The Arizona Cardinals are coming off a 8-8 finish in 2017, which resulted in them missing the playoffs for a second straight year. While they finished the season at .500, it never felt like they were a serious threat. Out of Arizona’s 8 wins, only two came by more than 5 points. Of the 8 losses, 6 were by double-digits.
With last year’s disappointing season also came the loss of head coach Bruce Arians, who decided it was time to retire. The new head coach is Steve Wilks, who spent last year as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator (defensive backs coach previous 5 seasons). Wilks has brought in Mike McCoy to be the new offensive coordinator. Al Holcomb, who has been the linebackers coach at Carolina the past five years is the new defensive coordinator.
Arians wasn’t the only big name to retire for the Cardinals. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer also decided to hang it up after 15 seasons. Arizona quickly went out and signed Sam Bradford to fill the void at quarterback, while also trading up a few spots in the draft to take UCLA’s Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick. As of right now Bradford will be the opening week starter, but there’s a lot of excitement with how well Rosen looked in OTA’s.
One of things that gets lost from last year is the team lost their most dynamic offensive weapon in running back David Johnson for the season in Week 1. In 2016, Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns. Veteran Adrian Peterson, who they traded for mid-season led the team in 2017 with a mere 448 yards and the entire Cardinals team finished the year with just 6 rushing touchdowns.
Keep in mind Johnson wasn’t just the bell cow in the running game. He had 80 receptions for 879 yards and 4 scores in 2016. His return to the lineup might just be the biggest addition to any offense in the league this year.
At wide receiver the Cardinals still have one of the best to ever play the game in Larry Fitzgerald, who just caught 109 passes for 1,156 yards and 6 scores in what was his 14th season in the league. That’s the only proven commodity outside of Johnson in the passing game. Free agent pickup Brice Butler and 2nd round pick Christian Kirk are both expected to start right away with Chad Willliams and J.J. Nelson also in the mix.
The offensive line will have a much different look to it in 2018. They completely revamped the right side of their line with the free agent signings of guard Justin Pugh and tackle Andre Smith. They also get back two of their better lineman from injury in left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Mike Iupati. Humphries was limited to just 5 games in 2017 and Iupati only made 1 start. Another new piece is 3rd round pick Mason Cole, who could push for a spot at both center and guard.
The defense was a victim to a very limited offense. Arizona ranked 6th in the NFL in total defense (310.9 ypg), yet were way back at 19th in scoring defense (22.6 ppg). That’s the sign of a defense that was put in a lot of bad spots.
This year the Cardinal’s stop unit will be transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3. How the players adjust to their roles will have a big impact on what direction this team goes in 2018.
The biggest change that comes in switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 is where your top pass rushers lineup. In a 3-4 scheme the pass rush comes from your outside linebackers. In a the 4-3 it comes from the defensive end spots. All eyes will be on Chandler Jones, who led the league with 17 sacks as an outside linebacker in the 3-4. If he isn’t as effective at getting to the quarterback, it’s going to really hurt this team. The same goes for Markus Golden, who is also making the switch to defensive end.
There’s also a lot of pressure on third-year defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche to have that breakout season and become the elite player everyone envisioned when he came out of Ole Miss.
One of the big reasons that Nkemdiche and fellow defensive tackle Corey Peters have to play well, is there’s some concerns with both depth and talent at the linebacker spot. Deone Bucannon, Haason Reddick and Josh Bynes aren’t exactly a star-studded unit. Though Reddick could emerge into a big time play-maker.
The secondary is still headlined by one of the games best corners in Patrick Peterson, but the team lost the heart and soul of the unit in safety Tyrann Mathieu. The good news is the Cardinals really like second-year safety Budda Baker, who flashed a ton of potential in his rookie season. Veteran Antoine Bethea will start alongside Baker at safety, while Marcus Williams, Bene Benwikere and Chris Campbell compete at corner.
Do the Cardinals have enough pieces in place to make that jump back to the top half of the NFC, or will their be more growing pains in the first year of a new head coach? You could make a strong case for both sides, which means expectations will be all over the place for this team.
2018 Cardinals Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
Projected Wins: 5.47
Over/Under Wins Prediction: UNDER 5.5
I think a lot of people are going to look at this win total and have a hard time not wanting to take the OVER at 5.5. They see a team that just went 8-8 and has been decent over previous seasons, needing to only go 6-10 for them to be a winner. I also think there’s some optimism with the quarterback situation with Bradford brought in and Rosen drafted, plus the return of David Johnson.
I completely get it and certainly wouldn’t be shocked if the Cardinals won 6 or more games, but I would have to lean towards the UNDER if I had to wager on this prop bet. No disrespect to Wilks, but I think a lot of people are overlooking the impact that Arians had on Arizona’s success. He left as the franchise’s winningest head coach in their history. Wilks could end up being a great coach, but a lot more coaches fail than succeed in the NFL. I’m also not as big on defensive minded guys in their first few years with a team. I think the offensive minded guys like Doug Pederson and Sean McVay have a much bigger impact on a team’s success out of the gates.
Let’s also not overlook the fact that while Arizona has a few of the best players in the game, their roster from top to bottom isn’t anything to get excited about. If Bradford or Rosen don’t play well, this team is going to struggle to just keep games competitive.
Lastly, I think the schedule will play a big role in the Cardinals finishing with 5 or fewer wins. Arizona might have the toughest road slate in the league. Outside of their 3 division road games against the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams, they have to travel to play the likes of the Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers, Packers and Falcons. Just getting a single road win will be a challenge. The home schedule is favorable, but I don’t see the Cardinals going 6-2 at home this year. I think it will be more like 4-4 or 3-5.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +10000
I know nothing is certain in the NFL, but I just don’t see the value in betting on a team like the Cardinals to win it all. Arizona would need so much to go right for them just to make the playoffs, that it’s just not worth the risk.
Note that only the Dolphins (+15000) and Jets (+20000) have worse odds to win the Super Bowl than the Cardinals.
Odds to Win the NFC: +4500
According to oddsmakers the Cardinals are the worst team in the NFC going into 2018, as Arizona owns the worst odds to win the conference at +4500. Only the Bears (+4000) have worse odds than 25 to 1 to win the NFC, which really tells you how little the books think of this team.
Odds to Win the NFC West: +1200
It’s a lot more likely that Arizona wins their division than makes it to the Super Bowl, just for the simple fact they only need to finish ahead of 3 other teams. There’s also only 1 clear-cut powerhouse in the NFC West in the Rams. If Los Angeles were to get hard with injuries, it would open up a slim window of opportunity for the Cardinals to take the division. Even then, there’s no guarantee Arizona would be able to finish ahead of both the 49er sand Seahawks. I don’t see a legit path for Arizona to win the NFC West, so this is not a wager I will be making.