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Fly, Redbirds, fly!: 2019 Arizona Cardinals best-case scenario

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This week, I’ll be going over possible scenarios for the Cardinals in 2019. We start today with the best-case scenario. Can the Redbirds challenge for a playoff spot if everything breaks right this season?

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings
The Cardinals will rise and fall on the arm—and legs—of Kyler Murray in 2019. How high can he take them if things break right?
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The preseason is over, your fantasy drafts are (hopefully) complete, and Week 1 is just around the corner. You know what it’s time for now—season predictions!

Last year, I wrote up my predictions for the Cardinals best-case season, worst-case season, and where I actually thought we’d wind up. Unfortunately, even my worst-case scenario (5-11) wasn’t as bad as the 3-13 disaster 2018 turned out to be.

So, take my predictions this week with a grain of salt. Or, better yet, many grains of salt around the rim of a margarita glass. Man, last season was tough.

We’ll start the predictions with the best-case scenario for Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray, and the rest of the 2019 Arizona Cardinals. How high can the Redbirds fly in Year 1 of the Kliff and Kyler era? Let’s find out. (As always, game scores and storylines are just for fun.)

Week 1 – Home vs. Detroit Lions

No one would blame you if you confused the Cardinals preseason broadcasts for a new reality baking show—the word “vanilla” was used that often. The Cardinals offense wasn’t exactly cooking with gas in the exhibition season, as new coach Kliff Kingsbury opted to keep his most exotic ingredients in the pantry. Well, that turned out to be a smart move, as nobody—especially the Detroit Lions—saw the new-look Cardinals offense coming. Kyler Murray picks up where he left off at Oklahoma, throwing for 300+ yards and a pair of TDs, while racking up another 70 yards and a TD on the ground. The Lions are able to move the ball well between the 20s with Matthew Stafford picking on an overmatched secondary and Kerryon Johnson finding plenty of running lanes, but the Redbirds defense stiffens up when it matters, with Budda Baker picking off a pass in the end zone and Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs each picking up key 3rd-down sacks to hold the Lions to field goals. That proves to be enough as this new era of Cardinals football begins with a win in front of the home crowd. Cardinals win, 33-23. Record: 1-0.

Week 2 – Away vs. Baltimore Ravens

The Redbirds are feeling good after their Week 1 win, but a cross-country trip against a tough defense faces them in Week 2. The Ravens had one of the best defenses in the league last season, and they looked every bit the part again with a shutout of Josh Rosen’s new team in Week 1. Murray is on the run from the jump in this one, scrambling for his life as he racks up more rushing yards than passing yards in the first half. His counterpart, Lamar Jackson, is also having a banner day rushing the football, and by the time the fourth quarter starts, they’ve both already gone over 100 yards on the ground. The game is tight going into the 4th quarter, but Zane Gonzalez misses a field goal that would have got the Cardinals within 3, and Jackson scores on a long, zig-zagging run on the very next play to put the game out of reach. The Redbirds lose their first road game of the season as the offense fails its first big test. Cardinals lose, 26-13. Record: 1-1.

Week 3 – Home vs. Carolina Panthers

The Redbirds return home licking their wounds a bit. The passing game fell flat in Baltimore and they have a bottom-5 rush defense after two games. Things don’t get any easier with Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, and the Carolina Panthers coming to town. Newton and CMC have a field day against a hapless Cardinals defense, but Murray and the offense are mostly able to keep up. Larry Fitzgerald and KeeSean Johnson move the chains, and Christian Kirk busts loose for a long TD. But eventually the talent disparity between the two teams becomes clear in the second half, and a late Luke Kuechly interception seems to deflate the Redbirds. Newton plunges into the end zone on the subsequent drive to seal it for the road team, but the post-game handshake between Newton and Murray is the SI cover the next week. Cardinals lose, 34-23. Record 1-2.

Week 4 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks

Another week, another dual-threat QB awaiting the Cardinals. This time it’s our divisional nemesis Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Both teams are 1-2 with major defensive flaws—the Seahawks have been gouged via the air, while the Redbirds have the worst rush defense in the league. This results in the Seahawks trying to play keep-away with Wilson and their two-headed RB attack of Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. It works in the first half, but a cagey Kingsbury pulls out all the stops in the second half, using several heretofore unseen gadget plays that catch Seattle off guard, giving the Cardinals a late 24-21 lead. Wilson does Wilson things in the two-minute drill, but the offense fizzles a bit in the red zone, leaving the Seahawks at 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line with just seconds left. Rather than take the chip-shot field goal and overtime, Pete Carroll elects to go for it, but Jordan Hicks stuffs Carson at the goal line, preserving the Cardinals’ first division win of the season. Cardinals win, 24-21. Record: 2-2.

Week 5 – Away vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are also breaking in a new hotshot head coach, but things have not gone nearly as well for Zac Taylor, as the team is looking more like the Bungles of old at 0-4. The offense has sputtered with A.J. Green still out and they are fielding the worst defense in all of football. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, the visiting Cardinals only add to their woes. Kyler Murray has a line straight out of a Big 12 game—his first 300/100 game, with 4 TDs to boot. David Johnson, who had struggled running the ball thus far, also breaks out for his first 100-yard game of the season. Oh, and Larry Fitzgerald snags his 24th reception of the season to pass Tony Gonzalez for #2 on the all-time NFL receptions list. It’s the best performance from the offense so far, and the defense is mostly okay, with Byron Murphy picking off his first pass and Zach Allen sacking Andy Dalton twice—although Joe Mixon does score on a breakaway TD in garbage time. But no matter, as the Cardinals climb above .500 and have the national pundits talking. Cardinals win, 38-20. Record: 3-2.

Week 6 – Home vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Redbirds come back to Arizona with two wins in a row and a much-improved offense led by clear OROY frontrunner Kyler Murray. However, the defense has been inconsistent at best and downright ugly at worst. That defense will prove to be the team’s undoing in Week 6 with the Atlanta Falcons coming to town. Matt Ryan and Co. are 4-1 against a tough schedule and look like a Super Bowl contender. They play like one at State Farm Stadium, with Ryan passing for over 400 yards (200+ to Julio Jones) and Devonta Freeman rushing for 150 more. Murray and the offense play well enough, but Kyler just can’t keep up with the former MVP—and nor can he play against his own defense. Cardinals lose, 41-23. Record: 3-3.

Week 7 – Away vs. New York Giants

Although an East Coast 10:00 a.m. game is never a welcome sight, the opponent couldn’t be any less imposing: a 1-5 New York Giants team that’s missing Saquon Barkley, who’s dealing with a minor calf injury. They’re also starting rookie QB Daniel Jones, who hasn’t been able to replicate his preseason success in the regular season. The Redbirds also welcome Patrick Peterson back to the lineup, who promptly greets Jones with his fist interception of the season on the Giants opening drive. That turns into a David Johnson touchdown and the Cardinals never look back, successfully running the ball down the G-Men’s throats in the New York (well, New Jersey) cold. Jones throws two more picks and the Giants backup RBs do a poor approximation of Saquon. Just the salve the hurting Redbirds defense needed. Cardinals win, 20-6. Record: 4-3.

Week 8: Away vs. New Orleans Saints

The Redbirds approach the season’s halfway point above .500, and Kingsbury, Kyler, and the offense are the toast of the NFL. But things get downright brutal starting in Week 8 with a trip to the Big Easy to face the 6-1 Saints. Not even Patrick Peterson can stop Drew Brees from dissecting the Cardinals secondary, and Alvin Kamara goes 100/100 and 3 TDs. Kyler and the offense struggle in this one as well, with multiple false start and delay of game penalties dooming promising drives. It’s clear that the Cardinals aren’t quite ready to hang with the big boys yet after their worst loss of the season. Cardinals lose, 38-16. Record: 4-4.

Week 9: Home vs. San Francisco 49ers

Two East Coast games in a row followed by a 4-day turnaround for their one Thursday night game of the season—the NFL schedule makers sure didn’t do the Cardinals any favors this season. But the 49ers come into the game at 3-4, not looking much like the breakout team many had pegged them to be. Nick Bosa’s season hasn’t really gotten on track after a training camp ankle injury, and none of the receivers has stepped up to help Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle. Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida have nice games on the ground, but the Redbirds secondary is finally starting to jell, limiting Garoppolo down the field and keeping the game close in the first half with the offense having another somewhat off night. But Kingsbury makes some halftime adjustments and gets the offense clicking in the second half. The Niners don’t quit, and a couple long Robbie Gould field goals makes things interesting, but a late Kyler-to-Kirk TD is the decisive score as the Redbirds get the W in primetime. Cardinals win, 27-20. Record: 5-4.

Week 10: Away vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Redbirds don’t get their bye week just yet, but they do get a 10-day respite before another trip out east—this time to Tampa Bay and a reunion with former coach Bruce Arians. BA has once again worked his magic—he has the Bucs above .500 and Jameis Winston playing like a fantasy football MVP. But, like his old team, the defense is a weak point. This one has shootout potential written all over it, and neither team disappoints. There are points and turnovers aplenty in the first half—but no punts. Kliff and Kyler do their thing, but BA has had this game circled on his calendar since the preseason and knows just how to attack his old team’s defense. Like their previous games against truly elite offenses, the Redbirds just can’t keep up in this one, and BA enjoys a celebratory post-game drink at his old team’s expense. Cardinals lose, 36-31. Record: 5-5.

Week 11: Away vs. San Francisco 49ers

A familiar foe awaits the Redbirds in Week 11: a second game with the Niners in three weeks. And, fortunately, a much-needed bye awaits afterward. A few key starters are nicked up and could use the rest—DJ, various O-linemen, Hicks. They’re all questionable leading up to the game, and Cardinals fans start to wonder if the team’s 9-game winning streak against the Niners will come to an end. Those fears turn out to be unfounded though, as Kyler uncorks his second 300/100 game of the season, leaving the Niners in his dust and preserving the win streak for another season. The Cardinals stunningly enter their bye week above .500 and on the fringes of the playoff picture. Unfortunately, a hellacious final 5 weeks still remain. Cardinals win, 35-17. Record: 6-5.

Week 13: Home vs. Los Angeles Rams

The final gauntlet starts with the Redbirds’ first game against the defending NFC champions. The Rams aren’t quite the juggernaut they had been the last two years, but they’re still leading the NFC West at 7-4. Almost unbelievably, a Cardinals win would put them in first place. But it’s clear from the 1st quarter that it’s not meant to be on this day. The Redbirds have avoided major injuries this far in 2019, but Jordan Hicks takes a Todd Gurley helmet to the chest and goes down with what looks like a broken clavicle. Gurley and rookie Darrell Henderson Jr. run roughshod over the Cardinals for the rest of the game, keeping the ball out of Kyler’s hands and their grasp on 1st place tight. The Redbirds drop back down to .500. Cardinals lose, 30-17. Record: 6-6.

Week 14: Home vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Another playoff-bound team comes calling this week, with the 9-3 Steelers bringing their top-10 offense and defense to the desert. The Cardinals have one of those things, but not the other, and the bottom-10 defense one again proves to be the big difference. The Steelers’ new Big 3 of Big Ben, JuJu, and Conner win their fantasy owners their playoff matchups, while Kyler’s owners come up empty-handed as the Redbirds offense starts to come back to earth a bit. The team slips below .500 and farther out of the playoff picture. Another tough test awaits in Week 15. Cardinals lose, 34-20. Record: 6-7.

Week 15: Home vs. Cleveland Browns

Three home games after the bye week is nice, but not when they’re against three of the best teams in the league. That’s right, Baker Mayfield and the Browns are the real deal in 2019, nipping on the heels of the Steelers in the AFC North. They come into State Farm Stadium and do the same thing the Steelers did the previous week—in fact, it’s the same score. Old Oklahoma teammates Mayfield and Murray share a post-game embrace, with the former telling the latter, “You’ll get ‘em next year.” At 6-8 and having lost 3 games in a row, next year is coming a lot sooner than Kyler wanted. Cardinals lose, 34-20. Record: 6-8.

Week 16: Away vs. Seattle Seahawks

The Cardinals arrive in Seattle for their usual late-season matchup with both teams on the edge of the playoff picture. Both are currently outside looking in, and a loss would be fatal—but a win would keep that team alive. The two teams play desperate football on a nasty, rainy day. Neither QB is able to get a rhythm going, both kickers miss crucial kicks, and not even all the yellow laundry on the field can keep either team dry. Games like these usually come down to the running game, and the Seahawks just have the better one. That carries that day for the home team, officially eliminating the Cardinals from playoff contention. Cardinals lose, 19-14. Record: 6-9.

Week 17: Away vs. Los Angeles Rams

It’s good news/bad news for the Redbirds in the final week of the season. The bad news is that they have to go on the road again to face the division-leading Rams. The good news is that the Rams have already wrapped up the division title and are locked into the #4 seed in the NFC. Goff, Gurley, Donald, and several key Rams starters sit this one out. The Redbirds, playing for pride, take full advantage, scoring over 30 points for the first time since the bye week. However, third-string Rams RB Malcolm Brown still gashes the Redbirds for 120 yards. The Cardinals end the season with a victory, but it’s clear there is still a lot of work to do to build around Kyler. Cardinals win, 31-17. Record: 7-9.

Offseason

Kyler Murray wins OROY in a landslide, and Kliff Kingsbury gets a few votes for Coach of the Year for guiding the Cardinals to a 4-game turnaround and turning the worst offense in the league into a top-10 unit (by yards if not points—red zone offense is another area to work on). Kyler also makes the Pro Bowl as an alternate, and is joined by Christian Kirk and Chandler Jones.

There are some rumblings that Vance Joseph could lose his job, but the organization opts for continuity and keeps him around for another year—with a promise to improve the front seven in the offseason. GM Steve Keim also publicly promises to fully invest in the O-line. Kyler stayed upright all year, but he took more hits than anyone would have liked.

Larry Fitzgerald is once more noncommittal about retirement. Keim texts him to say there’s always a roster spot available for him if he wants it. Fitz considers it from a hot springs in Finland. Have his travels rejuvenated him enough to come back for one more year? Only Fitz knows for sure…

Final Thoughts

I looked as hard as I could, squinting and staring at the schedule over and over—but I just couldn’t see a path to .500 or anywhere near the playoffs for this team. This roster is just too poorly constructed from the inside out and the schedule is too tough. Maybe with a healthy/not-suspended set of starting cornerbacks and a few more reinforcements on both lines, but neither of those things are happening anytime soon. So, 7-9 is probably about as good as it gets for the Cardinals in 2019.

Later this week, we’ll explore the team’s worst-case scenario before ending the week on my actual predictions for each game this season.

In the meantime, tell us about your dream season in the comments. Is anyone optimistic enough to see a 9- or 10-win season and a surprise playoff appearance? Or does the record even matter this season if Kyler convincingly wins OROY? Let us know below.