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Back in the hunt: 2020 Arizona Cardinals season prediction

We’ve discussed the best and worst possible outcomes for the Cardinals 2020 season. Now it’s time for the real thing. Here’s how I see this season unfolding for the Redbirds.

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp
Kyler Murray has already become one of the leaders of this team. Can he lead the team back to the postseason in 2020?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 2020 NFL season—amazingly, improbably—kicked off last night with the Chiefs/Texans tilt. Before the Cardinals travel to the Bay Area to take on the 49ers on Sunday, it’s time to offer my official prediction for the season. I’ve already gone through the best-case and worst-case scenarios, but this time it’s for real. How do I think Year 2 of the Kliff and Kyler show will unfold? Let’s dive in. The scores/storylines are just for fun, but the results/records are the real deal.

Week 1 – Away vs. San Francisco 49ers

The Redbirds face a stiff test right off the bat with a visit to Northern California to take on the reigning NFC champs. The two matchups last season were close, but the Niners got the season sweep, ending an 8-game winning streak for the Cardinals in the rivalry. One of the Cardinals’ main goals for 2020 will be to ensure they don’t suffer another sweep. The Niners lost a few pieces in the offseason, but they are still the favorites in the NFC West. This Week 1 matchup in front of an empty crowd and Levi’s stadium is close like the two games last season. Offseason prize DeAndre Hopkins pays immediate dividends, as he catches his first TD from Kyler Murray in the 1st quarter. The Niners’ offense is still adjusting to several personnel changes, but Raheem Mostert and George Kittle (of course) still have big days as the Redbirds’ defense is still adjusting to several new faces as well. The Redbirds give it a valiant effort, but a failed 4th-down attempt near midfield with less than two minutes left seals it. The season starts 0-1 but the Cardinals played a tough opponent well, so they can hold their heads high. Cardinals lose, 24-20. Record: 0-1.

Week 2 – Home vs. Washington Football Team

Things get easier in Week 2, as the Redbirds get their home opener against a Washington team besieged by controversy. Washington is also led by a 2nd-year QB, albeit one whose rookie season was not nearly as impressive as Kyler’s. Dwayne Haskins and Co. are improved from last year, but they’re still further behind in their rebuild than the Cardinals. The home team sets the tone early with a second Kyler-to-Hopkins TD in as many weeks, and the running game continues its efficient ways from last season with Kenyan Drake and more Chase Edmonds than you’d think. On defense, Chandler Jones kicks off another potential DPOY campaign with a couple sacks of Haskins and #8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons—anonymous last week—adds a sack himself. Scary Terry McLaurin does get loose late for a long TD, but the game had already been decided. The Redbirds even their record in the young season. Cardinals win, 27-17. Record: 1-1.

Week 3 – Home vs. Detroit Lions

Next up is a rematch of last season’s Week 1 tie with the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford is back healthy and picks up where he left off in the first half of last season, tossing a couple 1st-half TDs against a Cardinals secondary that is still a work in progress. Unlike last season, however, Kyler has the Redbirds offense clicking early as well, and he throws a couple TDs of his own. The teams continue to trade points into the second half as both defenses suffer from the lack of preseason action with so many new players. This one is actually the same score as last year’s game with time winding down. But then Jordan Hicks strips the ball from Kerryon Johnson around midfield with two minutes left, which is the break the Cardinals need. Zane Gonzalez drills a game-winner from 45 yards as the Redbirds get over .500 for the first time since—believe it or not—the 2015 season. Cardinals win, 30-27. Record: 2-1.

Week 4 – Away vs. Carolina Panthers

The Cardinals have another rematch from last season in Week 4, although this year the game against the Panthers is in Carolina. The Panthers are now led by Teddy Bridgewater with Cam Newton in New England and Kyle “Cardinal Killer” Allen traded in the offseason. Although the offense (led once again by Christian McCaffrey) is humming along, the Panthers are 0-3 because their defense is one of the worst in the league—just what Kyler and Co. want to see. Although the season is still very young, Kyler puts his name into the MVP conversation by putting up over 350 combined yards and 4 TDs. The Panthers do get a couple of garbage time scores—CMC cannot be denied—but the Cardinals get their revenge in this one and snag their first road win of the season. The Redbirds are one of buzzy surprise teams in the league’s first quarter. Cardinals win, 31-21. Record: 3-1.

Week 5 – Away vs. New York Jets

This has “trap game” written all over it—it’s a 10:00 a.m. body clock game on the East Coast the week before a monumental MNF showdown against undefeated old NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys. The Redbirds are looking much-improved and there are rumblings this could be a playoff preview. The team says they aren’t going to overlook Sam Darnold and the Jets, but, unsurprisingly, they struggle in the opening quarter. Kyler loses his first fumble of the season, Gonzalez misses a chip shot, and the Jets turn the miscues into a 10-0 lead. The game is marred by sloppy play and penalties on both sides, but Kyler gets the Cardinals back into the game and the Cardinals take a 14-13 lead into the 4th quarter. Then Darnold leads a FG drive to give the Jets the lead with just under 2:00 left. Kyler time. A beautifully designed screen to Drake gets the team to midfield, and a couple sideline strikes to Hopkins get them into the red zone. Time is winding down and the Cardinals are trying to set up a FG attempt, but Kyler notices a defensive misalignment and find old reliable Fitz for a shocking game-winning TD. The Cardinals are tied atop the NFC West at 4-1 and are the talk of the NFL. Cardinals win, 21-16. Record: 4-1.

Week 6 – Away vs. Dallas Cowboys

There’s massive hype for this MNF matchup between division leaders. Both Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott are playing at an MVP level, DeAndre Hopkins and Ezekiel Elliott are among the league leaders in yards at their positions, and Kenyan Drake and Amari Cooper are having productive season. To say this is the most important Cardinals game in years would be an understatement. They come ready to play, too, and Kyler takes one to the house himself on the opening drive. The Cowboys are not to be denied, however, and Zeke bowls his way into the end zone on the next drive to tie it up. The game that follows is an energetic, entertaining affair, with plenty of big plays and few mistakes on both sides. Zeke breaks a 24-24 tie with his second TD of the day with only a few minutes remaining in the 4th. Can Kyler lead his third game-winning drive of the season? He calmly leads the Cardinals into the red zone with under a minute left, setting the stage for more late-game heroics. It comes down to a 4th-and-goal from the 8. DeMarcus Lawrence beats D.J. Humphries off the edge. Lawrence doesn’t quite get there, but it forces Kyler to hurry the throw… which sails just past Hopkins’s fingers in the back of the end zone. The Redbirds drop to 4-2 and out of first place in the NFC West. Cardinals lose, 31-24. Record: 4-2.

Week 7 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks

The Redbirds return home to face a division rival coming off a bye on a short week—the schedule makers did them no favors here. The Seahawks are atop the division at 4-1 (with their lone loss to the Cowboys) and Russell Wilson is playing at his usual Pro Bowl level. Understandably, the Cardinals come out somewhat flat in this one—Kyler missing passes on 3rd down, Hopkins with a couple drops, and Drake losing a fumble that Bobby Wagner scoops up returns for a TD. On the defensive side, a miscommunication in the secondary leads to a long Tyler Lockett TD, after which Patrick Peterson and Vance Joseph are seen barking at each other. Still, Kyler finds old Hopkins in the end zone near halftime to cut the Seahawks lead to 17-10 at the half. The teams trade rushing TD in the 3rd and Gonzalez adds a FG to make it 24-20 Seattle. The Redbirds find themselves in a critical 4th-down decision with about 5 minutes left. It’s 4th-and-3 from the 30. Kingsbury could send the FG unit out and hope they can get Kyler the ball back… or they could go for it and try to win with a TD. Kingsbury leaves the offense on the field. The pocket breaks down and Kyler takes off… only for Wagner to stop him just inches short. A couple Seahawks first downs later and the game ends on Wilson kneeldowns. The Cardinals head into the bye week still over .500 but with a bad taste in their mouths after two-straight losses. Cardinals lose, 24-20. Record: 4-3.

Week 9 – Home vs. Miami Dolphins

Reeling a bit after losing two straight, the Cardinals get just what the doctor ordered with the 2-6 Miami Dolphins coming to town. Rookie Tua Tagovailoa has looked sharp after taking the reins from Ryan Fitzpatrick despite no preseason snaps, but even the team’s impressive draft haul and massive free agent spending spree can’t overcome a brutal early-season schedule. They also have one of the worst front sevens in the league—which the Cardinals take full advantage of, with both Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds rushing for over 100 yards apiece with 3 TDs combined. The defense racks up half a dozen sacks and picks off Tua twice—including the first of Isaiah Simmons’s career. Tua leads a couple garbage-time scoring drives, but the Redbirds win handily to keep pace in the nascent NFC wild card chase. Every win will be critical as the Cardinals enter the toughest part of their schedule. Cardinals win, 33-23. Record: 5-3.

Week 10 – Home vs. Buffalo Bills

The next AFC East opponent is no pushover, however, as the first-place Bills are 6-3 with one of the best rushing attacks and defenses in the league. No one will ever confuse Josh Allen for Jim Kelly as a passer, but Stefon Diggs and former Cardinal John Brown are dangerous weapons and pose a challenge for a Cardinals secondary on its third starting CB opposite Patrick Peterson this season. But the Redbirds boast an improved run defense of their own, and the rushing attack continues to be a sneaky strength. Neither passing attack is really working, so both teams attempt to bludgeon the other into submission. Unfortunately for the Redbirds, that’s more the Bills’ forte, and Devin Singletary and rookie Zach Moss keep Kyler mostly on the sidelines in the 4th quarter as the Cardinals’ front seven fades. The Bills hand them their third home loss of the season with a tough road trip ahead. Cardinals lose, 20-17. Record: 5-4.

Week 11 – Away vs. Seattle Seahawks

For the second time this season, the Cardinals face the Seahawks on a short week, this time on a Thursday. At 5-4, the Redbirds are square in the middle of a crowded NFC wild card race. Teams like the Eagles, Packers, Lions, Buccaneers, and Falcons are among the teams out of the division race but still in contention for the playoffs. So this is almost a must-win. Fortunately, they always seem to play well in Seattle—and that’s even with a full crowd of raging Seahawks faithful. There will be no such crowd in Seattle for this game, which gives the team a boost as they play the division leaders tough on the road. Kyler plays Wilson to a draw, but the home team has advantages in the running game and on defense, and they hold on to win to stay atop the division. Once 4-2, the Cardinals find themselves back at .500 with six games to play. Cardinals lose, 28-20. Record: 5-5.

Week 12 – Away vs. New England Patriots

No rest for the weary. After the tough loss in Seattle, the Cardinals have to pack their bags and fly all the way out east to face the Patriots. At least they have 10 days to prepare for this one. And they’ll need all the time they can get, as Cam Newton has revived his career under Bill Belichick, who has once again put together a top-10 defense. Kyler’s first trip to Gillette Stadium proves to be one to forget. Nothing comes easy for the offense on a bitterly cold November day—Stephon Gilmore keeps Hopkins in check, Drake can’t find room to run, and Kyler struggles mightily. The Cardinals board the long flight home back under .500 and on the very fringe of the NFC playoff picture. Cardinals lose, 26-16. Record: 5-6.

Week 13 – Home vs. Los Angeles Rams

The Cardinals have yet to face one NFC West foe this season—the Rams, who make the short trip to the desert for this Week 13 showdown. Years of poor salary cap management have hit the Rams hard this season, as they are tied for last in the division with the Cardinals at 5-6. But Aaron Donald hasn’t gone anywhere, and Jared Goff is still capable of putting up big numbers with weapons like Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee to throw to. Against the Redbirds’ subpar defense, the Rams offense looks like the 2018 version, as Goff has a game to remember for his dwindling fantasy owners. But fellow former #1 pick Kyler Murray is more than his match, topping 300 yards through the air and accounting for all four Cardinals TDs. The Redbirds earn the home victory, getting out of the division basement and creeping back into the wild card picture. Cardinals win, 31-23. Record: 6-6.

