It's that time of the week again where I prognisticate about the fate of the Arizona Cardinals as they face one of their more unusual tests this season: Bruce Arians' Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This matchup offers more intrigue than one might believe at first. Let's get into bold predictions for this Sunday's tilt in Florida.
1. Famous Jameis' famous turnovers 86'd for the weekend
This season has been a make-it-or-break-it year for quarterback Jameis Winston, who almost demands to be evaluated on a game-by-game basis. One Sunday, he's Nathan Peterman, the next, he's slinging it all over the field like a 2015 Carson Palmer. He's not put together a string of good performances this season, but that may change this Sunday when he faces a much-maligned Arizona Cardinals defense which has allowed a whopping 24 touchdowns to opposing passers this season.
Jameis Winston may be turnover-prone, but he's no slouch, and it's likely he won't surrender the ball to an Arizona defense which struggles in taking the ball away. Famous Jameis' turnovers won't be on display Sunday.
2. Mike on a mission
Adding to my previous point, I think it'll be a lot easier for Jameis Winston to put up yards and numbers when he's throwing to 6 foot 5 Mike Evans, who is coming off a monstrous 2-game streak of 180 or more receiving yards.
Patrick Peterson may be back, but he hasn't been shadowing opposing wide receivers as often in Vance Joseph's scheme, and when he does he looks half a step slower than his prime. He may still be working into it. Patrick Peterson is still the best defensive player on the team not named Chandler Jones, but he's going to have his hands full against a matchup nightmare in one of the top 5 wide receivers in the game. And in the red zone, with that huge frame and jump-ball ability, Jameis will certainly be looking Mike Evans' way.
I predict Mike Evans will have 100 or more receiving yards and a touchdown.
3. Chandler Jones can't be contained
It's no secret by now that Chandler Jones is a great player. No, an amazing one. He's got 9.5 sacks through 9 games, putting him on pace for 17 sacks this season. He's been a perennial stalwart on the edge for Arizona since arriving from New England.
I see no reason to bet against Chandler Jones. The man is great at his job. I predict he'll pull off a hat trick with 3 sacks against a Buccaneers team allowing nearly 4 sacks per game this season.
4. Run, Cardinals, run
Arizona's run game has been surprising this year, from the emergence of shifty threat Chase Edmonds to the addition of Kenyan Drake, an exciting back who ran all over San Francisco in a valiant effort last week; and with David Johnson confirming he'll play this Sunday, we could see a two-headed monster out of the backfield.
Add into that mix Kyler Murray's electric running ability, and we see a Cardinals team which can threaten to run however it needs to on any given day. That said, the Buccaneers defense has been allowing only 79 yards per game to opposing teams, while Arizona has generated 120 yards per game on the ground to this point in the season. One of these trends will have to give.
I predict the Arizona Cardinals to rush for 200 yards total between the Law Firm of Murray, Johnson, and Drake.
5. Saving the best for last
Speaking of Kyler Murray, I think he's also poised for a big game. The Buccaneers have a porous pass defense allowing 293.5 yards per game through the air, and opposing teams have put up 31 points on average on Tampa this season. Kyler will have his chances to show what he's all about.
He's been good this season, but the numbers don't even tell half the story. He's been exceptional, and this could be the game where he puts it all together. I'm thinking Kyler Murray will pass and throw for a combined 350+ yards and 4 total touchdowns.
If ever there was a game one might say would definitely be a shootout, it'd be this one. Two struggling defenses kept afloat by offenses which must score points for a chance of survival- this could end up being a bloodbath. Or, because this is the NFL and everything seems chaotic and random, it could be a low-scoring defensive brawl.
I haven't touched on the head coaches, but they add a whole new layer of intrigue. A veteran NFL coach versus the new blood-this will be an interesting game to watch from a playcalling perspective, and one in which coaching could prove the difference.
But this is bold predictions, so I'll go bold. I predict the Arizona Cardinals will win this game by a score of 41-38. Kyler Murray's ability to dazzle with his arm will prove the difference against Tampa Bay.