse for why the Packers lost, he needs to look no further than his defense letting Fitzgerald turn a 15-yard pass into a 75-yard completion. Fitzgerald is very shifty but for him to get so wide open and then have four defenders fail to tackle him is a complete defensive breakdown. You can be disappointed Rodgers didn’t get a chance to respond, but don’t ask to change the rules because the Packers couldn’t stop the Cardinals from scoring a touchdown.

Fitzgerald ended the game two plays later on unique play design where Palmer ran what looked like an option run but instead threw a shovel pass to Fitzgerald. It capped possibly his greatest postseason performance and that is saying something. Look at his playoff game log:

  • 2008 Playoffs
    • vs. Atlanta – 6 receptions, 101 receiving yards, touchdown
    • at Carolina – 8 receptions, 166 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • vs Philadelphia – 9 receptions, 152 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
    • vs Pittsburgh – 7 receptions, 127 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
  • 2009 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 6 receptions, 82 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • at New Orleans – 6 receptions, 77 receiving yards
  • 2014 Playoffs
    • at Carolina – 3 receptions, 31 receiving yards
  • 2015 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 8 receptions, 176 receiving yards, touchdown

His three games with 150+ receiving yards are already the most in NFL playoff history and he’s scored 10 receiving touchdowns in one fewer game than the great Jerry Rice, which is amazing considering two of those games were throwaways because of bad quarterbacks (three quarters of Matt Leinart vs Saints and a whole game with Ryan Lindley vs Panthers last year). Fitzgerald looks like a man on a mission and I don’t know if anyone can stop him.


How I Did With My Divisional Round Picks:

  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 20 (OT) (1-0 this weekend, 3-2 in playoffs)
  • New England 27 Kansas City 20 (2-0, 4-2)
  • Carolina 31, Seattle 24 (3-0, 5-2)
  • Denver 23, Pittsburgh 16 (4-0, 6-2)

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-2 (.750)
Total Record: 165-99 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Palmer’s Chance To Leave His Mark (Week 11)

The Cardinals finally defeated “big brother” to take full control of the NFC West as Arizona now has a three game lead with seven games to go. However, the Cards don’t have any time to rest as they face another tough opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Bengals coming off their first loss of the season, the Cardinals will be facing a team determined to get back on track and will one that that will try to take advantage of Arizona’s mental fatigue after the Cards’ win in Seattle. 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 take a look at this matchup of  division leaders:

Cincinnati Bengals @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: L 23-16 @ Cincinnati (11/24/11)

There are a number of reasons why this game was flexed into primetime. Both teams are among the best in their conferences. Both teams are historically mediocre franchises who have been given hope this season. However, the biggest reason this game will be played on Sunday night instead of Sunday afternoon like it was originally scheduled is due to the resurgence of quarterback Carson Palmer.

At the age of 35, Palmer is on pace to have his greatest statistical season, as his 2,749 passing yards and 23 passing touchdowns puts him on pace for 4,887 passing yards and 41 touchdowns. Here is a look at some of Palmer’s best seasons:

  • 2005 (Cin) – 3,836 pass yards, 67.8% pass comp, 32 TDs, 12 INTs, 101.1 QBR 
  • 2006 (Cin) – 4,035 pass yards, 62.3% pass comp, 28 TDs, 13 INTs, 93.9 QBR 
  • 2007 (Cin) – 4,131 pass yards, 64.9% pass comp, 26 TDs, 20 INTs, 86.7 QBR
  • 2010 (Cin) – 3,970 pass yards, 61.8% pass comp, 26 TDs, 20 INTs, 82.4 QBR
  • 2012 (Oak) – 4,018 pass yards, 61.1% pass comp, 22 TDs, 14 INTs, 85.3 QBR
  • 2013 (Ari) – 4,274 pass yards, 63.3% pass comp, 24 TDs, 22 INTs, 83.9 QBR
  • 2014 (Ari) – 1,626 pass yards, 62.9% pass comp, 11 TDs, 3 INTs, 95.6 QBR (6 games)

Now compare those seasons to the nine games Palmer has played this season:

  • 2015 (Ari) – 2,749 pass yards, 64.0% pass comp, 23 TDs, 7 INTs, 108.0 QBR

By looking at those stat lines, there is no clear answer as to which was Palmer’s previous best season. However, if you are given the option to couple back-to-back seasons together I think the answer would be the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Other than the fact that those seasons were 10 years ago, something very important happened between those two seasons: Palmer’s first major leg injury in the 2005 playoffs. It’s very interesting that he played his previous two best seasons before and after that injury, because a decade later Palmer is again having back-to-back career seasons, one before a major leg injury (2014) and one after that injury (2015).

Now I have no way to completely explain why this has occurred (maybe it’s a complete coincidence), but to me it feels like Palmer has a strong determination to continue what he starts. He’s a veteran who has traveled the beaten path and, due to succumbing to multiple serious leg injuries, knows that he only has a limited amount of chances to leave that mark.

