It has been an odd last 12 months for the Arizona Cardinals. They surprised the entire NFL starting 7-0 last season, improving to 10-2, only to then fade. They finished 11-6 and were blown out in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
They hope to return to the playoffs for the second straight year but lost Chandler Jones, Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds in free agency. They did not make any significant additions in free agency and traded their first-round draft pick for receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
Can they do it after giving quarterback Kyler Murray a huge contract extension?
They won’t according to USA TODAY’s Nate Davis in a subscriber-only article. He projects they will finish the season 7-10 and not in the postseason.
A team becoming known for starting fast and finishing flat draws the Chiefs, Raiders and Rams in September – a stretch that will cover half of WR DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension. Even the perennial Pro Bowler’s scheduled return is suboptimal, the Cards’ Week 7 matchup with New Orleans occurring on a Thursday. Arizona will face five 2021 playoff opponents over the final eight games, the Chargers and Broncos also part of that gauntlet. QB Kyler Murray will need to study more than four hours a week to get back to postseason.
It is true the Cardinals will have a tough schedule to start the year and will have to weather Hopkins’ absence.
However, Murray has shown improvement each season and they are still quite loaded on offense even without Murray.
Offense shouldn’t be the problem.
The question is whether the defense can generate enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks without Jones, whether their key players stay healthy, whether young linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins can be playmakers and whether the cornerbacks will hold up.
At the end of the day, this is largely the same team that started 10-2 last season before injuries took their toll. A 7-10 record seems like a worst-case scenario.
San Francisco’s projected 10-7 record is high hopes when considering head coach Kyle Shanahan’s 8-28 record with anyone other than Jimmy Garoppolo as his starting quarterback and considering that Trey Lance is just so inexperienced.
I’d say is is far more likely that the Cardinals finish 10-7 than 7-10 and that it is more likely for the 49ers to go 7-10 than 10-7.