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Take a walk on the dark side: 2019 Arizona Cardinals worst-case scenario

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We continue our look at possible scenarios for the Cardinals in 2019 today with a walk on the dark side. What’s the worst-case scenario for the Redbirds this year?

Arizona Cardinals v Denver Broncos
Kyler Murray looking unimpressed... let’s hope he isn’t looking into the future.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

With the preseason over, fantasy drafts (hopefully) complete, and Week 1 just around the corner, it’s officially time for season predictions. We began yesterday with a look at the best-case scenario for the 2019 Arizona Cardinals. The best I could come up with was 7-9. I think that’s the ceiling for Year 1 of the Kliff and Kyler era.

But how about the worst-case scenario? What happens in the darkest timeline? Let’s find out. (As always, game scores and storylines are just for fun, although I’ll try to keep this realistic when possible… mostly.)

Week 1 – Home vs. Detroit Lions

The offense the Redbirds ran in the preseason was blander than a saltine cracker as new coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t want to give anything away. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, some game reps in the “K Raid” would have helped, as Kyler, DJ, and the new receivers come out flat against a better-than-you-think Lions defense. The O-line and D-line are both pushed around all day as Matthew Stafford and Kerryon Johnson lead the Lions to an easy victory and silence the faithful at State Farm Stadium. That will prove to be a trend this season. Cardinals lose, 30-13. Record: 0-1.

Week 2 – Away vs. Baltimore Ravens

The Redbirds don’t have time to lick their wounds with their first East Coast trip of the season coming up next to take on a tough defense. 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, and he actually has more rushing yards than passing yards well into the second half. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Lamar Jackson, puts up the kind of 300/100 day the Cardinals envisioned when they drafted Murray. The Cardinals never had a chance in this one, and visions of Jackson zig-zagging through the defense haunt their dreams on the flight back to the desert. Cardinals lose, 27-10. Record: 0-2.

Week 3 – Home vs. Carolina Panthers

The K Raid hasn’t taken flight yet, and the defense looks like one of the worst in the league after two weeks. But there’s no rest for the weary with Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, and the Carolina Panthers coming to town. The offense is actually able to get going a bit in this one, with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree (still playing more than KeeSean Johnson) moving the chains, and Christian Kirk busts loose for a long TD. But it doesn’t take long for the talent disparity between the two teams to become clear, and a Luke Kuechly pick-6 just on a tipped pass just after the half effectively puts the game out of reach. Newton’s crack about “pretty boy football” while wearing a ridiculous hat in the post-game presser is played ad nauseum on SportsCenter the following week. Cardinals lose, 35-20. Record: 0-3.

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. The Seahawks sports the league’s top rushing attack and is fresh off an upset of the Saints, while the Redbirds are languishing at 0-3 and toward the bottom of the league in several major offensive and defensive categories. The game goes as expected, with the Seahawks playing keep-away with Wilson and their two-headed RB attack of Chris Carson and Rashad Penny. This causes a desperate Kingsbury to try a couple ill-advised gadget plays in the second half, which fail spectacularly. The Redbirds fall to 0-4 as the national talking heads are starting to wonder whether the Kliff and Kyler experiment is a failure. Cardinals lose, 31-17. Record: 0-4.

Week 5 – Away vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are also breaking in a new hotshot head coach, and Zac Taylor has struggled a bit out the gate as well. The Bengals are also 0-4, but the offense is looking improved with Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon shouldering the load with A.J. Green still out. Fortunately for the Redbirds, owners of the #31-ranked defense in the league, the Bengals have the #32 defense. This one quickly turns into a shootout, and Kyler is able to outduel the Red Rifle himself, Andy Dalton. He notches his first 100-yard rushing game of the year and also helps Larry Fitzgerald snag his 24th reception of the season to pass Tony Gonzalez for #2 on the all-time NFL receptions list. That’s enough to distract the fans and media from the team’s underwhelming 1-4 record thus far. Cardinals win, 31-27. Record: 1-4.

