Before the Arizona Cardinals open their 2021 campaign Sunday, we asked the Arizona Sports staff a few pertinent questions about how Year 3 of the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray era will go.
Here’s the second of a two-part series to preview the season.
How many games do the Cardinals win in the new 17-game season while playing in a tough NFC West? Does that get them in the playoffs?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: When coming up with preseason win projections, I like to look at the number of games on a team’s schedule that I consider “in the hip pocket” contests — games that any team should feel confident about winning based on last year’s results mixed with a look at offseason moves.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, I can only see about three of those games — Jacksonville, Houston and Detroit — and two of those are on the road (and Kyler Murray has yet to beat the Lions). I think the footing will be treacherous in the division as well, but I think the Cardinals have enough talent to win eight games this season. And no, that won’t end their playoff drought.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: When the schedule first came out, I was optimistic that the Cards would win 10 or perhaps even 11 games. But the secondary and the youth at inside linebacker have me nervously backing away from that prediction. K1 and K2 better dial it up in a hurry. If the Cards are going to get there, I fear their offense is going to have to do the heavy lifting. I’ll go with nine wins and a no vote on the playoffs.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I like 10-7. Division is tough, but I am down on Seattle. I think Arizona gets two wins there. I see them splitting with San Fran and, unfortunately, continuing to get dominated by coach Sean McVay and Los Angeles.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Nine. I think the Cardinals win nine games and I think that will be enough to secure the third Wild Card spot in the postseason.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: I’ll go with 9-8, and that puts them right in the middle of the race for a wild card. I do think this team has a lot of upside that’s being a little overlooked because of the division they’re in. The offense might finally be electrifying with Kyler Murray taking another step in Year 3, Rodney Hudson elevating the offensive line and both A.J. Green and Rondale Moore bringing new dynamics to the passing game. And it’s entirely possible this pass rush with Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt can singlehandedly alter games. But we have to see that first, and the NFC West is a problem. Even going 3-3 against the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers is a challenge, which makes winning more than 10 games seem daunting unless everything goes right.
Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com Cardinals reporter and editor: If injuries don’t hinder expectations, I see the Cardinals winning 11 games, with the potential for a 12th. The NFC West is no joke, as it usually is, but I’m not entirely sold on the Rams. Los Angeles added quarterback Matthew Stafford this offseason but will be without potential starting running back Cam Akers, who tore his Achilles while training.
The Seahawks may have some things going on internally with Russell Wilson but that hasn’t stopped the QB from preparing like normal.
San Francisco is in the middle of a QB battle, but with a defense like that, the 49ers can afford to figure out their signal caller situation on the fly.
Overall, I can see three teams making the playoffs out of the NFC West, with the Rams, not the Cardinals, missing out on the postseason. I know the Cardinals haven’t beat the Rams since 2016, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Arizona rattles off a pair of wins over L.A. in 2021.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor: Seven. I’m worried a whole lot about the defense. Vance Joseph was good in his second year, but once again, I think Steve Keim has not put Joseph or his football team in a position to succeed. On offense, a dynamic quarterback in Kyler Murray needed more weapons. The offseason result was James Conner, A.J. Green and Rondale Moore, with concern on the first two being washed and the second-round pick having exciting upside that will need to come to fruition right away. There are too many red flags in a loooaded division for me to think they’re sniffing .500 or above.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com lead editor: I’m hesitant to believe the division is as daunting as it’s been sold — we had this same talk last year and the Cardinals almost snuck into the playoffs. On the other hand, I’m also not sold on there being enough two-deep talent on the Cardinals roster for them to survive for a now-longer schedule. Pencil me in for an 8-9 year.
Arizona I believe had a favorable road outside of the division and can steal some games against the NFC West foes, but there’s no evidence so far that the Cardinals will avoid the absolute clunkers against teams you thought they should beat while looking at the schedule. There’s talent, but too many question marks and depth issues to see a playoff squad here.