Sunday night Palmer has a chance to take a big step toward leaving his mark. This week will be the second time in Palmer’s career that he will face the Bengals with the first time coming in 2012 when his Oakland Raiders lost 34-10. In that game, Palmer completed 19 of his 34 passes for just 146 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

This time around Palmer will be facing a good but not great Cincinnati defense. The Bengals rank 13th in both passing yards allowed (236.3) and rushing yards allowed (102.4). After throwing for 363 yards against a Seattle defense that still ranks second in passing yards allowed (202.8), Palmer should be able to throw on a tamer Bengals secondary while playing in front of the home crowd. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton will have to rely on Tyler Eifert a lot as Patrick Peterson (17 receptions allowed on 35 passes targeted towards his assignment) will more than likely shut down A.J. Green. As long as the rest of the secondary can slow down Eifert, the Bengals will have a hard time passing effectively.

While beating his former team would be great for Palmer, the main reason this game is so huge for Palmer is that a win would bring him and his team confidence as the playoffs approach. The Cardinals proved a lot of things with their win in Seattle last week but the fact still remains that Arizona has yet to beat a team with a winning record. While the Seahawks could still make the playoffs, there is no guarantee that they will, where as the Bengals are almost certainly going to the playoffs unless they lose the rest of their games. A win over Seattle proved the Cardinals were the best in the NFC West, but a win at home in primetime against a championship-contender would solidify Arizona as a championship-contender itself and would improve Palmer’s a chances of becoming a champion, the ultimate way a quarterback can leave their mark in the NFL.

Prediction: Arizona 27, Cincinnati 20

My Week 11 NFL predictions:

  • Jacksonville 26, Tennessee 20
  • Atlanta 24, Indianapolis 23
  • Denver 16, Chicago 13
  • Dallas 27, Miami 17
  • Oakland 31, Detroit 21
  • Baltimore 23, St. Louis 17
  • New York Jets 20, Houston 19
  • Philadelphia 28, Tampa Bay 23
  • Carolina 20, Washington 10
  • Kansas City 23, San Diego 20
  • Green Bay 24, Minnesota 20
  • Seattle 27, San Francisco 13
  • New England 28, Buffalo 20

Week 10 Record: 4-10
Week 11 Record: 1-0
Season Record: 91-56 (.619)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

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: 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: Week 4

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals high-flying offense faces its first formidable defense of the season in the St. Louis Rams. For whatever reason, the Rams play 10x better when they face a division opponent than when they face everyone else. This week I’ll go in-depth on how the Rams present a huge challenge and how the offense may have to change things up if they want to move to 4-0. 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:

St. Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meetings: W 31-14 vs. St. Louis (11/9/14) & W 12-6 @ St. Louis (12/11/14)

If there is one thing that I’m more passionate about than the Arizona Cardinals, it’s statistics. However, I’m pretty sure by now most of you have heard about Arizona’s historic offensive start to the season so I’m not going to delve much into the numbers. My only comment (because of course there had to be at least one) is that 126 points is a lot regardless of it being the first three games, the middle three games, or the last three games. In addition to the praise, it has also been noted many times that the Cardinals’ offensive explosion came against three of the worst defenses in the NFL. I’d question grouping the 49ers defense with the porous Bears and Saints defenses but I can concede that the San Francisco defense is much worse than it has been in awhile.

That’s what makes this game against the Rams so intriguing. There’s no doubting that the Cards have a great offense, but just how great is it? Is it really going to challenge single-season scoring records? (nope) Can it win games if the Cardinals defense is playing badly? (that is something we probably won’t find out for awhile) Can it face heavy defensive pressure and step up their game to overcome it? That last one is what we will find out this week.

The Rams defense is 11th in the NFL in points allowed, giving up 22.3 points a game. In addition, St. Louis is only giving up 202.3 passing yards a game, which is tied for seventh best. This will definitely be the first big test for a Cards offense that is first in scoring (42 points a game) and ninth in passing yards (266.3 yards per game).

However, the biggest test will be at the line of scrimmage where the Cardinals offensive line (league-low one sack allowed) battles a Rams defensive line that has 13 sacks already on the season, tied for second most. I don’t think I need to reiterate just how important keeping Carson Palmer healthy is to the Cardinals success. I also don’t think I need to remind people which defense put Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf for the next several weeks. However, it is worth mentioning that both Palmer and Drew Stanton went down last year against the Rams in separate games. I am well aware that Palmer’s injury was non-contact but it was how they attacked Stanton last season that makes me and every Cardinals fan nervous. Any time they had a chance to hit Stanton, they took it.

Let me state right here that I believe there is nothing wrong with that approach as long as the hits remain legal, which they were most of the time. However, recognizing that a defense is going to be aggressively attacking your quarterback puts a lot of pressure on your offensive play-calling. There will likely be less passes downfield so as to limit having Palmer stand around and get hit. Instead, I expect more screen passes and run plays (the Rams have given up 122.7 yards per game on the ground).

It will probably result in the Cardinals’ lowest point total of the season, but luckily the Cards won’t need to score a lot to beat the Rams. The Cardinals 47 points against the 49ers are only three less than the 50 points the Rams have scored all year. With the exception of an inspired performance against the Seahawks, new quarterback Nick Foles has been abysmal and the promising running game hasn’t been able to function thus putting even more pressure on Foles.

With that being said there are still two potential problems facing the Arizona defense: overconfidence in their own performance and the fact that the Rams play so much better against NFC West teams.

