In just under three weeks, the Cardinals will open the 2022 regular season at home against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Real football will be back before we know it!
That means it’s prediction time. As usual, I’ll offer my predictions in threefold: the best-case scenario, the worst, and my actual predictions.
Last year, my best-case predictions weren’t too far off: 11-6 and the top wild card team, plus this chestnut: “The coaching staff is given extensions as the team finally seems to have some stability and is trending in the right direction.” I’m not sure how accurate that last part actually is, though—the Kingsbury and Keim extensions were and remain fairly controversial in local and national circles. But an interesting prediction nonetheless.
Let’s see if I can make any eerily prescient predictions again this season. (As always, scores and storylines are just for fun.)
Week 1 – Home vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Like last season, the Cardinals open as underdogs against a reigning AFC division winner. Even though Tyreek Hill was traded to Miami in the offseason, Mahomes and Co. are still a formidable offense, with a better-than-you-think defense… exactly the kind of team this year’s Cardinals aspire to be. Last year, the Cardinals shocked many with their blowout of the Titans. Things aren’t as easy this year, although being at home helps. This is a close one with Kyler and Mahomes both putting on a show for the crowd and their fantasy owners alike, but the defense shows some bend-but-don’t-break fortitude. It’s a tie game with the Cardinals driving in the 4th when former Chief Darrel Williams make a key 3rd down reception. A few plays later Matt Prater knocks one through the uprights to give the Cardinals an upset Week 1victory for the second season in a row. Cardinals win, 27-24. Record: 1-0.
Week 2 – Away vs. Las Vegas Raiders
The Cardinals head out on the road to take on another AFC West foe in Week 2. The Raiders were a playoff team last year and added arguably the best WR in the league in Davante Adams as they seek to take the next step in contention. He and David Carr immediately connect for a 1st-quarter TD, and the Cardinals are in catch-up mode for most of the afternoon. The offense plays well enough sans DeAndre Hopkins, with Hollywood Brown going over 100 yards with a TD. But the secondary just can’t contain Adams, who goes for 150+ and 2 scores. Kyler gets them within a score late, but they aren’t able to recover the onside kick and the Raiders run out the clock to send the Redbirds to 1-1. At least future Cardinals Ring of Honor member Chandler Jones was held without a sack. Cardinals lose, 29-24. Record: 1-1.
Week 3 – Home vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Cardinals still have a horrible taste in their mouths after last season’s wild card drubbing at the hands of their divisional rival, and they come out with a vengeance. Kyler marches them down the field on their opening drive and James Conner plunges in for his third TD in as many games to set the tone. Of course, Matt Stafford and Co. are more than up to the task, and this is yet another close, high-scoring affair. A Zach Ertz TD on 4th-and-goal gives the Redbirds a 1-point lead, and a nifty Kyler run on the 2PC attempt puts them up 3. Stafford has the Rams driving, but Isaiah Simmons comes up with a game-sealing INT on a tipped pass to give the Cardinals their first division win of the season and a small measure of revenge. Cardinals win, 31-28. Record: 2-1.
Week 4 – Away vs. Carolina Panthers
It seems like we play the Panthers every year, and they certainly seem to have our number. Indeed, they are 14-5 against us all time, and they’ve won the past 6 matchups, including last season’s inexplicable 34-10 beatdown at home in November. But just like last week, the Cardinals get their revenge this season. The defense hasn’t exactly played well so far, but Baker Mayfield is several tiers below the likes of Mahomes, Carr, and Stafford. He struggles all afternoon as Vance Joseph’s unit has him flustered. The Redbirds mostly play keepaway with Conner and Eno Benjamin (who is enjoying a bit of a breakout) combining for 180+ yards and a TD apiece. Kyler and the passing game don’t have to do much, but that’s okay. The Cardinals end their ignominious losing streak to the Panthers handily. Cardinals win, 26-10. Record: 3-1.
Week 5 – Home vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles haven’t exactly run a gamut, schedule-wise, but they come to the desert undefeated at 4-0, so this early-season matchup has a little buzz around it. Jalen Hurts is playing out of his mind both as a passer and rusher, and the Eagles’ D is solid. This will be a good test for the Redbirds. The offense is up to the task, with Kyler showing the (exactly one year) younger Hurts a thing or two about being a dual-threat QB. He connects on a long TD to Rondale Moore, but Hurts answers with a bomb of his own to DeVonta Smith. It’s like that all afternoon as both teams light it up for the State Farm Stadium faithful. But at the end of the day, the Redbirds are able to outlast the Iggles, with Kyler authoring a long TD-scoring drive to put the game away and leave Hurts only a handful of seconds to answer (he cannot). Cardinals win, 34-27. Record: 4-1.
