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Maddening Eve of 2020 Season for Cardinals

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Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Background: SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 22: Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals scrambles out of the pocket as he is chased by defensive back Ugo Amadi #28 of the Seattle Seahawks during game at CenturyLink Field on December 22, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. The Cardinals won 27-13.

If history tells us anything, the Arizona Cardinals have the NFL right where they want them this season—-if there happens to be a season.

Traditionally, the Arizona Cardinals have been at their best when they are underdogs—-because the Cardinals have been at their worst on the rare occasions when they head into a season listed as favorites.

This is one of the myriad of reasons why pundits are often leery of banking on the Cardinals. More often than not, the Cardinals are going to let the pundits down.

Let’s remind ourselves that the one year the Cardinals won the NFC Championship and made the Super Bowl, heading in to the post-season they were called “the worst playoff team in the history of the league” by NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth.

It’s to the Cardinals’ credit that despite only winning 5 games last season under rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie QB Kyler Murray, thanks to a spirited off-season in which they have added several key pieces to their starting lineups (highlighted by the stunning addition of All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins), the Cardinals have received their fair share of the limelight this off-season. Some pundits have had the courage to project the Cardinals as a surprise playoff team this season—-but when it has come to the NFL schedule makers and the folks at Madden ‘21 video, their 2020 perception of the Cardinals has been predictably tepid at best.

Schedule:

Despite being thought of my many fans and broadcasters as being one of the more exciting and intriguing teams to watch, the NFL schedule makers decided to feature the Cardinals in prime time games only twice:

MNF: 10/19 Cardinals @ Cowboys

TNF: 11/19 Cardinals @ Seahawks

Curious that both games are away games—-and when the schedule came out there was a heavy belief that the games would be played with packed stadiums—-thus, perhaps the league thought it best to keep Arizona on the road in case the fans of the Cowboys and/or Seahawks would inhabit close to half of State Farm Stadium.

This just in: when your fans sell their tickets to opposing fans and allow them to take over the stadium, you can’t expect the NFL to take your team seriously. Heck, if the fans can sell out on the team, why shouldn’t the NFL?

Madden ‘21 Ratings:

Aside from WR DeAndre Hopkins and DE Chandler Jones, the Cardinals’ players were routinely lowballed by the personnel evaluators at Madden Video.

Much has been made over the past few days about QB Kyler Murray’s rating of 77. Murray has expressed his incredulity about the grade, even though he maintains that “I prefer to let my play do the talking.”

Not so sure why Murray has been so surprised with the grade. By his own admission he was “winging it” for his first 8 games—-and yes he skillfully managed to settle down during the second half of the season enough to win him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the Cardinals only won 2 of their last 9 games.

In addition, Kyler should understand that the folks at Madden tend to lowball young QBs who haven’t hit their stride yet. Two prime examples: in Patrick Mahomes’ and Lamar Jackson’s 2nd seasons their were graded 77 and 76 respectively—-and both Mahones and Jackson turned those seasons into NFL MVP performances.

In a way, the folks at Madden did Kyler Murray a favor, despite Kyler’s assertion that the folks at Madden “are trying to hold me back.”

We can continue to debate Madden’s lowball grades of Cardinal players—-but does it really matter?

The Cardinals won 5 games last year—-and they trotted out the worst defense in the NFL.

Which can serve as a fitting segue to perhaps the most surprising Madden rating of all:

21. Arizona Cardinals

  • 79 Overall
  • 79 Offense
  • 80 Defense

I mean, “C’mon man!”

Madden rated the Cardinals’ defense higher than the offense? Hard to imagine, right? One can imagine Kyler Murray is even more miffed at that assessment. After all, when Murray was honored as the NFL Offensive Player of the Week last season for his stellar performance in the team’s (Week 6) 34-33 win over the Falcons, he said that it was a reflection of how well the offense was gelling and improving.

However, in light of the Madden grade for the Cardinals’ 2020 defense, on the bright side, if the evaluators at Madden are correct about this year’s defense deserving an 80, which is the same grade they assigned to the defenses of the Eagles, Titans, Colts, Texans, Redskins and Dolphins, and a mere one point below the 81 team defense grade they assigned to the Steelers, Seahawks, Vikings, Broncos, Bengals and Jets—-then the Cardinals could be in a good position to win many more games this season.

As someone who had the privilege of working with John Madden on the original Madden Football video game, it’s been a source of pride to see how popular the game has become—-to the point where I am certain that John Madden himself never envisioned this type of fervent national attention, particularly among the NFL players themselves.

NFL Players Voicing Their Concerns About Player Safety with Regard to the COVID-19 Pandemic:

With star QBs Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson leading the way, a flurry of tweets were posted yesterday mere days before the start of training camp by NFL players regarding what they consider to be the lack of a concerted plan from the NFL to ensure the players’ and their families’ safety. Two of the more outspoken Cardinals were DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray.

Last weekend the NFL team doctors and physicians assured NFL owners that they have what they need in order to take all of the necessary safety measures.

As diligent as Roger Goodell has been in his daily talks with medical experts at the CDC and at Duke University, in addition to all of the monitoring Goodell has done of how other pro sports teams (Euro Soccer, NBA, MLB) have been providing for player safety, it would seem very unlikely that the NFL does not have a clear-cut, well-measured plan in place as the teams head into training camps—-with rookies reporting as early as tomorrow, July 21st.

Anyone who knows Roger Goodell knows that he wants to do everything he can to have the season start as scheduled—-and quite frankly, at this point, it would look rather dubious for the NFL to delay the start of training camps and the season while the NBA and MLB are on the verge of playing games.

The NFLPA is still trying to ascertain whether the players’ salaries will be reduced by a certain percentage—-and they are still urging the NFL to cancel the two pre-season games that remain on the schedule.

With all of these questions still unanswered amidst so many remaining unknowns about the coronavirus pandemic (while it continues to ravage the southern states, plus 32 states are now experiencing rises in positive cases), it would appear to raise the possibility that a number of NFL players could opt to hold out until they have a clearer sense of what the training camp conditions are. Of course, in a year where all of the teams have yet to practice on the field or to train in the accustomed manner, the threat of less than 100% player participation is apt to cast further doubts on the quality of football that the players and the fans can expect.

Most of the players in MLB have reported—-and for a while there the MLB players seemed to be the most skeptical about returning to the field.

To this point, for the most part, the NFL has been heralded for its leadership throughout the pandemic—-but will that all change this week?