This Cardinals team has enough hardy veterans that the locker room should prevent a potential letdown game. The worry actually comes from the same secondary that jumped routes against the 49ers and ended up scoring multiple touchdowns. Tyrann Mathieu said after the game that he and the other defensive backs were able to recognize the 49ers play call right from the snap and thus were able to get in position to pick off the pass. This happened because the 49ers limited the offensive playbook to make Colin Kaepernick more comfortable. It also made them very predictable and thus ineffective. The problem here is that the Rams know that. Thus they could run a play they’ve run one way all season and run it another way to trick an overzealous defensive back and get a long touchdown on blown coverage. Here’s to hoping that the Cards secondary anticipate this and take fewer risks.

The Rams performance against NFC West teams is the one variable out of Arizona’s control and honestly the whole situation is hard for me to explain. There are so many statistical differences between the Rams team that faced the Seahawks and the Rams team that faced the Redskins and Steelers that you would swear they were two different teams. Of all the statistical differences, the one that stood out the most was third down conversion. The Rams converted 6 of 11 third downs against Seattle, and 4 of 22 third downs against the Steelers and Redskins. If the Cards can stop the Rams on third down and run the ball effectively, they’ll  have a great shot at reaching 4-0.

Prediction: Arizona 27, St. Louis 16

Fantasy Advice:

If you have Larry Fitzgerald, you might as well start him as the Rams are one of the few teams he has dominated throughout his career, even when he had bad quarterbacks. Coming into this season, Fitzgerald has hauled in 138 catches for 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns against the Rams during his career. The catches and touchdowns are the most he has had against an opposing team while the receiving yards ranks second. If he’s truly back then bet on history repeating itself, even if he draws extra secondary attention. Now you might call me crazy, but the best play for the Rams this week is their Defense/Special Teams. Normally you wouldn’t start any defense against a historically-great scoring offense, but it’s about the intangibles. Expect at least one interception and/or fumble recovery and don’t be surprised if they’re able to rack up 3-5 sacks. That might not sound overwhelming but I just don’t see anyone on the Rams offense who would make a safer bet.

NFl Week 4 Predictions:

  • 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.
  • New York Jets 29, Miami 13: The Dolphins have been one of the biggest disappointments early in the season and I don’t see things getting much better. The Dolphins have given up 435 rushing yards so far this season so Chris Ivory, who should be back for this game, is poised for a big fantasy day.
  • Atlanta 26, Houston 16: Depending on your thoughts about the Eagles, this is possibly Atlanta’s first easy game of the season. Sure the Texans are coming off their first win of the season, but Atlanta finally has good professional football again and I expect the Georgia Dome to be rocking.
  • Buffalo 27, New York Giants 23: The fact that I think the Giants are by far the best team in the NFC East (at least as long as Tony Romo is out) should show how much I believe in this Bills team. It looks like Rex Ryan is still one of the best coaches in the NFL; he just needed a change of scenery.
  • Oakland 24, Chicago 10: As of the time I am writing this, I’m under the impression Jimmy Clausen will be the Bears starting quarterback. Even if Cutler plays I doubt he’ll be 100% and the Bears need him 100% to beat a feisty Raiders team that is finally starting to see progress under Jack Del Rio. Could be another big day for Derek Carr against a bad Bears secondary.
  • Cincinnati 24, Kansas City 20: The Bengals made a statement last week that they are still a threat in the AFC and I think they reinforce that with a win against the Chiefs. Also I think Kansas City still has a good team and time to turn things around from a 1-3 start. They’ve just had a tough schedule up to this point. They should be able to rebound during their next four games.
  • Indianapolis 38, Jacksonville 17: You finally got a win Indianapolis so that monkey is off your back. Now it is time to dominate an inferior opponent at home. I’m not asking you to put up 51 points on the Jaguars like the Patriots did, but you should come away from the game feeling like you had complete control.
  • Washington 23, Philadelphia 20: Despite the loss last Thursday against the Giants, I remain impressed by how competitive the Redskins have been so far this season. I literally have no other basis for this pick other than thinking Eagles will probably choke away this game in the fourth quarter.
  • Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 13: Normally having your next game be at Seattle would be a potential distraction from your current game, especially against the Buccaneers. However, the schedule-makers blessed the Panthers with a bye week between this game and the Seattle game so there shouldn’t be any distractions or looking ahead.
  • San Diego 27, Cleveland 17: I’ll be honest; I have no idea what to think of this matchup. The Browns in particular really confuse me and I have no idea what to expect from them. I know what I’m getting from Philip Rivers and the Chargers so I’ll side with consistency and pick the Chargers.
  • Denver 20, Minnesota 13: Is it too late to flex this game to Sunday night? This should be a really great game but with Peyton Manning starting to get his form back and the Broncos defense continuing to wreck havoc on opposing offenses, I’ll go with the home team.
  • Green Bay 38, San Francisco 13: Although they haven’t scored as many points as the Cardinals, even I have to concede that the best NFC offense goes to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. If Pittsburgh put up 43 points and Arizona put up 47 points against the 49ers defense, how many will the Packers score?
  • New Orleans 23, Dallas 17: I originally picked the Cowboys, but with signs indicating that Drew Brees will back I decided to switch. Even if he doesn’t start, Luke McCown wasn’t terrible in his place so the Saints have a good shot at this one with either quarterback.
  • Seattle 19, Detroit 13: While I wasn’t overly impressed by the Seahawks in their win against Chicago, I have been impressed by the Lions for the wrong reasons. Maybe if this wasn’t Monday night you could have talked me into the Seahawks looking ahead to their matchup with Cincinnati next week but I see no plausible way they lose this game.