Week 6 – Away vs. Seattle Seahawks
Lumen Field (which is I guess what they are calling it now) is usually a tough place to play with the 12th Man to contend with, but not this year. The Seahawks are rebuilding after the Russell Wilson trade, and Geno Smith has them winless despite a relatively manageable schedule. (No one is clamoring for Drew Lock. Yet.) The Cardinals go up 17-3 at the half and don’t look back. The second half is a boring affair full of 4-yard Conner runs and Geno sacks, including a pair each from a healthy J.J. Watt and Markus Golden. The Cardinals are looking exactly like they have in the first half of the season the past couple years. The only question is whether they can sustain the momentum this time. Cardinals win, 30-13. Record: 5-1.
Week 7 – Home vs. New Orleans Saints
The Redbirds fly home on a short week to take on the Fightin’ Jameises on Thursday Night Football. These aren’t your Brees/Payton Saints, but they’re still a decent squad with a good-enough offense and a strong defense. This won’t be an easy game, especially with an abbreviated week of practice and film, and the Cardinals trying to work Hopkins back into the lineup. Both teams come out sluggish and error-prone: miscommunication, penalties, turnovers. It turns into a low-scoring slugfest, which is a first for the Cardinals this season. It becomes increasingly apparent that whoever wins the turnover battle will win the game, and fortunately the answer when Jameis is involved is always “the other QB.” The Cardinals prevail in an ugly one as their early-season success continues. Cardinals win, 19-14. Record: 6-1.
Week 8 – Away vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Cardinals get a mini-bye following the TNF game, and they need it with a 10:00 a.m. East Coast game against the Vikings on tap. Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, and All-World WR Justin Jefferson actually have the Vikes in first in the NFC North, so the offense will need to keep up and the defense will need to keep them in the game. But this game winds up being similar to the Raiders loss—the offense looks more in sync with Hopkins with another week of practice, but the defense can’t hold up its end of the bargain as Cousins picks them apart all morning. They put up a valiant effort on the road but it’s just not meant to be as they suffer their first double-digit loss of the season. Cardinals lose, 33-23. Record: 6-2.
Week 9 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks
It’s back to the desert for a little home cooking after the tough loss. There is some chirping from the media about this second game against the Seahawks in four weeks being a “trap game,” but Kliff has the team focused on the task at hand despite a huge road game against the Rams coming up next week. The team plays methodically—long, sustained scoring drives on offense, shutdown defense against new starting QB Drew Lock on defense. Hopkins has his first big game at home since returning from suspension and Budda Baker wins Defensive Player of the Week with double-digit tackles, a sack, and a pick-six. This one is a laugher as the Redbirds get back on track. Cardinals win, 35-15. Record: 7-2.
Week 10 – Away vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Cardinals take the short trip out west to Los Angeles to face the Rams in a battle for first place in the NFC West. This matchup feels similar to last season’s Week 14 MNF showdown, albeit a few weeks earlier and not in primetime. Unfortunately, it plays a lot like that game as well. Stafford and the Rams offense are humming after he shook off some early-season rust due to offseason elbow issues, and the defense has been dominant. Aaron Donald feasts, Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson both score TDs, and the Cardinals just can’t get it done despite a late rally (again like last season). The Redbirds fall as the Rams take over first place in the division. Cardinals lose, 31-24. Record: 7-3.
Week 11 – Home vs. San Francisco 49ers
No rest for the weary. The Cardinals don’t get to return to the Valley despite having a “home” game on the schedule. Instead, they travel to Mexico City to face another divisional foe on Monday Night Football. The Trey Lance–led 49ers have had a good-not-great season. They’re a couple games back in the division but very much in the wild card picture. Lance himself has had a good-not-great season—the rushing production is there, but the 49ers’ passing game is somewhat of a work in progress, with Deebo Samuel grumbling about his usage again and George Kittle injured again. The Redbirds secondary has struggled against elite QBs this season, but Lance hasn’t vaulted himself into that category in his first season as a starter. He plays well enough but has a better fantasy day than real-life day south of the border. The Cardinals delight the Estadio Azteca crowd with a solid win behind a standard day from Kyler and one of their better defensive performances of the year. Another hot start to the season. Cardinals win, 28-17. Record: 8-3.
