It’s been an offseason of change for the Arizona Cardinals. Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer retired following an injury-riddled 8-8 season last year. In 2018, the team will turn to new HC Steve Wilks—and OC Mike McCoy and DC Al Holcomb—and new starting QB Sam Bradford (at least until #10 overall pick Josh Rosen is ready to take over).
The Redbirds finished the preseason 3-1—but how much we learned about the team’s new offense and defense is hard to say. The same goes for the team’s new identity, with “No Risk It, No Biscuit” out the door along with BA’s outsized personality and Palmer’s big arm. Wilks is much more buttoned-down than the guy he’s replacing, and Bradford is more known for his accuracy than for pushing the ball downfield.
But stalwarts Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Patrick Peterson, and Chandler Jones remain. That is a formidable core, even if there are questions about the talent beside them and the depth behind them, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Does this team have what it takes to make another run at a division title in an NFC West in a state of flux after years of Seattle dominance? The Seahawks hemorrhaged talent this offseason, while the Rams reloaded after a surprising ascent to the top of the division last year and the 49ers appear to be on the upswing after acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo.
Let’s go through the schedule game-by-game and make some predictions based on what we’ve learned over the past few months. Then I’ll check back later in the week looking at worst- and best-case scenarios—as we all know, the range of outcomes in a given NFL season is huge.
But for today, here’s how I see things unfolding this season for the Cardinals. All scores are relative guesstimates, and the specific game stories are just for fun.
Week 1 – Home vs. Washington Redskins
The QB carousel was probably the biggest storyline of the NFL offseason, and one that directly impacts this game. Sam Bradford found himself out of a job in Minnesota when they signed Kirk Cousins, so he signed on to start in the desert. And with Washington having a sudden hole at QB, they traded for Alex Smith to replace Cousins. Redbirds fans who were clamoring for a Smith trade will get a taste of what they missed in this Week 1 battle of new QBs. With both passers still getting a feel for their new teams, defense will be the difference—and the Cardinals have the better one. Phil Dawson eases fans’ concerns by knocking in a late game-winner. Cardinals win, 20-17. Record: 1-0.
Week 2 – Away vs. Los Angeles Rams
Going on the road in Week 2 against Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, and the defending division champs—including new acquisitions Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Brandin Cooks—will be a tough test for the Redbirds. It will also be one they won’t pass, unfortunately, as Gurley has a big day against our depleted front seven, Jared Goff plays mistake-free football, and Bradford and the offense find the going tough in L.A. The Cardinals drop their first division game of the season. Cardinals lose, 26-17. Record: 1-1.
Week 3 – Home vs. Chicago Bears
The Bears are a much-improved team from last season. New HC Matt Nagy is a clear upgrade from John Fox, Allen Robinson II and Trey Burton are shiny new toys for QB Mitchell Trubisky, and the blockbuster trade for Khalil Mack gives the defense a fearsome presence on the edge. Fortunately, we get them at home early in the season before all the new parts have had time to jell. Peterson, Budda Baker, and the secondary harry Trubisky into a couple INTs, Bradford and Fitz hook for their first TD, and DJ runs wild. Cardinals win, 28-14. Record: 2-1.
Week 4 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks always seemed to have our number at University of Phoenix Stadium (whoops, State Farm Stadium) under Arians. Not so under Wilks. Chandler Jones has no problems with a shaky Seahawks O-line and harasses Russell Wilson all afternoon, while Bradford has his first 300-yard day as a Cardinal against a Seahawks secondary that’s a shell of its former self. The Redbirds remain undefeated at home early in the season. Cardinals win, 30-17. Record: 3-1.
Week 5 – Away vs. San Francisco 49ers
The Redbirds have a pretty manageable early-season schedule, but it gets much more difficult before the bye week, starting with a road tilt in San Francisco. Garoppolo has continued his strong play from the end of last season, but Alfred Morris and the running game haven’t been able to pick up the slack in the running game after the Jerick McKinnon injury. The game is tight going into the half, but Cardinals fans get a scare when Bradford stays down after a sack on the first drive of the 3rd quarter. Rosen replaces him, but he isn’t able to get the offense going and the Niners pull away. Bradford returns in the 4th quarter and leads a late TD drive, but it’s too little, too late, as the Redbirds’ 6-game winning streak against the Niners ends. Cardinals lose, 24-17. Record: 3-2.
Week 6 – Away vs. Minnesota Vikings
This is another QB carousel game, with Bradford, still a little sore from the San Francisco game, facing off against the guy who took his job in Minnesota, Kirk Cousins. The Vikings have assembled a Super Bowl–caliber team, and they play like one against the Cardinals. Cousins has repeated success throwing away from Peterson, Dalvin Cook breaks a long TD run, Bradford is under pressure all day, and DJ is largely bottled up. After two weeks on the road and up against a Super Bowl contender, this will prove to be a week to forget for the Cardinals. Cardinals lose, 30-14. Record: 3-3.
Week 7 – Home vs. Denver Broncos
The Cardinals Thursday night game couldn’t come at a worse time—off of two tough road losses and with injuries starting to pile up along both the offensive and defensive lines. The Broncos look beatable with QB Case Keenum regressing badly from his performance in Minnesota last season (another QB carousel game!), but Wilks elects to sit Sam Bradford in this one with only four days to recover from the Minnesota game. Rosen plays competently in his first NFL start, but the offense as a whole struggles against Von Miller and the Broncos’ talented defense. The Redbirds drop below .500 after this ugly Thursday night affair, failing to top 20 points for the third straight game. Cardinals lose, 17-13. Record: 3-4.
Week 8 – Home vs. San Francisco 49ers
With the offense struggling and the team below .500, this Week 8 divisional home game suddenly takes on a lot of meaning. Fortunately, with Bradford healthy after the 10-day layoff, the team is ready to respond in front of the home crowd. The Redbirds jump out to an early lead after scoring on their first drive and getting a Peterson pick-six on the Niners’ first offensive possession. DJ and the running game are able to eat up the clock against Reuben Foster and the Niners defense, and the team is able to right the ship and get back to .500. A much-needed bye week is their reward. Cardinals win, 27-14. Record: 4-4.
Week 10 – Away vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Cardinals come out of the bye week refreshed and only a game and a half behind the Rams in the NFC West. Unfortunately, a trip to Arrowhead Stadium awaits. The Chiefs’ second-year QB, Patrick Mahomes II, has had an up-and-down first season as a starter—lots of big plays and lots of turnovers. The trend continues against the Cardinals—he follows up an INT to Baker with a big-time TD pass to Sammy Watkins (over Jamar Taylor). The Cardinals are able to keep up, with Fitz and DJ both having nice games against the Chiefs’ underwhelming defense, but crowd noise leads to a botched potential game-winning FG attempt in the 4th quarter, and the Chiefs ice the game with a Kareem Hunt TD on the subsequent drive. The Cardinals drop to 0-4 on the road. Cardinals lose, 27-20. Record: 4-5.
Week 11 – Home vs. Oakland Raiders
After falling back below .500, the Cardinals could use a little home cooking—and they get it in Week 11 against a Raiders team that is struggling mightily in their first year under new-old coach Jon Gruden. Derek Carr has a miserable day in the desert, throwing multiple picks and getting sacked several times. Bradford has another 300-yard day, tossing TDs to multiple players without having to worry about the Raiders’ Khalil Mack-less pass rush. The Redbirds get back to .500 with the toughest part of their schedule approaching. Cardinals win, 34-13. Record: 5-5.
Week 12 – Away vs. Los Angeles Chargers
The Redbirds make a second trip to the City of Angels this season to square off against Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who find themselves in the lead of the AFC West. The game is tight for the first three quarters, with neither offense able to do much against two defenses that have both been in the top-10 for most of the season. But, as usually seems to happen in Chargers games, the 4th quarter gets wild, with the Bolts taking the lead after a touchdown by the ageless Antonio Gates, only to see the Cardinals grab the lead right back with a T.J. Logan kickoff return TD. A late Chargers FG sends the game to OT, but a Phil Dawson FG seals it after the Bolts fail to score on their opening drive of OT. The Redbirds get above .500 with their first road win of the season. Cardinals win, 26-23. Record: 6-5.
Week 13 – Away vs. Green Bay Packers
Road games in Lambeau against Aaron Rodgers are never fun, and, unfortunately for the Cardinals, this one won’t be either. Rodger, healthy and playing like an MVP candidate, stakes the Pack to a big early lead (aided by Cardinals turnovers). Bradford, Fitz, and DJ try to rally but are unable to do so in the bitter Wisconsin cold. The Packers easily dispatch the Cardinals, who drop back down to .500 with another key showdown against an NFC North opponent looming. Cardinals lose, 33-16. Record: 6-6.
Week 14 – Home vs. Detroit Lions
The Lions and Cardinals are both on the fringe of the NFC playoff race, making this a must-win for both teams. The two teams are evenly matched, and this is a tight battle throughout. DJ has a huge game, but Matthew Stafford and the Lions hang tough on the road. Bradford connects with Fitz on a TD to take the lead with under two minutes to go, but Stafford is able to just get the Lions into FG range. Matt Prater connects on a 50+ yarder to stun the home crowd. There are still three games to go, but the Redbirds’ season is effectively over. Cardinals lose, 24-23. Record: 6-7.
Week 15 – Away vs. Atlanta Falcons
Wilks has the Cardinals ready to play in Atlanta despite the dispiriting loss to the Lions, but Matt Ryan and Co. are still fighting for playoff position in front of a home crowd buoyed by the cheapest beer prices in the league. Down 10 at the half, Wilks replaces Bradford with Josh Rosen, who throws his first TD pass to fellow rookie Christian Kirk, but it’s not enough as the Cardinals drop to 1-6 on the road and are officially eliminated from the playoffs. Cardinals lose 26-16. Record: 6-8.
Week 16 – Home vs. Los Angeles Rams
Rosen is officially named the starter for the final two games of the regular season. Much like his first start against Denver, Rosen has a hard time getting the offense going against a tough opponent. The Rams show no mercy, as they still have an outside shot at a 1st-round bye, picking Rosen off once and sacking him five times as the O-line, down a couple starters, is bested by the Rams’ imposing D-line. Rosen is left still searching for his first win as a starter as the Redbirds drop their fourth game in a row. Cardinals lose, 24-10. Record: 6-9.
Week 17 – Away vs. Seattle Seahawks
For the second straight year, the Cardinals end the season in Seattle—and for the second straight year, the Cardinals will come away with a victory. With the Seahawks—languishing in the NFC West basement—missing a hurt Russell Wilson, the Redbirds are able to easily dispatch their rival, earning a season sweep of the Seahawks for the first time since Kurt Warner played in the desert. Rosen plays well in the finale, leading most fans and experts alike to suspect he will be the Week 1 starter in 2019. Cardinals win, 24-6. Record: 7-9.
A 7-9 record might seem like a disappointing finish to many Cardinals fans, but I think it would be an admirable result given the circumstances. We’re breaking in a new coach and quarterback(s), there are genuine concerns on the O-line and overall team depth, and the schedule is really, really tough. There are no gimmes in the NFC this year (no, not even Chicago), and we face a really tough AFC West division as well. A record around .500 seems about right—although you can see how a couple breaks either way could change things for better or worse. We’ll play out those scenarios later this week.
What do we think, Cardinals fans? What would you think about a 7-9 finish in the first year of the Steve Wilks era? Do you think we’ll do better? Or worse? Give us a quick rundown of the season in the comments.