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Not a retool, a rebuild: 2023 Arizona Cardinals season prediction

It’s time for season predictions! We all know the Cardinals will be bad in 2023. But how bad? Bad enough to get the #1 pick? Let’s find out.

Kyler Murray will be on the sidelines for at least the first four games of the 2023 season... if not longer.
| Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 season starts in Washington for the Arizona Cardinals, as we take on the Commanders on Sunday morning. We have a new GM in Monti Ossenfort, a new coach in Jonathan Gannon, and our starting QB, Kyler Murray, is on the PUP list. We are, unsurprisingly, touchdown underdogs. Get used to that—we aren’t favored in a single game this season.

But that’s okay! The organization is, finally, rebuilding. This is no mere retooling—despite the coachspeak you might hear from Gannon. This team is going to be very, very bad this year, but the light at the end of the tunnel is six picks in the first three rounds in next year’s draft, including two that might both very well be in the top 5… if not higher.

But that’s next year. We still have to get through this season, as unpleasant as it may be. Last week, I quicky ran through the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Cardinals this season. I figure our range of outcomes is between 3 and 7 wins. So how many games will this team actually win? Read on for my game-by-game predictions. (Current line in parentheses.)

Week 1 – Away vs. Washington Commanders (-7)

Let’s see… this is an early East Coast game, we have a rookie HC, and we’re starting a guy we traded for two weeks ago at QB. Yeah, we’re not winning this one, even if the Commanders aren’t exactly an imposing foe. The offense will struggle to move the ball regardless of who is playing QB, and the Cardinals defense makes the inexperienced Sam Howell look like a polished vet (although the pass rush is better than expected). Cardinals lose, 23-13. Record: 0-1.

Week 2 – Home vs. New York Giants (-5.5)

If we had an actual starting-caliber QB for this one, I’d give us a fighting chance—even coming off a season in which they won a playoff game, the G-Men don’t impress me much. (Although I will admit Danny Dimes has come a long way.) Even with a questionable set of WRs, the Giants’ offense is too much for our D, and the offense once again sputters as we suffer our first home loss under Gannon. Cardinals lose, 26-17. Record: 0-2.

Week 3 – Home vs. Dallas Cowboys (-7.5)

The Cowboys just have too many playmakers all over the field—we’re dogs by more than a touchdown here for a reason. We were kinda, sorta able to keep things respectable the first two weeks, but this game really shows how huge the gap between the Cardinals and contending teams really is. The Cowboys roll in a yawner that’s over before halftime. Cardinals lose, 34-10.

Week 4 – Away vs. San Francisco 49ers (-10.5)

Call me crazy, but I don’t quite buy into all the hype around this year’s 49ers team. Yes, their roster is absolutely stacked at just about every position and they’re one of the best-coached teams in the league. But are we sure—like, SURE sure—that Brock Purdy is an above-average starting QB? The sample size is awfully small and we have all seen flashes in the pan before. And CMC’s health can’t be 100% taken for granted. That said… they still whoop our butts in the Bay this week. Cardinals lose, 30-15. Record: 0-4.

Week 5 – Home vs. Cincinnati Bengals (-8)

Another week, another matchup against a Super Bowl contender. Joe Burrow, looking like he’s gunning for his first MVP, slices up the Cardinals’ undermanned CB corps. And while Kyler has been activated off the PUP, he’s not ready to play yet, so it’s another sub-20-point week from the offense. We drop to 0-3 at home—and did you know that the Cardinals have yet to play 9 games at home since the league moved to the 17-game schedule due to international games? Fun! Cardinals lose, 35-14. Record: 0-5.

Week 6 – Away vs. Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)

I’m officially planting my flag in the sand here: This game will be the Cardinals’ first win of the season. It’s not a great spot on paper—a divisional road game against a coach who has basically owned us—but strange things happen in the NFL every week and the vibes around this Rams team are just off right now. Kupp is banged up, Old Man Stafford isn’t jelling with his young teammates, and they’re in salary cap hell. I don’t think Kyler is playing at this point, but whoever is under center manages to do just enough and the defense makes a big play or two as we get off the schneid. Cardinals win, 23-20. Record: 1-5.