Week 12 – Home vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Speaking of elite QBs, Justin Herbert comes into town firmly in the MVP conversation in his second season and the Chargers are in the mix in the AFC West. They have largely avoided the injuries and gaffes that have plagued them in recent seasons, and the Cardinals are only favored by 2 points, suggesting Vegas thinks the Bolts are the better team. But this looks like an evenly matched game for most of the afternoon. Kyler—also in the MVP conversation himself again—has a big game in front of the actual home crowd, going for 300+ through the air, 50+ on the ground, and 3 combined TDs. But the secondary—the Cardinals’ Achilles’ heel all season—just can’t keep up with Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams for all four quarters. A couple late Herbert TDs put the game out of reach, sending the Redbirds into their bye week with a loss. Three tough opponents await after the week off. Cardinals lose, 34-22. Record: 8-4.
Week 13 – Bye Week
Week 14 – Home vs. New England Patriots
The Cardinals bye week comes in the middle of their toughest stretch of the season—six straight games against teams that were .500 or better in 2021… and they’re all over .500 again in 2022. This week, Bill Belichick and the Patriots come into town for Monday Night Football. They’re behind the Bills in the AFC East but are in the thick of the AFC wild card race. The Cardinals need a win to stay in the NFC West race keep ahead of several teams chasing them for a wild card berth. But The Hoodie isn’t going to make it easy for them. This is a tight, low-scoring affair—the Redbirds defense looks well prepared coming out of the bye, and Belichick has a great game plan in place for Kyler and Co., as usual. It looks like the Cardinals will prevail after Kyler leads a scoring drive with under a minute left… only to see the Patriots recover the onside kick. Mac Jones gets his kicker the yards he needs to boot a game-winner as the clock hits zeroes, stunning the home crowd. The Cardinals have now lost three of four. Cardinals lose, 22-20. Record: 8-5.
Week 15 – Away vs. Denver Broncos
Is it happening again? Another collapse? That’s the talk around the team as they head to Denver. Kliff and Kyler brush it off in the media. “We’re not worried,” they say. “This is just another game,” they say. But when they take the field against former divisional foe Russell Wilson, it’s clear that something is off with the Cardinals. The ghost of collapses past is haunting them. A 1st-quarter Kyler fumble turns into an easy Broncos TD, and Wilson carves the secondary up with ease. This was as close to a must-win game as it gets, and the Cardinals just come out flat, turning in their worst performance of the season. Rumors about Kliff being on the hot seat swirl as the team heads home in a tailspin, having lost three in a row, and four of five. The Cardinals are collapsing. Again. Cardinals lose, 30-14. Record: 8-6.
Week 16 – Home vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Everyone seems to have written the Cardinals off at this point. Tom Brady and the Bucs come to town for a special Christmas Day edition of Sunday Night Football as 2-point favorites, and the national media is already writing Kliff’s obituary. But the Cardinals play well at home, and they know their season—and maybe the current regime—is over if they lose. Can the team pull off a Christmas miracle? Markus Golden—one of the team’s most respected leaders—sets the tone early with a strip-sack of Brady. A few plays later, Kyler dances across the goal line to put the Redbirds up a TD. They feed off the raucous home crowd from there, with the defense taking advantage of a ragtag Bucs O-line and Kliff calling an excellent game. Brady starts doing Brady things in the 4th, but J.J. Watt—still healthy—puts an end to that with a sack on 4th down to end the game—and save the Cardinals’ season. They need two more wins to equal last season’s total—can they do it? Cardinals win, 28-20. Record: 9-6.
Week 17 – Away vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Cardinals finish the season with two road games. This one is the dreaded East Coast morning game. They lost their first one back in Minnesota back in Week 8… but the woeful Falcons are a far cry from the Norsemen. They are starting rookie Desmond Ridder down the stretch, and he hasn’t looked like a pro starter at all in a handful of starts. The Redbirds secondary—which has faced a murderer’s row of QBs in the second half of the season—is grateful for the reprieve, picking Ridder off three times in what turns into a rout. The Cardinals have struggled mightily in “gimme” games against backup QBs in seasons past, but not this year. They take care of business when it matters, surging forth in the NFC playoff race. Cardinals win, 33-13. Record: 10-6.
