If you told a Cardinals fan before the season started that their team would face the Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders, the Los Angeles Rams and the Carolina Panthers, common sense might dictate that they would go 2-2 in those games.
Common sense, thus far, has prevailed, despite a bit more defensive play than expected and a bit more offensive futility than most hoped for.
Around the rest of the NFL, however, there’s been far more drastic shifts in the fortunes of other teams.
Looking at the strength of schedule from EatDrinkSleepAndFootball.com, we can see how the difficulty of schedule for the Cardinals has shifted, especially in terms of giving them what was at the start considered (via Vegas projections) the 2nd toughest schedule in the sport...they are now currently at only 12th.
2022 NFL Strength of Schedule Rankings:
2022 SOS (Week 5)
|Rank||Team||Opp. Record||Opp. Win Pct.|
|Rank||Team||Opp. Record||Opp. Win Pct.|
|3||Green Bay Packers||30-22-0||0.577|
|7||New York Jets||29-24-0||0.547|
|7||New York Giants||28-23-2||0.547|
|9||New England Patriots||28-24-1||0.538|
|15||Los Angeles Chargers||27-27-1||0.5|
|18||Los Angeles Rams||26-27-0||0.491|
|20||New Orleans Saints||25-27-0||0.481|
|23||San Francisco 49ers||24-28-0||0.462|
|26||Las Vegas Raiders||23-29-2||0.444|
|27||Kansas City Chiefs||23-30-1||0.435|
|31||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||22-30-0||0.423|
In this example, the Cardinals come in 12th, with only two teams left to play ahead of them with tougher or more difficult schedules who are their opponents left later this season: the Patriots and the Vikings.
They’ve already played 4 other teams in the Panthers, Chiefs, Raiders and Rams, all who have an easier strength of schedule left than them. Essentially, the Cardinals will be going into the majority of these games against teams who have easier, not more difficult, opponents.
As for Arizona’s opponents themselves, well...let’s take a look and do some game-by-game predictions:
Week 5: vs. Eagles
Feels like Philly is too good a team right now and more balanced than Arizona, who hasn’t won a home game since this time last year
Week 6: @ Seahawks
The Cardinals play well on the road, but this wasn’t the “surefire” win that you’d think it would be with how Geno Smith has been playing. Still, when you realize that the Seahawks got rolled by a bad Falcons team and blown out by the 49ers, the context of their opening Broncos win and boatracing the Lions to 48 points feels...much less impressive.
And Arizona hasn’t lost a game on the road in the regular season in a long time, much less in Seattle where they’ve won games for a decade at Century Link Field.
Week 7: vs. Saints (TNF)
The Saints are currently battling injuries to Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and their starting Quarterback Jameis Winston. Maybe things change and they get healthier but if it’s Andy Dalton, advantage Arizona due to the Hopkins factor. They finally get that home dub.
Week 8: @ Vikings
Arizona’s likely going to continue to play well on the road unless something dramatically shifts, and while this isn’t a night game and the Vikings have been decent, it’s usually better to pick Arizona when they’re on the road and pick against them at home.
Week 9: vs. Seahawks
Leaning toward what’s been the norm for a while—a Cardinals road win and a home loss. While I could see a bad Seahawks defense and a fierce Cardinals pass rush get the win, I’m going to look at Pete Carroll and Co. putting up a gritty victory and at this time it wouldn’t shock me if Arizona has another injury or two pop up.
This might be a win making it 4 straight for Arizona as well if they are able to take care of business and win a home game against a team many thought would be picking top 10, but for now I’ll be conservative rather than have them at 5-4 rather than 6-3.
Week 10: @ Rams
This is a bad Rams team this year, and while he might help a lot (assuming he’s back playing at this time) I don’t think Odell Beckham Jr. will save the Rams from a tough go of their offensive line and defense being shackled by injuries and lack of depth.
Arizona doesn’t tend to win these sort of games usually even in Los Angeles but they did last year. I’ll pick them to do it this year.
Week 11: vs. Niners (MNF)
Road game, crazy atmosphere, hard to guess. I’ll put this as a road win and see about their second game finishing the season as a loss. Previously in his 3 years as head coach the Cardinals have never won their final game of the season. They’ve lost to the Rams, lost to the Rams again and lost to the Seahawks and then in the playoffs to the Rams yet again. But with Garoppolo back there instead of Lance I think there will be some limitations and that might favor Arizona.
Week 12: vs. Chargers
Normally I’d want to pick the Cardinals here due to the season ending injuries to the Left Tackle and IR for Joey Bosa, but there’s a good chance that Justin Herbert’s able to do enough to lift the Chargers up, and if Arizona’s struggled at home this might be one of those games you regret dropping. Maybe it isn’t and they win but I’ll bank on some of this team’s issues this year holding relatively firm.
Week 13: BYE
Week 14: vs. Patriots
Mac Jones might be back at this time. He might not. Brian Hoyer got hurt, Bailey Zappe is a rookie and I don’t think that Arizona will be as caught off guard as they were the last time they played the Patriots. Maybe it’s a lot closer than we think, but so long as Arizona doesn’t miss a late kick, here’s hoping the better QB ends up with the victory similar to the Packers and Pats earlier this season.
Week 15: @ Broncos
Outside of Russell Wilson having a Carson-Palmer w/ the Cardinals in 2013-like second half...
You have to like their chances. Broncos needed Jimmy Garoppolo to run for a safety to have a prayer of beating the Niners, and any team that has a semblance of offense or defense has the advantage here...plus Arizona’s roughed Russ up a time or two. I’ll say that they win this game given what we’ve seen. Or more accurately, perhaps the Broncos find a way to lose it.
Week 16: vs. Bucs
All win streaks come to an end, and while the Bucs haven’t looked at all like world-beaters, injuries and some offensive issues running the ball have been to blame. I think that Brady can still get the best of most teams, though, and maybe Christmas comes early for the Cards but I’ll pick against them here.
Week 17: @ Falcons
Trap game, much? If Desmond Ridder is starting by now that may be a plus or a minus for the Cardinals. I could see it swing either way but would guess that this Cardinals team gets a shot with Hopkins & Co. to pull off a win...and won’t really have a chance the next week.
Week 18: @ Niners
Guess: Loss plain & simple
So what’s the overall total?
It’s not that far off from my previous prediction, and why should it be? Arizona’s on track still despite it all.
One thing I will say in looking at this list...a lot is going to come down to the divisional games.
Arizona in this projection goes 3-3 and doesn’t even have to worry about a win to get into the playoffs (most likely) in Week 18 against the Niners as a result of getting to 10 wins.
The problem comes...if you don’t hit 3-3.
If they lose to the Rams 2x, or if they do but aren’t able to go 3-1 against the Niners/Seahawks?
That will spell trouble. It’ll mean that games against the Patriots, Chargers, and maybe even Bucs and Falcons suddenly turn into must-win games. Especially in a NFC that looks pretty much wide-open.