All In The Cards: The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Week 2 Recap)

I sincerely sympathize with Chicago Bears’ fans. As an Arizona Cardinals fan of 11 years I know how Sunday felt. Countless times have the Cardinals been plagued by what has happened to the Bears so far this season:

  • Exceeding expectations at beginning of season to give fans a false sense of optimism (Winning week one and then losing six straight in 2011, Winning first four games in 2012 and then losing nine straight in 2012)
  • Injured quarterbacks (Carson Palmer and to a lesser extent Kevin Kolb and Drew Stanton)
  • Inept backup quarterbacks (Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Matt Leinart, Ryan Lindley again…)
  • Not capitalizing on turnovers (Lindley throwing that interception vs. the Panthers in the playoffs last year after the Cam Newton fumble)
  • More penalties than one could think was possible (so many to recall, but the worst was a false start in the redzone vs. the Rams which ended the game with a ten-second runoff)
  • Keeping it close in the first half only to be blown away in the second half (just last year the Cards with Drew Stanton at quarterback were only down 21-13 to the Broncos only to lose 41-20)
  • Having the score run-up on you (In the past five years: 41-7 vs. Falcons, 41-10 vs. Chargers, 41-20 vs. Denver, and Seattle did it twice once (58-0) in 2012 and again (35-6) in 2014)

Yes I’ll admit, even though Bruce Arians only knows one speed (GO!) and always has his team on the attack, Larry Fitzgerald’s third touchdown catch was completely unnecessary and just added salt to the wounds.

At the same time you can’t blame the Cardinals too much. Look at what this team has gone through and you would understand why they needed this. This was a message to the rest of the league that the Cards belong with the elite this season. It’s unfortunate that it had to come at a team’s expense, but the Cards needed to show that last season wasn’t a fluke. Every single win last year was by 17 or fewer points so the Cards never dominated another team. They dominated the Bears and while neither the Bears nor the Saints look like they are going to have good seasons, the Cardinals are finally blowing out teams. This week Arizona faces San Francisco and while the 49ers did just get annihilated by the Steelers, the 49ers have a history of playing the Cards tough even when they are having a down season. I feel another blowout would solidify the Cards as a Super Bowl contender this season. I’ve been fooled by good starts before, but in none of those starts did the Cardinals do what they did Sunday.

Some Card Numbers:

  • Larry Fitzgerald accomplished a lot this week. First off he continued his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 165.
  • Fitzgerald scored three touchdowns in a regular season game for the first time of his career. The only other time he had three touchdowns in a game was the 2008 NFC Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles.
  • It was the first time in nine games that Fitzgerald scored a touchdown. It was also the first time in seven games that he amassed over 100 receiving yards.
  • Last Fitzgerald stat: against the Bears he eclipsed 90 regular season touchdowns and 100 career (regular and postseason) touchdowns.
  • Carson Palmer is off to blazing start, as he is tied for first in the NFL with seven passing touchdowns. He’s also ranked third in quarterback rating and sixth in yards per pass attempt.
  • Rookie David Johnson had a historic day, becoming the first Cardinal since 1958 to have a kickoff return and a rushing touchdown in the same game. The kickoff return went 108 yards, which is tied for second longest in NFL history.
  • As a team the Arizona Cardinals are first in the NFL in scoring (39.5), tenth in total offense (363.5), first in converting third downs (52.6%) and tied for sixth in allowing third down conversions (30.0%).
  • The 48 points against the Bears was the most that the Cardinals have scored under Bruce Arians. The previous high was 40 points against the Indianapolis Colts.

How I Did With Week 2 Predictions:

  • Arizona 48, Chicago 23: I predicted a much closer game and I honestly believe that if Jay Cutler didn’t get injured it would have only been a one or two score game. The Cards defense just overwhelmed Jimmy Clausen and took away his confidence early. (10-7)
  • Kansas City 20, Denver 16: Yeah I might of made a mistake betting against Peyton Manning in primetime but in truth this pick was a test to see if Manning was still a good quarterback. What I can conclude is that he’s still good but I don’t know if he’s great anymore. That defense will be carrying the team this season. (10-8)
  • Atlanta 24, New York Giants 20: Either the Falcons are legit or the NFC East is really bad this year. Maybe it’s both but you can’t deny that Matt Ryan is looking like Matty Ice again and that Dan Quinn has really turned that defense around. The Giants have a hole to climb out of but they’ve done it before and luckily no one is running away with their division (10-9)
  • New England 40, Buffalo 32: Even though the Bills made a huge push in the fourth quarter, I think the fact that the Patriots put up 40 points on an excellent Bills defense is evidence enough to say that the defending champs are the favorite yet again this season. Imagine how the Patriots would be doing if they didn’t have Tom Brady back? (11-9)
  • Cincinnati 24, San Diego 19: In what could be a make-or-break season for Andy Dalton he has had a fantastic start to the year. So far he has five touchdowns and no turnovers while completing 68.3% of his passes. As long as he avoids mistakes the Bengals will a contender. Also Philip Rivers remains one of the most under appreciated quarterbacks in the NFL.  (12-9)
  • Cleveland 28, Tennessee 14: I said I wasn’t going to succumb to the Titans hype train but I guess I did in the end. The Browns looked really good but part of me wonders if this offense can contribute on a consistent basis as they seem to really rely on the home run play. Regardless it was a nice win and great start to the new-and-improved Johnny Manziel era.  (12-10)
  • Minnesota 26, Detroit 16: This was the Minnesota team I was expecting to see this season! Regardless of how you feel about Adrian Peterson, as a football fan it feels great to have him back and playing like himself again. The Lions really need to figure out what is making them play so badly in the second half. You can’t have three turnovers in the second half and expect to win. (12-11)
  • Washington 24, St. Louis 10: There are letdown games, and then there’s the Rams performance against the Redskins. I think Washington might be a decent football team (they also played the Dolphins tough) but for a team like the Rams who are trying to show they turned a corner this is a huge step back. Now they have to rebound against Pittsburgh. Things aren’t looking as great anymore in St. Louis. (12-12)
  • Tampa Bay 26, New Orleans 19: Props to the Bucs for rebounding after such a humiliating defeat to the Titans. However this is about the Saints and what may well be the end of the Sean Payton era. If they don’t turn things around soon I could see him getting the pink slip at the end of the season. (12-13)
  • Pittsburgh 43, San Francisco 18: It seems that the 49ers have been introduced to reality. Jokes aside, this was more about Pittsburgh rebounding from last week’s loss against the Patriots and boy did they bounce back. I honestly think Ben Roethlisberger has an outside shot at the MVP this season and a great shot at offensive player of the year. (13-13)
  • Carolina 24, Houston 17: The Panthers offense isn’t pretty (unless we’re talking about Cam Newton’s flip into the endzone, which was gorgeous), but with that defense it’s enough. While not terrible it wasn’t an encouraging start to the Ryan Mallett era. The Texans may end up relying on their defense more than the Panthers this season and that’s saying something. (14-13)
  • Oakland 37, Baltimore 33: How does a defense that doesn’t give up a single touchdown to the Broncos offense give up four touchdowns to the Raiders offense? Sure they lost Terrell Suggs but that defense still has a lot of great players. Regardless of why it happened, the fact is that Derek Carr had a breakout game and is giving Raiders fans something to smile about. (14-14)
  • Jacksonville 23, Miami 20: The theme this week was I let week one influence my picks too much. No place was this more evident than this pick. The Jaguars are improved and they showed that in this game. Meanwhile something doesn’t feel right about the Dolphins. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around but this has not been a great start to the season. (14-15)
  • Dallas 20, Philadelphia 10: Things are not looking good for the Eagles as all of their offseason gambles have come up snake eyes the first two weeks. Meanwhile the Cowboys are having a case of the 2014 Cardinals, winning games but losing key players such as Tony Romo. Luckily they’ll most likely still be in contention for the NFC East crown when Romo comes. (15-15)
  • *Green Bay 27, Seattle 17: My first perfect score prediction! Wasn’t keeping track before because I didn’t think I’d get one this whole season. Aaron Rodgers must get superpowers when he plays at home because that’s the only way to explain his home games without an interception streak. Also that Jimmy Graham for Max Unger is starting to look a little regrettable. Graham will still help the passing game (though he only had one catch for 11 yards this week) but the loss of Unger has made the offensive line so unstable and that has really hurt their running game. (16-15)
  • New York Jets 20, Indianapolis 7: The good news is that the Colts were 0-2 last year and rebounded to make the AFC Championship. The bad news is that this time around there seems to be more pressure and tension. Week three against the Titans is a must-win game. The Jets defense may be one of the five or ten best defenses in the NFL and they’re still learning Todd Bowles schemes. (16-16)

Week 2 Record: 7-9 (I’m NOT an expert)
Season Record: 16-16
*Perfect Score Predictions: 1

All In The Cards Week 2

Welcome back to a new edition of All In the Cards! I want to thank everyone one who read and supported last week’s article as it became a bigger success than I ever would have thought. I hope you continue to enjoy reading them in the weeks to come and that I make better game picks (DISCLAIMER: I’m not an expert). This week the Arizona Cardinals take on the rebuilding Chicago Bears. Let’s see how they match up against each other and what will be the keys to the game:

Arizona Cardinals @ Chicago Bears

Last Meeting: L 28-13 vs. Chicago (12/23/12)

The Bears may be in rebuilding mode, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be an easy opponent. The Green Bay Packers, one of the Super Bowl favorites, found that out last week as they were barely able to get by with the win. While most of the attention was placed on Jay Cutler’s fourth quarter interception, the reason the Bears lost was that they couldn’t stop Aaron Rodgers. The reigning MVP completed 18 of his 23 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, Rodgers didn’t throw an interception and was never sacked.

Obviously Carson Palmer is nowhere near as good of a quarterback as Rodgers but you can’t help but look at the numbers. Against the New Orleans Saints, Palmer completed 19 of his 32 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He also neither threw an interception nor was sacked. Besides Rodgers being a little more accurate and Palmer throwing for more yards, those stat lines are practically identical.