Week 6 – Home vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Redbirds come back to Arizona with their first win and the offense showing signs of life. However, the defense has been one of the worst in the league against both the pass and run. 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. Kingsbury pulls Kyler in the 4th quarter with the game well out of hand, and backup Brett Hundley gets a couple garbage time scores while Murray gives another awkward sideline interview. Cardinals lose, 43-23. Record: 1-5.

Week 7 – Away vs. New York Giants

The wounded Redbirds have another East Coast 10:00 a.m. game in Week 7. Most fans probably pegged this as an easy win when the league schedule was released, but it’s not looking like it now. Rookie QB Daniel Jones has wrestled the starting job away from Eli Manning and is continuing his stellar play from the preseason, while Saquon Barkley is leading the league in rushing. And although the Cardinals welcome Patrick Peterson back to the lineup, he gives up a TD pass on the Giants opening drive. That sets the tone for the game, and the Cardinals drop this one in the bitter New York (well, New Jersey) cold. Kyler throws three picks and now has more INTs than TDs on the year. Cardinals lose, 28-20. Record: 1-6.

Week 8: Away vs. New Orleans Saints

With both the offense and defense struggling, a trip to the Big Easy to face the 6-1 Saints seems like an impossible task. That proves to be the case as Drew Brees dissects the Cardinals secondary, and Alvin Kamara goes 100/100 and scores 3 TDs. The false start clapping issue from the preseason rears its head again in the Superdome, and an image of an annoyed-looking Murray flailing his arms in frustration at the refs graces the cover of SI the next week. At 1-7, the Cardinals are actually worse than they were last season at the season’s halfway point. Cardinals lose, 44-16. Record: 1-7.

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. The 49ers come into the game at 4-3 with Jimmy Garoppolo looking fully recovered from his torn ACL and Joey Bosa playing like a DROY candidate. But their secondary is susceptible, and Kyler puts up good numbers against them in primetime. This one is a close game, and it comes down to field goals. Unfortunately for the Redbirds, the Niners have the better kicker in Robbie Gould. He drills a 50-yarder to win it after Zane Gonzalez misses one from the same distance with less than 2:00 left. The Cardinals lose their one nationally televised game of the season—and their 8-game winning streak against the Niners ends. Cardinals lose, 26-23. Record: 1-8.

Week 10: Away vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Redbirds have one final East Coast trip of the season, this time to face former coach Bruce Arians. BA has the Buccaneers offense playing exciting football, but Jameis Winston is on pace to become the first QB in NFL history to throw for 30 TDs and 30 INTs in the same season. No risk it, no biscuit indeed. Both teams have abysmal defenses and playmaking QBs, and this one has shootout potential written all over it. Neither team disappoints, with both QBs going for over 300 yards with multiple TDs and INTs. But the decisive moment comes in the 4th quarter when Robert Alford, in his first game back off the IR, takes a Winston INT all the way to the house to give the Redbirds the lead for good… but he tears his ACL stretching to reach the pylon. He gets the TD but is lost for the year. It’s a bittersweet win for the Cardinals over their old coach. Cardinals win, 35-28. Record: 2-8.

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. Fortunately for the Cardinals, Joey Bosa is hurt and sits this one out. That allows Kyler to finally show his potential, as he puts up a monster fantasy line against the ailing Niners defense: 300 yards and 2 TDs via the pass, and 75 yards and another TD on the ground. The Cardinals begin a new win streak over the Niners—and they improve over last year’s record after 10 games. Cardinals win, 34-17. Record: 3-8.

Week 13: Home vs. Los Angeles Rams

The Redbirds are well-rested after the bye and ready to take on the toughest part of their schedule with the defending NFC champions coming to town. 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. The Cardinals are feeling confident with the offense starting to realize its potential and the defense having kept opponents to under 30 points for three straight games. (Small victories.) But it’s clear from the 1st quarter that things aren’t going to go the Cardinals’ way on this day. Reigning DPOY Aaron Donald bursts through the offensive line and plants Kyler Murray into the turf. He doesn’t return to the game, and Hundley can’t get anything going. The Cardinals drop their sixth home game of the season—with just two to play. Cardinals lose, 30-3. Record: 3-9.