Week 14 – Away vs. New York Giants

A lot of these non-divisional matchups seem familiar, don’t they? The Redbirds make a return trip to the Meadowlands to face a competitive Giants team. The G-Men aren’t in the playoff picture, but Daniel Jones has taken a step forward with a solid set of pass catchers, and Saquon Barkley is putting up Madden numbers in his third season. This will be a tough road test on a frigid December afternoon. But the Cardinals have their sights set on the playoffs and come ready to compete. Like last year, they lean on the run game, and Chase Edmonds finds the end zone in MetLife Stadium for a second straight year. (Just the one this time, though.) The maligned defense impresses here, with former Giant Devon Kennard spearheading a fierce pass rush. Saquon does Saquon things, but the Redbirds are able to hold on for the win and get back over .500 with a second win in a row. Cardinals win, 24-19. Record: 7-6.

Week 15 – Home vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The Cardinals face one more non-divisional opponent before ending the season with two straight in the division. The Eagles come to town in second place in the NFC East and on track for a Wild Card berth. They’ve faced a tough schedule but are relatively injury free, with Carson Wentz having a Pro Bowl–type season. This matchup has huge playoff implications, and both teams come out fired up. Kyler and Wentz are both dealing. The Redbirds have the edge at the skill positions, with DeAndre Hopkins having the kind of monster day he used to make look routine in Houston, racking up over 150 yards and 2 TDs, and Drake outproducing Miles Sanders. But the Eagles have the edge on defense, and that proves to be enough to squeeze out a victory. It’s back to .500 for the Redbirds as they fail to keep pace in the playoff chase. Cardinals lose, 30-23. Record: 7-7.

Week 16 – Home vs. San Francisco 49ers

This game has a ton of playoff implications with the Niners still in the running for homefield advantage and the Redbirds nowhere near eliminated from a wild card berth. That means this game gets flexed into the Sunday night primetime slot. The Niners seemed primed to make another deep playoff run, with Jimmy Garoppolo having a strong season throwing to Kittle and breakout second-year player Deebo Samuel. The running game is again strong with Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, while DPOY candidate Nick Bosa leads another elite defense. He sets the tone early with a couple sacks of Kyler Murray, but the Redbirds show no fear and keep pace with one of the top teams in the league. Twitter goes wild as the teams trade leads throughout the second half. Kyler and Hopkins give the home team a lead late in the 4th quarter, but Garoppolo leads the Niners into FG range with time winding down. But Robbie Gould misses the potential game-winner to keep the Cardinals alive in the wild card hunt. What fans that are allowed in State Farm Stadium go wild. Cardinals win, 28-27. Record: 8-7.

Week 17 – Away vs. Los Angeles Rams

The atmosphere is tense as the 8-7 Cardinals travel west to take on the 7-8 Rams with massive implications. The Cardinals are still alive in the wild card race, but a loss to the Rams would mean another year in the NFC West basement. Sean McVay and the Rams pull out all the stops in an attempt to end the year at .500—gadget plays, fake kicks, the works. But the Redbirds match them at every turn, with Kyler, Hopkins, and Drake outdueling their Rams counterparts. The game is sealed with a Isaiah Simmons strip-sack late in the 4th quarter. The Redbirds notch a huge win, but they’re left scoreboard watching, hoping the tiebreakers come out in their favor so they can play on into the postseason. Cardinals win, 34-24. Record: 9-7.

Offseason

Sadly, the tiebreakers don’t go the Cardinals way. They fall short of the playoffs in spite of a solid 9-7 season. The NFC playoff picture is just too crowded. That said, Kyler makes his first Pro Bowl—and not even as an alternate. He’s joined by Hopkins, Jones, Peterson, and Baker. Simmons edges out Chase Young for DROY, while Jones once again finishes in the top-5 of DPOY voting. The team and Vance Joseph mutually part ways after the season. Finally, Fitz comes back for one more season, believing this team has a deep postseason run them in Kliff and Kyler’s third seasons.

Final Thoughts

The schedule starts softly in 2020 but quickly gets tougher. That said, I think this team should be at least .500 this season. The offense seems like it should be top-10-ish, and the defense has nowhere to go but up. But I don’t think 9-7 gets this team into the playoffs—there’s just too much competition in the NFC. But never say never. An upset in Santa Clara on Sunday could be just the catalyst the Cardinals need.

That’s how I think this season will go. How about you? I feel a lot of you will say better than 9-7. Tell us why in the comments. Here’s hoping you’re right!