Earlier this week, I talked about the Miami Dolphins having an outside chance to make an appearance in the AFC playoffs this upcoming season. Now, I will make a case for the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC.
Hear Me Out
Last year, the Cardinals brought in a new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, who installed the Air Raid system that he used as a college coach. The team also drafted QB Kyler Murray with the first overall draft pick. Murray struggled in the beginning part of 2019, throwing only seven TD passes in through Week 8. However, by the end of the season, it was evident that he grew way more comfortable in the offense. I expect Murray to make a massive leap in his second year with the team (my projection is 4200 passing yards and 26 passing TDs). However, other experts such as Cardinals Maven Howard Balzer believe that 2020 is too soon. Murray might end up being the single key to the Cardinals playoff chances.
David Johnson-DeAndre Hopkins Trade
To help Murray, the Cardinals made one of the most excellent trades in recent NFL history. The Cardinals traded RB David Johnson and their second-round pick in this year's draft (plus a pick in 2021) for WR DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick in this year's draft.
Landing Hopkins is a huge get. He is in the prime of his career and can be a WR1 for Murray. Having Hopkins around not only gives the team a legitimate WR1, but it also allows Larry Fitzgerald to take over in the middle of the field—where he excels—and provides time for the organization with the progression of their young receivers: Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, and Hakeem Butler.
Kenyan Drake's Time to Shine
The trade of Johnson confirms that the starting running back job belongs to Kenyan Drake. He was a revelation for the team last season, rushing for 363 yards and seven TDs in the last three weeks. If Drake can build upon those numbers, he can be looking at a Pro-Bowl type of season. In terms of fantasy production, I foresee Drake as a late-first, early-second round pick.
Some fantasy owners might worry about Drake's workload, but I always follow the money. Drake signed a 1-yr/$8.5 million transition tender, which means that the Cardinals have $8.5 million reasons to hand him the football. Drake is the type of player who could end up having 300 touches this season—250 rushes and 50 receptions. If that happens, 1,500 total yards from scrimmage seems like a reasonable expectation. Backing up Drake will be Chase Edmonds. Edmonds started one game last season against the Giants and had 127 rushing yards and three TDs before injuring his hamstring in the following week's game. Drake and Edmonds give the Cardinals a fierce duo who can rival most tandems in the league.
Let's Not Forget About Defense
Making-or-breaking the Cardinals playoff fortunes will be how the team plays on defense. The team added three starters in free agency this off-season. DE Jordan Phillips was brought in to improve the pass rush, LB De'Vondre Campbell is a sure-tackler that the team desperately needed, and LB Devon Kennard can rush the passer or play in coverage depending on the situation. These three signees will join All-Pros LB Chandler Jones and CB Patrick Peterson in trying to resurrect the Cardinals' defense.
So You're Telling Me There's a Chance
The biggest problem that the Cardinals have in making the playoffs is the fact that they play in what might be the NFL's toughest division. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Cardinals are +275 to make the playoffs, making them the fourth choice in a division that includes perennial playoff team Seattle and last year's Super Bowl runner-up San Francisco.
For Arizona, things hinge on whether the offense (specifically QB Kyler Murray) can take the next step up. If the offense can continue to roll—and if the defense does not lag behind—the Cardinals might be playing a relevant game in Week 17 for the first time in many seasons.
MORE FROM SI: