Earlier in the week, we went through the Cardinals schedule with an eye toward likely outcomes. After carefully reviewing the schedule and sorting through what we’ve learned about these new Cardinals over the past few months, the final tally was a mediocre 7-9 record. Not ideal, but certainly far from the worst-case scenario (although many members of the RotB commentariat seem to disagree with that notion).
But today, we go down that dark road. Today, we explore the nightmare season, the wheels-fall-off, trainwreck season. Beware: it won’t be pretty.
But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—tomorrow, we explore the best-case scenario. The dream season. Will you follow me into the darkness with the promise of better times ahead?
I certainly hope so. Now, let’s strap our boots on and trudge through the muck. All scores are relative guesstimates, and the specific game stories are just for fun (well, not fun, but you know what I mean).
Week 1 – Home vs. Washington Redskins
Week 1 is usually a barometer game. Win, and a good season seems likely (even if it doesn’t always turn out that way). Lose, and the doubts start to creep in. Knowing that this is the darkest timeline, what do you think happens in this game? One-time potential Cardinal Alex Smith comes to town and outplays the guy we settled for, Sam Bradford. The offense sputters and the supporting players on defense don’t step up as the Redbirds lose a close one. Cardinals lose, 20-13. Record: 0-1.
Week 2 – Away vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are the division champs and added Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Brandin Cooks to an already stacked roster featuring Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. It’s going to take a lot to beat such a physical, talented team on the road—and, unfortunately, the Cardinals aren’t up to the challenge in Week 2, as Gurley drops an all-time fantasy score on our suddenly leaky run D, Jared Goff plays mistake free football, and Bradford and the offense struggle to score for a second week in a row. The Cardinals drop their first division game of the season. Cardinals lose, 28-14. Record: 0-2.
Week 3 – Home vs. Chicago Bears
Fans and analysts alike are starting to get concerned after an 0-2 start. Fortunately, the Bears look like a beatable team, even with upgrades at HC (Matt Nagy), the skill positions (Allen Robinson II and Trey Burton), and the pass rush (Khalil Mack). It’s a good thing we get these guys at home early in the season before all the new parts have had time to jell. Peterson, Budda Baker, and the secondary harry second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky into a couple INTs and Bradford, Fitz, and DJ all make their fantasy owners happy as the Redbirds pick up their first W. Cardinals win, 27-17. Record: 1-2.
Week 4 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks always seemed to have our number at University of Phoenix Stadium (whoops, State Farm Stadium) under Bruce Arians. Unfortunately, that tradition continues under new HC Steve Wilks. Leading a surprising 3-0 squad, Russell Wilson is able to work his magic even though Chandler Jones gets him for a couple sacks, outdueling Bradford (who does have his first 300-yard day as a Cardinal against a Seahawks secondary that’s a shell of its former self) in a surprisingly high-scoring game for this rivalry. The Redbirds drop their second division game—and, more concerningly, a second home game. Cardinals lose, 27-23. Record: 1-3.
Week 5 – Away vs. San Francisco 49ers
The Redbirds have failed to make the most of a pretty manageable early-season schedule, and it only gets more difficult before the bye week, starting with a road tilt in San Francisco. New Bay Area Golden Boy Jimmy Garoppolo has continued his strong play from the end of last season, and journeyman Alfred Morris has picked up the slack in the running game after the Jerick McKinnon injury. The Cardinals keep it close going into the half, but the team gets a scare when Bradford stays down after a sack on the first drive of the 3rd quarter. Rookie Josh Rosen is thrust into his first NFL action and fails to produce any points as the Niners pull away. The Redbirds’ 6-game winning streak against the Niners ends, and the team drops to 0-3 in the division. Cardinals lose, 23-14. Record: 1-4.
Week 6 – Away vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Redbirds are reeling, but the schedule doesn’t let up with a trip to face the undefeated Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes have put together a Super Bowl–caliber team, adding another one-time Cardinals target, Kirk Cousins, to a stacked team that made the NFC title game last season (a game that Bradford watched from the bench). This one is a beatdown, as Cousins, Dalvin Cook, and Co. have little trouble with a Cardinals defense that has thus far struggled to adjust to the new 4-3 scheme, while Bradford, back after an injury scare, is beat up by his former team and DJ is largely bottled up. The bye week can’t come soon enough. Cardinals lose, 31-13. Record: 1-5.
Week 7 – Home vs. Denver Broncos
Strange things happen on Thursday night games, with the short week giving neither team enough time to heal up and really gameplan for their opponent. The Broncos are another beatable-looking team with QB Case Keenum regressing badly from his performance in Minnesota (replacing Bradford) last season, but Wilks elects to sit a wounded Bradford in this one with only four days to recover from the Minnesota game. And with Rosen dealing with a minor injury of his own, the team turns to Daddy Longneck himself, Mike Glennon. The result is, predictably, ugly, but Glennon plays competently and leads the Redbirds to a low-scoring victory. There are whispers in the locker room after the game that a QB controversy might be forthcoming. Cardinals win, 17-13. Record: 2-5.
Week 8 – Home vs. San Francisco 49ers
Those whispers appear to be just rumors for now, with Bradford healthy and ready to go after the 10-day layoff. He scores on a QB sneak on the Redbirds’ first possession (frustrating DJ’s fantasy owners) and puts those rumors to rest with a long TD pass to J.J. Nelson on the next possession. The defense, having somewhat underperformed thus far, plays like everyone thought it would, harassing Garoppolo and keeping Morris in check. The Cardinals pick up an important first divisional win. Perhaps things are starting to turn around? Cardinals win, 26-16. Record: 3-5.
Week 10 – Away vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Cardinals come out of the bye week refreshed and looking to get closer to .500 and into the NFC wild card chase. 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 Tyreek Hill (over Patrick Peterson). The Cardinals are able to keep up, with Fitz and DJ both having nice games against the Chiefs’ underwhelming defense, and the Cardinals are in a position to win it late. But Nelson drops a pass in the end zone and Phil Dawson misses the subsequent FG attempt. 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: 3-6.
Week 11 – Home vs. Oakland Raiders
After falling to three games below .500, the Cardinals could use a little home cooking—and they get it in Week 11 against a Raiders team that’s struggling to find its identity under new-old coach Jon Gruden. The Gruden Grinders put up a fight, with Amari Cooper exposing Jamar Taylor on a couple TD receptions, but 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 inch closer to .500 with the toughest part of their schedule approaching. Cardinals win, 28-20. Record: 4-6.
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. The game is back-and-forth for the first three quarters, with both QBs finding soft spots in defenses that haven’t lived up to expectations thus far. And, 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, where the Redbirds have a chance to win it with a Dawson FG after the Bolts fail to score on their opening drive of OT. But it’s way short… and the Bolts return it all the way for a game-winning TD. Cardinals lose, 26-20. Record: 4-7.
Week 13 – Away vs. Green Bay Packers
Wilks just can’t seem to get the Cardinals up for this one after the heartbreaking loss in L.A. Aaron Rodgers, healthy and playing like an MVP candidate, stakes the Pack to a big early lead (aided by a Bradford pick and a DJ fumble) that the Cardinals can’t quite recover from in the bitter Wisconsin cold. This is looking more and more like a lost season in Year 1 of the Wilks regime. Cardinals lose, 34-16. Record: 4-8.
Week 14 – Home vs. Detroit Lions
With the team all but out of the NFC playoff race, Wilks decides it’s time to pull the plug on the Sam Bradford experiment and hand the keys to the offense over to Rosen. The rookie is solid, if not spectacular, in front of the home crowd, hooking up with fellow first-year player Christian Kirk for the first NFL TD for the both of them, but his counterpart, Matthew Stafford—who has his team in the middle of the playoff race—easily outplays the young gunslinger, sending the Redbirds to their third home loss of the season. Cardinals lose, 27-16. Record: 4-9.
Week 15 – Away vs. Atlanta Falcons
Another week, another game against a playoff contender. The Cardinals have had, by far, the toughest schedule in the league, with only the Bears and Raiders below .500. Rosen and the Redbirds put forth a game effort, but they just aren’t able to hang with a tough Falcons team fighting for playoff position in front of a home crowd buoyed by the cheapest beer prices in the league. Rosen suffers a second loss in a row to a former #1 overall draft pick. The Cardinals drop a fourth straight game and are now a brutal 0-7 on the road. Cardinals lose 24-17. Record: 4-10.
Week 16 – Home vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Cardinals are facing a good news/bad news scenario heading into their final home game of the season. The bad news is that the Rams have already locked up the NFC West and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The good news is that reports are saying the team plans on resting many of its key players. The Cardinals take full advantage, with Rosen looking sharp against the Rams second-teamers. Unfortunately, when starting C Mason Cole is out with a stinger, backup Daniel Munyer misfires a snap, leaving Rosen open for a big hit. Wilks pulls him from the game and Rosen enters the league concussion protocol. Nevertheless, the Redbirds pull out a (somewhat hollow) victory in front of the home crowd. Cardinals win, 24-13. Record: 5-10.
Week 17 – Away vs. Seattle Seahawks
With Rosen still in the concussion protocol, Wilks his up to his neck in questions about who will start at QB in the season finale in Seattle. Citing health concerns for Bradford (that knee again), he gives Glennon the nod. Bad idea, as Glennon implodes under the pressure of the CenturyLink field crowd. The Redbirds are waxed, failing to go over the 5.5 wins Vegas had them pegged for and going winless on the road for the season. Meanwhile, the Seahawks improbably lock up a wild card berth. The Cardinals enter the offseason with more questions than answers about their QB situation—Bradford and Glennon are both untradeable due to injury concerns and ineffectiveness, respectively, and the team hasn’t seen enough out of Rosen to hand him the starting job outright. A training camp battle awaits in 2019. Cardinals lose, 30-0. Record: 5-11.
So there you have it. Road woes, defensive struggles, O-line concerns, and too much Mike Glennon. This prediction may not have been entirely serious, but I think it shows that if just a few things go wrong, we might struggle worse than most fans want to admit.
So what do Cardinals fans think of this scenario? Plausible, or too pessimistic? Let’s explore the dark side in the comments. And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the best-case scenario!