Earlier in the week, I went over what I thought the best-case and worst-case scenarios would be for the Redbirds in 2019. Today, we get real. What do I think 2019 has in store for Kliff, Kyler, and the rest of the new-look Cardinals? Find out below. Games scores and storylines, as always, are just for fun—but the game results/records are for real.
Week 1 – Home vs. Detroit Lions
“Vanilla,” “basic,” call it what you will—the offense Kliff Kingsbury ran in the preseason was reportedly nothing like the one the team has been running in practice. So no one quite knows what to expect in Week 1—not Kliff, not Kyler, not Cardinals fans, and certainly not the Lions. That proves to be a boon early on, as Kyler confidently leads the Redbirds down the field with his arm and legs for an opening-drive TD. Unfortunately, the deficiencies of the roster around him—notably in the trenches and at corner—prove too much to overcome. Matthew Stafford picks apart the secondary and Kerryon Johnson finds wide running lanes as the Lions build a second-half lead. Kyler just doesn’t get the ball enough to close the gap against a better-than-you-think Lions defense. Cardinals lose, 27-17. 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 it’s close to halftime before he has more yards passing than rushing. Meanwhile his counterpart, Lamar Jackson, while not perfect passing the ball either, has a 100-yard rushing day against a hapless Redbirds front seven. The Ravens get a wire-to-wire victory as Kingsbury’s offense fails to crack 20 points for a second week in a row. Cardinals lose, 24-14. Record: 0-2.
Week 3 – Home vs. Carolina Panthers
The K Raid hasn’t taken flight yet, and the while the secondary has fared better than expected, the rush defense is among the worst in the league. 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 KeeSean Johnson moving 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 Newton is complimentary of Murray after the game. “Kid can play,” he says at the post-game presser in one of his trademark hats. Cardinals lose, 31-20. Record: 0-3.
Week 4 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks
Another week, another dual-threat QB awaiting the Cardinals. This time it’s a player that Kyler Murray has oft been compared to: Russell Wilson. Both teams have underwhelmed thus far, and each team has a major defensive flaw—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 Kingsbury makes some halftime adjustments and the offense really starts to hum in the second half. DJ makes a few plays as a receiver, and Andy Isabella makes his presence known with a deep TD to give the Redbirds their first lead in the 4th quarter. Russell Wilson does Russell Wilson things in the subsequent two-minute drill and gets the Seahawks into range for a potential game-tying field goal, but rookie safety Jalen Thompson flies around the edge to block the kick and give the Cardinals their first victory of the season. Cardinals win, 24-21. Record: 1-3.
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 300-yard passing game of the year and chips in another 60 on the ground with 3 TDs total. He also helps Larry Fitzgerald snag his 24th reception of the season to pass Tony Gonzalez for #2 on the all-time NFL receptions list. The defense plays well enough, although Mixon does score on a breakaway TD in garbage time. But no matter—the K Raid has made its mark. Cardinals win, 33-20. Record: 2-3.
Week 6 – Home vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Redbirds come back to Arizona with two wins in a row and an improving offense led by 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. have gone 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 100 more. Murray puts up good numbers—some in garbage time, it must be said—but he never had a chance in this one thanks to the defense. Cardinals lose, 38-23. Record: 2-4.
Week 7 – Away vs. New York Giants
Although an East Coast 10:00 a.m. game is never a welcome sight, the opponent isn’t exactly imposing. The Giants are 1-5 with a nicked-up Saquon Barkley and a QB controversy brewing. Eli Manning starts the game, but is pulled after he throws a pick to the recently reinstated Patrick Peterson on the G-Men’s opening possession (which the Redbirds turn into a David Johnson touchdown). Daniel Jones plays the rest of the game for the Giants, but he can’t replicate his preseason success, and Saquon, who wound up suiting up, can’t seem to get it going even against the Cardinals’ previously porous defense. The Redbirds don’t even wind up needing Kyler much, as they are content to run the ball down the Giants’ throats in the New York (well, New Jersey) cold. The K Raid might be (temporarily) grounded, but the Cardinals will take the victory. Cardinals win, 21-10. Record: 3-4.
Week 8: Away vs. New Orleans Saints
The Redbirds, while not exactly setting the league on fire, are nevertheless just a game under .500 nearing the halfway point of Kliff and Kyler’s first season. But the schedule takes a turn for the brutal starting in Week 8 with a trip to the Big Easy to face the 6-1 Saints. Even Peterson’s return can’t stop Drew Brees from carving up the Cardinals secondary, and Alvin Kamara goes 100/100 with a couple TDs. Kyler and the offense struggle in this one as well, with the Superdome crowd causing multiple false start and delay of game penalties to doom promising drives. This was always going to be a tough game for a young, rebuilding team, and the Cardinals suffer their worst loss of the season. Cardinals lose, 40-17. Record: 3-5.
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. The Niners’ running game is looking good with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, but none of the receivers has stepped up to help Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle in the passing game. The defense is struggling as well, as Nick Bosa’s season hasn’t really gotten on track after a training camp ankle injury. And although the Cardinals are weary after their two-game East Coast swing, the offense is playing well enough that they’re able to get the win in their only primetime game of the season. A fully broken-out Christian Kirk scores a couple TDs, and the K Raid has its way with the Niners’ reeling defense. Kittle has a monster game, but it’s not enough as the Cardinals’ win streak against the Niners continues. Cardinals win, 30-23. Record: 4-5.
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 once again worked his magic—he has the Bucs above .500 and Jameis Winston playing like a fantasy football MVP. But with defense being the weak point for both teams and two playmaking quarterbacks squaring off, 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 BA has had this game circled on his calendar since the preseason and knows just how to attack his old team’s defense. The decisive score comes in the 4th quarter when BA calls for a deep ball to Mike Evans on a 4th down in field goal range late. Evans catches the ball over Patrick Peterson and struts into the end zone. No risk it, no biscuit, indeed. The Redbirds put up a good fight, but BA enjoys a celebratory post-game drink at his old team’s expense. Cardinals lose, 35-28. Record: 4-6.