Week 18 – Away vs. San Francisco 49ers
Everything is on the line in Week 18—for both teams. They both come into the game with identical 10-6 records. The storyline here is simple: it’s a true elimination game for both teams. Win and you’re in, lose and you’re out. (Neither can catch the Rams for the NFC West title.) Trey Lance is playing much better than he was when these teams met back in Week 11, and he connects with a healthy George Kittle for a TD on the Niners’ opening drive. The D stiffens up, but the O can’t get on track, with penalties stalling several drives. The Redbirds go into the half down 10-3. At halftime, Kyler gives a rousing speech, showing the leadership and maturity observers have been wanting from him since he came into the league. The speech works: the Cardinals score TDs on their first two possessions of the second half and take a 17-13 lead heading into the 4th. Both teams trade FGs, but the Niners have the ball in Cardinals territory with under a minute left. On 4th-and-3 Lance’s primary read, Kittle, is well covered by Isaiah Simmons. He takes off running and has a seemingly clear path to the 1st down marker, but Zaven Collins flies in out of nowhere, stopping him just short. After a few kneel downs, the Cardinals celebrate a playoff berth, while their rival is eliminated. Collapse avoided. Cardinals win, 20-16. Record: 11-6.
Wild Card Round – Away vs. Green Bay Packers
The Cardinals actually have some momentum heading into the playoffs, unlike last season. But in order for this season to be considered a success, they actually have to make some noise in the postseason. They have their work cut out for them with a trip to Lambeau Field on a frigid January day. But this Packers team isn’t exactly a powerhouse—they have the same 11-6 record as the Cardinals. Their offense has taken a step back post-Davante Adams (who had a 1300-yard, 12-TD season in Vegas) and the defense has been nothing special. All of which is to say: the stage is set for an upset. And the Cardinals deliver. Kyler was recently named to his third straight Pro Bowl and plays like it, connecting with both D-Hop and Hollywood for 1st-quarter TDs. The defense bends but doesn’t break, which is about the best that can be expected against elite QBs. Rodgers gets visibly frustrated with his young receivers after some critical drops and incorrect routes, leading to a shouting match on the sideline. He fumes on the sidelines as the clock winds down. The Cardinals advance. Cardinals win, 31-20.
Divisional Round – Away vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Next up is the NFC East champion Eagles. It’s a rematch of their exciting Week 5 matchup, a close win for the Cardinals at home. This time, it’s another chilly affair for the desert-dwelling Cardinals against a very good Eagles team. Jalen Hurts took a huge step forward this season, earning a Pro Bowl nod and garnering some MVP consideration. The Cardinals defense was able to do just enough last time, but that doesn’t prove to be the case today as the Iggles exploit known weaknesses: their stout O-line stymies the Redbirds pass rush, and the corners aren’t able to hold up for all four quarters. The offense is game, but the defense just put them in too big a hole. The loss stings, but nowhere near as bad as it did last year. Plus a playoff win means progress, right? Cardinals lose, 33-24.
As mentioned previously, Kyler made another Pro Bowl. He was joined once again by Budda Baker and D.J. Humphries, as well as a healthy J.J. Watt and Isaiah Simmons, who finally lived up to his draft-day hype. They all watch as the Buffalo Bills beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl at State Farm Stadium, vowing that they’ll be holding up the trophy next year. The front office and coaching staff all return for 2023, with Keim promising to upgrade at CB no matter the cost. Both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady retire, making the NFC a bit easier to navigate. With the right offseason moves, the Cardinals could challenge for the #1 seed in 2023. Is Keim up to the task?
I stared and I squinted and I studied, but I just couldn’t see a way that this team does better than last season’s 11-6 mark. They have much less talent on defense, the Hopkins suspension hurts, and the schedule is tough. I just don’t see 12 wins in this team’s future. (I really hope I’m wrong about this!)
But I do see them being able to avoid and/or overcome a collapse in the second half—and I can see us winning a playoff game if things go right. Two playoff wins might be asking too much, though. Maybe next year?
What do you think, RotBers? What’s your best-case scenario for this team? Not your pie-in-the-sky dream season—everyone would have us winning the Super Bowl at home in a perfect world. But this world—and especially this team—isn’t perfect. So let us know what you think this team’s ceiling is if we catch all the right breaks. Dare to dream!