Today's Free Picks for
Posted on August 15 before the first game of the season.
The Cardinals were quick out of the gate last season, but injuries to key players like running back David Johnson clipped their wings. Arizona finished 8-8 and with that retired former head coach Bruce Arians and aging quarterback Carson Palmer. We were critical of the Cards offense last season because it was old and tired (it was) and so Arizona drafted former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who many called the most NFL ready pivot in this year's draft. However, the Cardinals also signed veteran QB Sam Bradford, who has to be held together by gum and toothpicks at this point. Whether or not Rosen plays likely has far more to do with Bradford's durability than it does anything else. The Rosen hype train has already left the station after he looked confident in Arizona's 24-17 preseason win over the Chargers. Rosen completed his first pass and did not get flustered after he was constantly harassed with a group of second-string linemen in front of him. That there is already a quarterback controversy brewing in the desert suits us just fine for this wager.
While Arians was a bigger idiot than we thought, the real problem with the Cardinals starts at the top. General Manager Steve Keim was charged and then plead guilty to an extreme DUI stemming from an incident on July 4. Keim signed a contract extension in February that runs through 2022, but we're not sure why he was given such a long leash after being the guy to piece together the Arians/Palmer era to begin with and stuck with Palmer two years too long when he was in a clear decline in 2016. The point is, changing the coach and the quarterback isn't going to fix Arizona's woes. Also, there has been significant turnover as you might expect with the introduction of a new coaching regime. The only player on this year's roster to attempt a pass for the Cards last season is receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona will also have to replace all but 54 of the 410 carries that it had last season. The 2018 Cardinals will have the second-most offensive turnover as it relates to passers and ball carriers in the last two decades. Only the 2002 Ravens had more and they missed the playoffs that year after winning 10 games and the Super Bowl the previous season. The Cardinals biggest strength last season was their defense, but Wilks can't leave well enough alone and will be changing the scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which will no doubt cause some confusion early in the season. The Cards have also lost much of that quality unit from last year with five players that played at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps now grazing on greener pastures. Safety Tyrann Mateiu's exodus to Houston was the most significant loss, as he led the secondary in defeats with 19. Defeats is a stat created by Football Outsiders and counts when a defender makes one of the following plays: A tackle that results in a loss of yardage, including sacks. Any play that results in a turnover, including tipped passes which are then intercepted or any tackle or tipped pass that leads to a stop on third or fourth down. A rookie head coach and a flock of new players assembled by a guy that can't keep his shit in check is not the recipe for an uptick in victories.
What should be a much improved NFC West also has the Cardinals at a major disadvantage, as the Seahawks are well established, while the Rams and 49ers both figure to be strong. A close look shows that Arizona has a brutal schedule that also sees them play the NFC North and AFC West, as well as the Redskins and Falcons. Where do their wins come from? According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals play the third toughest schedule in 2018 and they might not win a game on the road. The Cardinals first road game is in Los Angeles against the Rams. Their next two road games occur in San Francisco and Minnesota. If things go perfect, they'll be 0-3 on the road. The Cardinals next three roadies are in Kansas City, L.A. against the Chargers and Green Bay. If things go perfectly, Arizona will be 0-6 outside the desert. Arizona's final two road games are in Atlanta and Seattle and frankly it's hard to find even one W on that difficult slate.
At 5½ wins, the Cards have the lowest win expectation on the board. During its collapse last season, Arizona racked up double-digit defeats to the Rams (32-16 and 33-0), Houston (31-21), Philadelphia (34-7), Dallas (28-17) and Detroit (35-23). Their other two losses came to the Redskins and Seattle by five and six points respectively. Arizona had just two comfortable wins last season. A 23-0 Week 2 shutout of the Giants and a 20-10 win over the Garoppolo-less 49ers. The Cards' other six victories all came by less than a touchdown. Winning close games is not a skill and something that is likely to even out over time. Arizona was a terrible team and those narrow victories inflated its record and its standing in the market. This year, the Cards appear to be much worse everywhere on the field. If they get the six wins needed to beat this number, then so be it, but at this price, we'll take our chances that Arizona will be picking near the top of April's draft.
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Arizona u5½ +164 (Risking 3 units - To Win: 4.92)