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.
Advertisements

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.