Computer simulations ran by NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund put the Cardinals in a playoff position, but with a wide margin between maximizing success and major disappointment.
Frelund ran 300,000 simulations of every single regular season game based on personnel, schemes and matchup data. This season’s data was compared with historical data from the past 10 NFL seasons, which provided correlations to create a mathematical model that guided the simulations.
The projected win total for the Cardinals came out to 9.1, third-best in the NFC West. Arizona is projected as the NFC’s second Wild Card team in the simulation.
Perhaps the more notable number is the team’s floor-to-ceiling ratio. With a ceiling of 12.4 wins and a floor of 7.3 wins, Arizona’s floor-to-ceiling differential comes out to 5.1 wins. That mark is the highest in the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers came in a close second in the division with a floor-to-ceiling differential of 5.0.
The Cardinals have a boom-or-bust profile, with quarterback and secondary play both flagging as strongly influential factors. As far as the QB is concerned, Kyler Murray earns at least 34 total touchdowns in 58.7 percent of simulations, which is a very high percentage in this exercise.
Quarterback play from Kyler Murray improved in 2020. His passing numbers may need to take another step up, though, to push the Cardinals offense to big things in 2021.
He finished 13th with 3,971 passing yards last season. His 26 passing touchdowns in 2020 put him at 14th in the NFL.
Murray was also effective in the running game with 11 rushing touchdowns and 819 rushing yards.
While the quarterback role is filled with certainty in Murray, the secondary is filled with unknowns. That became especially true after cornerback Malcolm Butler retired just five months after signing with the Cardinals in free agency.
That leaves Robert Alford and Byron Murphy Jr. as the team’s starting cornerbacks on the depth chart.
Murphy’s numbers in 2020 took a step down from his rookie season in 2019, when he was one of four defensive rookies to start every game.
Alford’s last game, meanwhile, came in 2018 with the Atlanta Falcons. Season-ending injuries in two consecutive training camps have kept him out of action during his time with the Cardinals.
Budda Baker, a first-team All-Pro in 2020, will provide some stability at safety along with Jalen Thompson. An ankle injury limited Thompson to only five games last season.
Arizona’s first-round draft picks in the last two NFL Drafts, Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins, are slated to start at the two inside linebacker positions. Simmons started seven games last year with 50 tackles and two sacks.