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. The injury news on gameday isn’t good for the Redbirds, and Kingsbury elects to sit several players with the bye week on the horizon. Even worse news is that Bosa is finally healthy. The game is close at halftime, but it’s clear in the second half that their schedule has caught up to the Redbirds. The defenses gives up a couple 4th quarter TDs, and a late Richard Sherman INT off Murray seals it. The win streak against the Niners comes to an end after nearly 5 years. Cardinals lose, 30-20. Record: 4-7.
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 on offense, having averaged nearly 10 PPG more than 2018 since Week 2. The defense has been an Achilles’ Heel all season, but they finally have their starting secondary in place with Robert Alford cleared for game action. The impact is immediately noticeable, with Jared Goff throwing two first-half INTs as the Redbirds improbably take a lead into halftime. Goff rights the ship a bit in the second half with a long TD to Brandin Cooks to take the lead. But after a booming Andy Lee punt, a fumble by rookie RB Darrell Henderson Jr. gives the Cardinals the ball in plus territory with less than two minutes to go. Kyler gets the winning TD on a QB keeper as the Redbirds shock the Rams. Cardinals win, 27-23. Record: 5-7.
Week 14: Home vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Redbirds stay at home for the second game of their final three-game homestand against playoff contenders. This week, the 9-3 Steelers bring their top-10 offense and defense to the desert. The Cardinals boast neither of those things (although their offense is in the top half of the league), and the talent difference between the teams is clear from the start. 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 offense just can’t seem to get it going on this day. Any hopes of a .500 season are rapidly slipping away. Cardinals lose, 33-17. Record: 5-8.
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, the Baker Mayfield and the Browns are the real deal in 2019, nipping on the heels of the Steelers in the AFC North. Kyler is fired up to face his old Oklahoma teammate, and the young QBs put on a show for the State Farm Stadium faithful. But ultimately, Baker has the better weapons and defense, and the Cardinals lose two out of three on the homestand to finish 3-5 at home. The QBs share a post-game embrace at midfield, with Baker telling Kyler, “You’ll get ‘em next year.” Kyler is already thinking about what he needs to do to make a Year 2 leap like Baker. Cardinals lose, 31-23. Record: 5-9.
Week 16: Away vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Cardinals arrive in Seattle for their usual late-season matchup firmly out of the playoff picture but hoping to play spoiler to the Seahawks’ playoff hopes—and to sweep the season series for the first time since 2009. The Seahawks badly need a home win to stay alive, and the crowd causes a number of false start and delay of game penalties, which has been a theme for the Cardinals on the road this season. It’s a nasty, rainy day, and neither QB is able to get a rhythm going. Both kickers miss crucial kicks, and all the yellow laundry on the field is unable to keep either team dry. Games like these usually come down to the running game, and the Seahawks just have the better one. Chris Carson’s second TD of the day puts the game out of reach for the Redbirds as they lose their third straight. Cardinals lose, 22-13. Record: 5-10.
Week 17: Away vs. Los Angeles Rams
There was a chance Los Angeles would be resting players in Week 17, but a wide-open NFC playoff picture means the Rams are going at full bore this week. But Kingsbury has the team ready to play and there are fireworks aplenty in this wacky Week 17 game. Kyler has a 300/100 game right out of his Oklahoma highlight reel, but the Rams are just too talented and pull away after turning up the heat in the 4th quarter. But the Redbirds largely proved their offense can work in the NFL. Cardinals fans go into the offseason wondering what the team could achieve with more talent in the trenches and stronger depth all around. Cardinals lose, 38-30. Record: 5-11.
Kyler Murray handily wins OROY with over 4,000 combined yards and 28 total TDs, leading the Redbird to a top-12 offense (by yards if not points—red zone offense is another area to work on). Christian Kirk eclipses 1,200 yards receiving on the year and makes the Pro Bowl. He’s joined by Chandler Jones, who notches 15 sacks on the season.
Although the defense was even worse than last year, the organization opts to keep Vance Joseph around in the name of continuity. GM Steve Keim publicly vows to invest more in the offensive and defensive lines in the offseason. Larry Fitzgerald elects to hang it up after the season, content with having passed Tony Gonzalez on the receptions list and confident the WR room is in good hands with Kirk, Johnson, and Isabella.
Josh Rosen starts nine games for the Dolphins, going 3-6, including an improbable Week 17 road upset of the Patriots that costs the Fins the #1 pick in the 2020 draft. GM Chris Grier says that Rosen is the Fins’ QB “right now… for sure” ahead of the draft.
The ideal version of this football team, the one we thought we were getting back in April—the one with Patrick Peterson playing all 16 games, with Robert Alford and Haason Reddick and Hakeem Butler healthy, with Darius Philon smart enough to leave his gun at home on his strip club excursion… hell, with Robert Nkemdiche showing up to camp in shape—could have pushed for a .500 record.
We’re obviously not getting that team. But even with all the well-documented issues this team is facing, I still think we’re better than the 2018 version. Maybe only a couple games better, but that’s still an improvement. And I think Kyler will prove that the future of the franchise is safe in his hands this year. That’s the most Cardinals fans could ask for from this team, record be damned. That’s just the reality of a rebuild.
And the sooner the front office and ownership admit that’s where the team is at, the better.
That’s all I have for predictions. Now, it’s your turn. What do you think the Cardinals record will be in 2019? Or if you don’t want to think too big picture, any predictions for the Lions game on Sunday? Gaze into your crystal ball in the comments.