Week 14: Home vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Good news for the Cardinals: Kyler Murray avoided serious injury—just a shoulder strain. But he’s out at least one more week. Not good with another playoff-bound team coming calling this week. And the 9-3 Steelers are bringing their top-10 offense and defense to the desert. The Cardinals have neither of those things, and they’re out their starting QB as well. This one is ugly from the start, as the Steelers’ new Big 3 of Big Ben, JuJu, and Conner win their fantasy owners their playoff matchups. Anyone desperate enough to start any Cardinals go home empty handed. Cardinals lose, 38-13. Record: 3-10.

Week 15: Home vs. Cleveland Browns

Kyler is back for the Redbirds’ final home game of the season. He wasn’t gonna miss taking on his former Oklahoma teammate, Baker Mayfield, in this one. Mayfield has the Browns nipping on the heels of the Steelers in the AFC North, and their offense shows no mercy on a hapless Cardinals defense. Kyler picks up where he left off before the bye, but it isn’t enough as Cleveland steams on ahead to the playoffs. The old Oklahoma teammates Mayfield and Murray share a post-game embrace, with the former telling the latter, “You’ll get ‘em next year.” At this point, Murray can only hope the “’em” means competent offensive lineman. The Redbirds finish the season an unsightly 0-8 at home and the defense is putting up historically bad numbers. Cardinals lose, 33-21. Record: 3-11.

Week 16: Away vs. Seattle Seahawks

The Redbirds have just two games left to beat last season’s 3-13 mark. Unfortunately, they’re both road contests to division opponents in the playoff chase. The Seahawks badly need a home win to stay alive, and the crowd causes a number of false start and delay of game penalties (a repeated issue for the Cardinals this year). But it’s a nasty, rainy day, with neither QB able to get a rhythm going, both kickers missing crucial kicks, and all the yellow laundry on the field unable to 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, meaning the Cardinals have just one more game to get that key fourth win. Cardinals lose, 19-14. Record: 3-12.

Week 17: Away vs. Los Angeles Rams

There was a chance the Rams would be resting players in Week 17, but an unexpected loss in San Francisco means they’ll need a win to stay alive for a 1st-round bye in the playoffs. That does not bode well for the Redbirds. Kyler and the boys give it a game effort, but the Rams are just that much better, turning up the heat in the 4th quarter to seal the game and clinch the bye. For a Cardinals season that started with so much hope, they wind up in the exact same position they were in last season at 3-13. Cardinals lose, 31-17. Record: 3-13.

Offseason

Kyler finishes the season with as many passing TDs as INTs (exactly 20 of each), and he finishes second in OROY balloting to Daniel Jones. Kliff Kingsbury obviously doesn’t get a single Coach of the Year ballot, and the team doesn’t send a single representative to the Pro Bowl.

There are some rumblings that GM Steve Keim could lose his job, but Michael Bidwill opts to give him one more year to build a team around Kyler Murray. The organization does fire DC Vance Joseph, however, whose defense became one of the few to surrender over 30 PPG in a 16-game season. Rumors are the team will look to the college ranks to bring a “fresh approach” to the defense.

Larry Fitzgerald sends a two-word text to Keim the day after the season ends—“I’m done”—and embarks on his usual offseason travels. Patrick Peterson asks for—and is granted—a trade to the Miami Dolphins, where he joins Pro Bowl QB Josh Rosen.

Final Thoughts

I don’t *think* it’ll happen, but there are absolutely scenarios like this where the Cardinals go 3-13 again. I very much doubt we’re any worse than that—it’s *really* hard to lose more than 13 games—but this team is so bereft of talent and depth that another dumpster fire season is within the realm of possibility.

On Friday, I’ll give my actual season predictions. Until then, feel free to peer into the dark side in the comments. What do you think is the worst-case scenario for the Cardinals in 2019?