- The Cardinals won eight games last season despite losing David Johnson and Carson Palmer to major injuries. With Johnson back and a strong defense, why is their win total only 5.5?
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Cardinals 2018 win total: 5.5 (-180 over, +160 under)
Cardinals 2017 record: 8-8
Key offseason acquisitions: HC Steve Wilks, OC Mike McCoy, QB Sam Bradford, OL Justin Pugh, OL Andre Smith, QB Mike Glennon, WR Brice Butler, CB Bene Benwikere, CB Jamar Taylor
Key offseason losses: HC Bruce Arians, DC James Bettcher, QB Carson Palmer, S Tyrann Mathieu, QB Drew Stanton, QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Adrian Peterson, WR John Brown, WR Jaron Brown, OL Jared Veldheer, CB Justin Bethel, CB Tramon Williams, DT Josh Mauro, DE Kareem Martin, DT Xavier Williams
Five things to keep in mind before betting the Cardinals’ win total
1. This team underwent a complete teardown in the leadership department, losing Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer to retirement and Tyrann Mathieu as a cap casualty. Arians was a top-10, arguably top-five coach who ran a program that kept its head above water despite an absurd rash of injuries the past two seasons. This is not to say Steve Wilks won’t be a great coach as well (it was a mild upset that Arizona hired him rather than promoting rising star defensive coordinator James Bettcher from within), but Wilks is a complete unknown, especially after only one season as a coordinator—an up-and-down season at that.
2. The quarterback situation is a lot better than you probably think. Sam Bradford is a top-15 quarterback in the league when he’s healthy. Obviously, staying healthy is the issue. But Josh Rosen, at least neck-and-neck with Baker Mayfield as the most pro-ready QB in this year’s rookie class, is a very good Plan B. And yes, Rosen was injury-prone too at UCLA (what a world!). However a year ago, Arizona gave a combined nine starts to Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert and went 5-4 in those games. That included wins over two playoff teams—Jacksonville and Tennessee—with Gabbert under center, and a victory at Seattle in the finale with Stanton starting. The point is: There’s so much talent on this roster that it could win games with one of the worst QB situations in football last year. Which brings us to…
3. Arizona got those wins not only with a couple of fringe roster QBs, but also without the focal point of its offense. And now David Johnson is back. As we mentioned with Saquon Barkley in the Giants betting preview, Johnson doesn’t just upgrade the run game (to be clear, he very much upgrades the run game). He’s more valuable than any running back in football in the passing game, both because of his talent and because the Cardinals haven’t recently found that established No. 2 receiver across from Larry Fitzgerald and—perhaps more importantly—have never had the tight end to provide the movable chess piece every designer prefers. And with Johnson coming off a wrist injury, his legs will be fresh and healthy, and he is squarely in the middle of his prime, not to mention potentially playing for a contract. The offensive line is still a weakness, but it should be better than last year.
4. Chandler Jones is a stud, Patrick Peterson is a stud, Budda Baker is a budding stud (who didn’t even play full-time until the second half of last season), Deone Bucannon is a rock, Haason Reddick and Robert Nkemdiche have a chance to break out. This defense’s floor is high, and has a chance to be outstanding if Wilks pushes the right buttons. A year ago, he turned the Panthers from one of the least blitz-happy teams in the NFL into one of the most blitz-happy. Opponents caught on late in the year, but it caught teams off guard early. The Cards could be poised to steal some wins on defense alone.
5. We all love Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo and Todd Gurley. The NFC West might be really good. But it’s well within the realm of possibility that the Rams—with so many volatile players coming in and a natural regression for the offense—underachieve. And Garoppolo is still a QB with seven career starts under his belt (who also got away with a few throws he shouldn’t have gotten away with last year), complemented by a defense that is a work in progress. The Seahawks are clearly rebuilding. Plus, none of those teams would be able to survive a QB injury the way the Cardinals can—depth matters.
PICK: OVER 5.5 Wins