Week 7 – Away vs. Seattle Seahawks (-7)

Any good feelings are quickly quashed, however, after this trip to Seattle. Pete Carroll and Geno Smith actually have the SeaChickens in first place in the NFC West, and that doesn’t change when the Cardinals come calling. Smith is efficient, their WRs make a few big plays, the RBs cash in a couple TDs, and the defense makes short work of a still Kyler-less offense. This one’s a blowout. Cardinals lose, 31-16. Record: 1-6.

Week 8 – Home vs. Baltimore Ravens (-6)

Things don’t get any easier with Lamar Jackson coming to the desert. He’s healthy and back to Pro Bowl form under new OC Todd Monken, and he runs rampant over a Cardinals defense that has struggled all season due to a lack of experience and talent (especially at CB and one the D-line). Kyler is getting close, but he’s still not ready as the team takes a conservative approach with his return. Both Joshua Dobbs and Clayton Tune have gotten starts at this point, but neither has impressed as the Cardinals have the worst record in the league through 8 games. Cardinals lose, 33-19. Record: 1-7.

Week 9 – Away vs. Cleveland Browns (-7.5)

The Browns are a hard team to figure this year. If Deshaun Watson got benched or made the Pro Bowl, it wouldn’t surprise me either way. And the defense always seems to underperform despite considerable talent and invested draft capital. So who knows what this team will look like in Week 9. One thing is likely, though—they’ll beat us if Kyler isn’t back yet (and probably even if he is). We make it surprisingly close, but we stay in the basement of the league after this one. Cardinals lose, 26-22. Record: 1-8.

Week 10 – Home vs. Atlanta Falcons (-2.5)

All right, another flag-planting moment: I think this game is Kyler’s first in 2023. He’ll need some time to work himself into game shape and acclimate to the new offense, and I suspect the team will try to find a soft-ish landing spot for him. This next run of three games looks like as good a time as any to bring Kyler back. I think we win this one, too, although I think the Falcons will be fairly decent this year. But the team and crowd will be fired up by Kyler’s return, and he leads a game-winning drive in his first action since last December. The Cardinals get their first home win in the Gannon era. Cardinals win, 24-21. Record: 2-8.

Week 11 – Away vs. Houston Texans (-2)

Make it two in a row! The Texans have predictably struggled as they, too, are mired in a rebuild. Bryce Young and Dameon Pierce have kept the offense afloat, and Will Anderson is among the better rookie defenders, but this is still one of the worst teams in the league. Kyler outduels Young as both defenses play to a standstill. They may have hurt their own 1st-round pick in this Tank Bowl, but the Texans’ pick just got better, so that’s a wash. The Redbirds win a surprisingly entertaining affair and now have their first win streak under Gannon. Cardinals win, 27-23. Record: 3-8.

Week 12 – Home vs. Los Angeles Rams (-2)

It’s tempting to give the Cardinals a third-straight W here—and I did have us beating the Rams on the road back in Week 6. But home field doesn’t seem to matter as much in divisional games and, again, Sean McVay basically owns us. Aaron Donald and the Rams D flusters Kyler, and our defense fails to come up with any big plays. It’s a close one, but the Rams leave the desert as the victors, ending the Cardinals’ short-lived win streak. Cardinals lose, 19-16. Record: 3-9.

Week 13 – Away vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5)

This is obviously a tough matchup—it’s an early East Coast game and the Steelers are always a tough matchup. Mike Tomlin is one of the best coaches in the game, the defense is stout, and the offense has some solid playmakers. I also think Kenny Pickett will surprise people this year. The Cardinals are playing better after that brutal early-season schedule and with Kyler back in the picture, but they take another L as they head into the bye week still among the worst teams in the league. Cardinals lose, 28-17. Record: 3-10.