So what does that mean? It means Palmer has a chance at a repeat performance. Granted that looking at stats to indicate how a team will perform is risky this early in the season as we only have a one-game sample, but this is a problem the Bears have had for a while. Since the start of the 2014 season, the Bears defense has given up 37 passing touchdowns. That’s just passing touchdowns! With Andre Ellington most likely out for this week, I expect the Cardinals to throw often in the red zone, especially with Larry Fitzgerald seeming to have regained form. Also watch out for tight end Darren Fells, the 6’7” 281 pound monster that had a coming-out party against the Saints (4 catches for 82 yards and a TD). In fact, I expect Palmer to throw between 35-40 passes so as not to put too much of a load on Chris and David Johnson.

However, if you think the Cardinals are simply going to blow out the Bears you are sadly mistaken. This Bears offense has what it takes to make up for its lackluster defense. Unlike last week, the Bears have a tight end in Martellus Bennett (5 catches for 55 yards and a TD vs. Green Bay) who demands attention from the safeties. That means that the Bears receivers, especially Alshon Jeffery, will face less resistance from the Cardinals secondary and could create a bigger problem. Lastly, let’s not forget that Matt Forte, one of the best receiving backs in the NFL, will be facing a defense that allowed a combined 13 catches for 149 yards to Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. If Cutler is allowed to dump it off to Forte all day, that greatly decreases the likelihood of Cutler losing the game for the Bears.

Overall this game will come down to which defense can make more stops and while the Bears have some favorable matchups against the Cardinals defense, I trust the Cards defense much more than I do the Bears defense. One last fun fact is that new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has experience going against this Cardinals offense as he was the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers the previous two years. That also means that the Cards are familiar with Fangio’s defensive sets so it will be interesting to see if Fangio can come up with something Bruce Arians and co won’t expect. I think the Bears will take an early lead only to see the Cardinals come back and snatch the win in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Arizona 23, Chicago 16

Fantasy Advice:

With Chris Johnson still learning the offense, the Cardinals will most likely be relying on their passing game against the Bears. That means Carson Palmer is a must start again this week and considering how he performed last week there should be less hesitation this time around. For the Bears, Matt Forte is a must start. You can take into consideration that the Cards probably spent all week covering screen passes but Forte is a much better receiver than Mark Ingram so even an improvement won’t mean they’ll be able to contain him.

Week 2 Predictions:

  • Kansas City 20, Denver 16: Yeah I might of made a mistake betting against Peyton Manning in primetime but in truth this pick was a test to see if Manning was still a good quarterback. What I can conclude is that he’s still good but I don’t know if he’s great anymore. That defense will be carrying the team this season.
  • New York Giants 27, Atlanta 23: I think the Falcons have a real shot to win this one, but I think the Giants secondary, which did a good job containing Dez Bryant (five catches, 48 yards), will do a similar job on Julio Jones. If Matt Ryan can find his other targets then the Falcons have a chance but they’re still learning Kyle Shanahan’s offense and will be on the road so I’ll go with New York to rebound from a tough opening week loss.
  • New England 23, Buffalo 13: After the way they handled Indianapolis, I really want to pick the Bills to upset again but I think the Patriots offense will be little harder to contain. Also I don’t think there is anyone in the league that can shutdown Rob Gronkowski.
  • Cincinnati 31, San Diego 20: After Cincinnati steamrolled the Raiders last week, this could be a letdown game with a match against Baltimore looming next week. I think the Bengals are a contender this year so I think they avoid the trap game, but at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost as well.
  • Tennessee 27, Cleveland 13: I don’t want to buy into the Tennessee hype too quickly, but this is a very favorable matchup for them. I expect the Titans defense to wreak havoc on the Browns offense and maybe score a touchdown or two. Marcus Mariota will come back to earth but the Titans won’t need him to play like he did last week to get the win.
  • Detroit 24, Minnesota 22: Both teams need this win but I feel it goes to the Lions. I just wasn’t that impressed with the Vikings and I expect the Lions to want to get the bad taste of their second half collapse out of their mouth as soon as possible. I expect a big fantasy day from Ameer Abdullah.
  • St. Louis 26, Washington 13: You almost worry about a letdown performance after the emotional win over Seattle, but the Rams are fortunate enough to have an experienced coach in Jeff Fisher who has been there before and should be able to get his young team to stay focused and not take the Redskins lightly. I expect the Rams to take control right from the beginning.
  • New Orleans 34, Tampa Bay 17: While I think the Bucs are much better than what they showed against the Titans, I can’t pick them knowing the game will be in the Superdome with Drew Brees and company also trying to avoid a 0-2 start. If anything this will be a great chance for Jameis Winston to silence some of his doubters against a soft secondary.
  • Pittsburgh 24, San Francisco 13: For as impressive as the 49ers’ win was last week, they just have too tough of a matchup against the Steelers this week. However, if San Francisco is able to pull off the win we may have to reconsider our preconceptions about the 49ers being irrelevant this season.
  • Carolina 23, Houston 10: This is a makeup pick for doubting the Panthers last week against the Jaguars. As long as the Panthers defense is able to shut down opposing offenses, their own offense can score just enough to pick up wins. I’ll be interested in seeing how Ryan Mallett does as the new starting quarterback and whether or not he can get the Texans offense moving.
  • Baltimore 27, Oakland 7: After being bottled up against the Broncos, I expect the Ravens offense to run wild this week against a Raiders defense that gave up 33 points in three quarters to the Cincinnati Bengals. I expect a big fantasy day from Joe Flacco in particular.
  • Miami 23, Jacksonville 12: The fact that the Dolphins had such a hard time beating the Redskins has me a little hesitant picking them but I’m pretty sure they’ll be able to take care of business against the Jaguars. If Jacksonville had all of its offensive weapons, like Julius Thomas and Marquis Lee (who may still be able to play), then I may have been tempted but the Miami defense should be able to take care of the group that the Jaguars will field Sunday.
  • Dallas 27, Philadelphia 20: While the Eagles need this win a lot more than the Cowboys, I could totally see them fall short followed by a week of sports talk radio asking if the Eagles’ season is over already. The answer is that it’s not; they just have a tough opening schedule.
  • Green Bay 27, Seattle 17: The idea of the Seahawks falling to 0-2 sounds ludicrous on paper but when you begin to realize how much Kam Chancellor means to that defense it becomes a little more believable. They’ll give a good fight but the Packers will get their revenge.
  • Indianapolis 23, New York Jets 17: Even though they could start 0-2 and would still have a great shot at winning the AFC South, this is a must-win game for a Colts team that sees themselves as Super Bowl contenders. I think the Jets will put up a tough fight but Andrew Luck will pull off another fourth quarter comeback.

