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Cardinals Looking To End Playoff Drought

2020: A Promising Season That Quickly Fell Apart
Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals had promising records of 2-0, 5-2, 6-3 and 8-6 last season.

But Cardinal fans needn’t be reminded that the once-promising season ended with a thud: Losses in five of their final seven games -- including consecutive L’s to close out the year. Arizona finished 8-8 and missed out on a prime opportunity to end their five-year playoff drought.

The Cardinals were unable to defeat the Los Angeles Rams in a win-or-go-home game in Week 17, falling 18-7. With that, it was the Chicago Bears (8-8) who claimed the final NFC wild card spot via tiebreaker.

That said, there was a lot to like in year two of the Kliff Kingsbury-Kyler Murray era.

The 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year threw 26 touchdowns (20 in his rookie year) and saw his sack total drop from 48 to 27.

The arrival of DeAndre Hopkins, whom the Cardinals acquired in a lopsided 2020 trade with the Houston Texans, provided a giant spark in the offense. Only Stefon Diggs and Travis Kelce topped Hopkins’ receiving total of 1,407 yards. And only Diggs caught more passes than the Arizona superstar (115).

It’s easy to look back on 2020 as a disappointment, even if it was Arizona’s first non-losing season i

n three years. But this is a young team with a 24-year-old quarterback who’s only entering his prime. The future hasn’t been this bright in The Desert for quite some time.

2021 Schedule Preview

The Cardinals unquestionably have enough talent on both sides of the ball to make a run at the postseason. The main problem? They play in an NFC West division that features not one, but three Super Bowl contenders.

The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers share the fifth-best Super Bowl odds (+1400) with the Baltimore Ravens. The Seattle Seahawks, who haven’t suffered a losing season in Russell Wilson’s nine-year tenure, have the seventh-best odds at +2200.

Arizona split the season series with San Francisco and Seattle last year, though they were swept by the Rams. The Cardinals’ 2021 opponents combined for a winning percentage of .507 last year, giving Kingsbury and company a strength of schedule that’s tied for 13th hardest with the Tennessee Titans.

Per the NFL’s schedule rotation format, the Cardinals and their division rivals will play the AFC South (Tennessee, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars) and the NFC North (Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings).

Arizona will also play the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers, as all three teams finished third in their respective divisions a year ago. The additional 17th game will see Arizona visit the Cleveland Browns in Week 6.

Four of Arizona’s first six games are on the road, three of which feature 2020 playoff games: At Titans (Week 1), at Rams (Week 4) and the aforementioned Browns in Week 6.

Arizona has two primetime game appearances: Thursday Night Football on FOX vs Green Bay (8:20 PM EST) and Monday Night Football vs Rams on ESPN (8:15 PM EST). Of course, the NFL’s flex scheduling option could give Arizona additional primetime games.

Week 1 Vs Titans: Odds, Predictions

Tennessee Titans

The Cardinals will visit the reigning AFC South champions and 2019 conference runner-ups to begin their season.

Currently, Arizona is a three-point underdog for the season opener. For interested Cardinals fans, Sports betting is about to launch in Arizona.

This is a legitimate “Game of the Week” candidate. Murray, Hopkins, Chase Edmonds and newcomer A.J. Green will lead a potent offense.

The Titans,led by the big three of Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown and back-to-back rushing king Derrick Henry, got even more dangerous with the acquisition of future Hall of Famer and wideout Julio Jones. The latter was acquired via trade with the Atlanta Falcons.

We can expect plenty of fireworks in this one. It should be a thrilling back-and-forth contest between two playoff contenders. But the main difference? Arizona has the playmakers both up front (hello, Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins) and in the secondary (do-it-all safety Budda Baker) to at least minimize the damage of this Tennessee offense.

The Titans recorded just 19 sacks a year ago, and they fielded the league’s fourth-worst passing defense (277.4 passing yards allowed per game). Their defense arguably looks even on paper this year.

Arizona’s pass rush and opportunistic defense will make the one or two big plays in the second half to help Murray and the offense finish this game.

Prediction: Cardinals 27, Titans 24