Week 14 – Bye Week (-3)

Week 15 – Home vs. San Francisco 49ers (-6)

I dogged on the Niners a bit above, but they’re still one of the better teams in the NFC even if I don’t think Purdy can lead them to a Super Bowl this year. They’re dueling with the SeaChickens for NFC West supremacy and don’t overlook a Cardinals team that looks at least somewhat improved with Kyler back. It’s more competitive than the first matchup, but the Niners pull away late and send the Redbirds to a third loss in a row. Cardinals lose, 27-17. Record: 3-11.

Week 16 – Away vs. Chicago Bears (-5)

A trip to freezing Chicago isn’t exactly what the Cardinals wanted for Christmas, but the Bears are once again floundering near the bottom of the NFC standings, so the Cardinals get a brief respite from playoff-caliber opponents. This is like the last time the Cardinals visited Chicago—poor conditions, sloppy play, not a lot of passing. It’s an ugly affair, but the Cardinals squeak out a victory over another team looking like they’ll be drafting in the top 5. Cardinals win, 20-16. Record: 4-11.

Week 17 – Away vs. Philadelphia Eagles (-11)

The Eagles haven’t quite wrapped up homefield advantage in the NFC, so it’s no rest for the weary. The Cardinals are still bruised from the tough game in Chicago, and the high-flying Eagles unleash a flurry of points in the first half. The game is basically over at halftime and Jalen Hurts and Co. take the 4th quarter off. Just one game to go with the Cardinals still in the hunt for the #1 pick. Cardinals lose, 38-20. Record: 4-12.

Week 18 – Home vs. Seattle Seahawks (-4.5)

Like the Eagles last week, the Seahawks are still fighting for playoff position, so they aren’t resting anyone. That’s great news for the Cardinals, as a loss assures them of a top-3 pick—and they still have a chance for the #1 pick. True to Cardinals form, they give the Seahawks—and Cardinals fans—a scare by taking a lead in the 4th quarter. But Geno connects with DK Metcalf for a game-winning score, giving the Seahawks a surprising NFC West title—and the Cardinals a shot at the #1 pick. Cardinals lose, 29-24. Record: 4-13.

Offseason

The Cardinals and Texans were both bad this year… but not quite as bad as the Buccaneers, who wind up with the #1 pick and their choice of Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. Fortunately, the Cardinals can take the other one with the #2 pick… and potentially Marvin Harrison Jr. with the #3 pick. But first, they have to decide what to do with Kyler Murray and his contract. He played well when he returned to the field… but is he a better option than either of the rookies? Or was the answer at franchise QB in front of us the entire time—future Pro Bowler Clayton Tune? (KIDDING.) This is one of THE major storylines in the NFL offseason after the Bengals beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Gannon and Ossenfort have many questions to answer as they prepare for the draft, but for the first time in years it seems like the Cardinals have the right people in charge to answer those questions, and plenty of resources in place to potentially build a contender.

Final Thoughts

It’s tempting to predict that the Cardinals get both the #1 and #2 picks, as the oddsmakers have us favored to do. But wouldn’t it just be SO Cardinals to miss out on the #1 pick? It just feels like that’s what’s going to happen. Kyler will come back and play well enough to play us out right out of the top pick. I know most fans are super down on him, but I think a lot of that is recency bias—Kyler won OROY and has made two Pro Bowls for a reason. This is not an untalented player. It’ll be fascinating to see how he plays in the new offense when he returns, and whether or not we’ll be in a position to draft his replacement… as well as what we do with him if we do wind up taking one of the rookies. We’ll be a very bad football team this season, but also one of the most talked-out. Should be quite the interesting season.

Your turn, RotBers! What do you think our record will be? What draft picks will we land? What happens with Kyler? Plenty to talk about in the comments, so dive in!

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