All In The Cards: The Roster Needed To Succeed (Week 1 Recap)

I’m trying.

I’m trying really hard this season to have a realistic view of my Arizona Cardinals. Ever since their appearance in Super Bowl XLIII, every year I somehow convince myself that this is the year the Cardinals will win the Super Bowl. My delusions have been so insane that at one time or another I convinced myself that Matt Leinart and Kevin Kolb were good quarterbacks capable of leading the Cards to a Lombardi Trophy. Look, I was young and naïve back then. I’m an adult now and I need to face reality: sometimes you just don’t have the roster to succeed.

I’m not 100% sure the Cardinals have the roster to succeed this season. They did last year but injuries crippled them to the point that the roster that was set to succeed was unrecognizable by season’s end. The Cardinals have a couple less standouts this season (no more Antonio Cromartie), but what they do have over last year’s team is depth. When an injured Andre Ellington had to finally bow out for the rest of the season, a run game on life support died. We are through only one week of this season and the Cards face the same situation: generating a run game without Ellington. This time they were prepared. They drafted David Johnson out of Northern Iowa in the third round of the NFL Draft. They took a flier on the once great Chris Johnson. When Ellington went out in the fourth quarter, Chris Johnson was called upon to help run out the clock. He ran the ball seven times in that final quarter for 30 yards, including a 12 yard run on his first rush attempt after Ellington left. Then David Johnson sealed the game with a huge 55 yard receiving touchdown in the final minute. Without both of them, the Cards wouldn’t have been able to burn time off the clock and guarantee the victory.

The Cards’ approach this past offseason was to add quality depth so that what happened last year wouldn’t happen again this season. I know that sounds like the rational thing to do but you’d be surprised how many sports franchises are too stubborn to admit their mistakes and thus end up making them again. To see the Cardinals acknowledge their mistakes and spend all offseason correcting them makes me feel proud to be fan.

However there is still one problem that hasn’t been solved: what happens to the offense if Carson Palmer goes down again. Palmer looked amazing against the Saints, throwing for 307 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was able to scramble in the pocket to buy some time for his receivers to get open. Less than a year removed from a major leg injury and with two starting linemen out, Palmer was not sacked one time. Granted the Saints pass rush is average at best, but he was never sacked and only hit a few times, which he took very well. Drew Stanton used to be an acceptable backup because because both going into last season had similar skills. That’s not the case anymore. Palmer‘s improved arm strength and pocket presence makes the 2015 Arizona Cardinals a roster that can succeed. Without him this team can’t succeed. I can guarantee that Palmer will not get a single MVP vote this season, but if the Cards succeed he’ll be their most valuable player.

I’m not going to delude myself into thinking Palmer will definitely lead the Cards to a Super Bowl win this season, but a healthy Palmer makes the possibility real.

Some Card Numbers:

  • Who says Larry Fitzgerald is washed up? Fitzgerald happily accepted having Carson Palmer back and hauled in six catches for 87 yards to lead the Cards in receiving. The 87 receiving yards is the most he’s had in a season opener since he had 133 yards on nine catches against the San Francisco 49ers all the way back in 2006. Also worth noting is that four of Fitzgerald’s six catches went for first downs.
  • One last Fitzgerald note and what will be a running counter on this article: Fitzgerald extended his consecutive games with a catch streak to 164, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
  • While throwing for 307 yards, Carson Palmer passed Jim Kelly for 21st on the all-time passing yards list.
  • The Cardinals have now won their last four home openers. Speaking of home games, the Cards are now 14-3 at home under Bruce Arians.
  • Last year the Cardinals had one of the best fourth quarter differentials in the NFL. This year they are already off to a great start with a +8 differential.

How I Did With Week 1 Predictions:

  • Arizona 31, New Orleans 19: Without Jimmy Graham to occupy a safety’s attention, the Cardinals secondary was able to neutralize the Saints wide receivers for the most part. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton cleverly countered by calling a bunch of screen passes, which really bothered the Cardinals defense all day. With Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears coming up next week, the Cards defense better practice their screen coverage. (1-0)
  • New England 28, Pittsburgh 21: This game feels like it was an eternity ago but New England prevailed because Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still on their A-game, Rob Gronkowski is unstoppable, and because Pittsburgh couldn’t communicate with each other (Just kidding on that last one). (Season Record: 2-0)
  • Buffalo 27, Indianapolis 14: I knew the Bills would be good (Rex Ryan teams always come to play) but the way they handled the Colts really surprised me. Even though the season just started the Colts need to turn things around quickly, especially with rumors of Coach Chuck Pagano being on the hot seat. (2-1)
  • Green Bay 31, Chicago 23: The Bears pleasantly surprised me with their performance against the Packers, coming very close to pulling off the win. Unfortunately the often-maligned Jay Cutler just became a little more maligned. Rodgers, 189 passing yards and three passing touchdowns, also showed why he’s the reigning MVP. (3-1)
  • New York Jets 31, Cleveland 10: What made Todd Bowles such a great defensive coordinator for the Cardinals was his ability to make perfect halftime adjustments. Fitting that he would get his first win as a head coach by having his Jets shutout out the Browns and force three turnovers in the second half. The Jets have some scary injuries but overall both this season and the future look bright. (4-1)
  • Kansas City 27, Houston 20: For most of the game I was wrong about the Texans, but then in the 4th quarter when Ryan Mallett took over I didn’t look as foolish. Also DeAndre Hopkins is a beast and should be considered as a cheaper alternative in fantasy leagues where you choose a new team on a weekly basis. I’m still taking a wait-and-see approach on Travis Kelce’s long-term fantasy impact. (4-2)
  • Louis 34, Seattle 31 (OT): I’m really kicking myself for not sticking to my gut and picking the Rams. The Rams always push NFC West teams to the limit and the Seahawks were vulnerable without Kam Chancellor. I worry about Seattle’s psyche going forward, especially after the botched onside kick and failed Marshawn Lynch fourth down run. (4-3)
  • Miami 17, Washington 10: This game was a lot closer than I thought which either means good news for the Redskins or bad news for the Dolphins. Also Jarvis Landry’s punt return touchdown was one of the best I have ever seen. Just the way he made it look so easy amazes me. (5-3)
  • Carolina 20, Jacksonville 9: I still stand by what I said about the Panthers offense needing some time but I’ll admit I didn’t give enough credit to their defense before making my pick. We’ll see if they can maintain this level if Luke Kuechly misses a lot of time due to his concussion. Also I may have overestimated the Jaguars’ progress. Still looks like there is a long way to go. (5-4)
  • San Diego 33, Detroit 28: Even though I called the Lions’ choke job, that doesn’t mean I’m proud of it. I was really hoping they would prove me wrong and start the season off on a high note, but instead they throw away a 21-3 first half lead. On the positive side, Keenan Allen started his third season off with a bang after he fell well short of expectations last season. If he can be a go-to receiver for Philip Rivers then the Chargers season suddenly looks more promising. (6-4)
  • Cincinnati 33, Oakland 13: The outcome was even bleaker for the Raiders than I predicted, barely avoiding a shutout with a couple of garbage time touchdowns. The Bengals made a huge statement in this game, telling everyone who picked Pittsburgh or Baltimore to win the division that they still hold the crown and they aren’t going away. (7-4)
  • Denver 19, Baltimore 13: I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that not a single offensive touchdown was scored in this game. While both defenses played at an elite level you can’t help but wonder if this is a sign of things to come, especially for Peyton Manning who has now gone without a touchdown pass in three of his last five games. (8-4)
  • Tennessee 42, Tampa Bay 14: It seems former Cardinals and current Titans Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt finally has a quarterback that he can properly gameplan around. Since the retirement of Kurt Warner, Coach Whiz has had the worst luck with starting quarterbacks but Marcus Mariota looks to have a bright future ahead of him. I’m not about to bury Jameis Winston but the performance really showcased his flaws. (8-5)
  • Dallas 27, New York Giants 26: This game was pure craziness. I definitely feel that Tony Romo’s reputation for choking in the fourth quarter is overblown and that he’s actually one of the better late-game quarterbacks. Both teams should have good seasons so I can’t wait for the rematch. Hopefully it will be just as entertaining. (8-6)
  • Atlanta 26, Philadelphia 24: I knew that the Eagles running game would be overhyped but I never expected a combined 11 carries for 13 yards from DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Matt Ryan excelled under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan just like I expected, and Julio Jones (nine receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns) is earning every penny of that new contract. Also shout out to former Indiana Hoosier Tevin Coleman for gaining 80 yards off 20 carries in his first NFL game. (9-6)
  • San Francisco 20, Minnesota 3: I’ve watched the Cardinals defense go up against Carlos Hyde a couple of times and I never would have imagined he would have a game like he did last night. Hyde’s 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns should be a great comfort for the 49ers and their fanbase which has gone through a lot of turnover and turmoil over the past year. Also I am dumbfounded by how underwhelming the Vikings performed. (9-7)

All In The Cards: Week 1

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

Fantasy Advice:

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.