- Win Over/Under: 6 (+100/-120)
- Make NFC Playoffs: +600 (14%)
- Win NFC West: +1000 (9%)
- Win NFC Championship: +5000 (2%)
- Win Super Bowl: +10000 (1%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 5.65 (31st)
The 2018 version of the Arizona Cardinals is like “The Godfather Part III”: Still anchored by an aging star, with a lot of turnover in the supporting cast, and no one thinks it’s any good.
Former coach Bruce Arians led the Cardinals to three double-digit win seasons right out of the gate in 2013-15, and never finished with less than seven wins, averaging 9.8 wins per season over his five-year tenure.
But with Arians retired, the Cardinals’ 2018 win total opened at 5.5 — tied with the Browns for worst in the NFL — before being bet up to 6.
Just like it’s fair to question whether the “The Godfather Part III” is really one of the worst movies of all time or just fares poorly in comparison to the first two, it’s fair to question whether the 2018 Cardinals are really one of the worst teams in the NFL or just in comparison to Arians’ teams.
In both cases, you could argue either way.
Arians was an offensive guru, so one might think his rise and fall would have been tied to Carson Palmer.
But the success of Arians’ teams correlated more with the defense, which posted three straight top-seven finishes in points allowed from 2013-15 before ranking No. 14 in 2016 and No. 19 in 2017, while the offense was all over the map with 16th-, 24th-, second-, sixth- and 25th-place finishes, respectively.
New coach Steve Wilks inherits a defense with a fourth-best yards per play allowed (4.93) that would suggest a rebound. It returns Patrick Peterson, who made a Pro Bowl all seven of his seasons, and first-team All-Pro and 2017 NFL sack leader Chandler Jones.
The addition of Tre Boston gives the Cardinals two safeties who finished in the top 10 in Pro Football Focus’ coverage grades, while 2017 second-rounder Budda Baker graded out as a top-four pass-rusher and run-defender last season and is poised to take over Tyrann Mathieu’s old role in the slot.
But Wilks is going from a 3-4, man-based scheme to a 4-3, zone-based scheme. And the departures of Karlos Dansby, Tramon Williams, Tyvon Branch, Frostee Rucker and Mathieu represent a significant loss of snaps and production from last season.
Williams in particular will be missed after grading as a top-20 corner opposite Peterson. Williams’ replacement, Jamar Taylor, graded 70th and apparently wasn’t “real” enough for new Browns general manager John Dorsey.
If Arians’ mantra on offense was “no risk it, no biscuit,” then projected Week 1 starting quarterback Sam Bradford must not be a fan of biscuits.
Bradford ranked last among 36 quarterbacks in rate of passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield in 2016, according to PFF (minimum 20 deep attempts), making Bradford one of only three quarterbacks to throw an interception on fewer than 1% of their passes.
Risk-averse quarterbacks generally help bad teams maximize their winning potential — it’s why Tyrod Taylor is good news for the Browns. But they can also cap the ceiling of good teams, which is why Andy Reid moved on from Alex Smith.
But it’s tough to say whether the Cardinals are truly a bad or a good team.
With varying levels of defensive play throughout his career, Bradford has finished right around .500 nearly every season. (Perhaps he never got the proper Jeff Fisher vaccination.)
It’s also tough to say how long the Cardinals will stick with Bradford before handing the starting role over to No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen.
Over the past 15 years, only five of the 12 teams to draft a first-round quarterback outside of the top five picks then start the rookie for more than half of their games have reached seven wins.
Given Bradford’s risk-averse nature and fragile knees, if Rosen is starting sooner than later, it could be because something went terribly wrong.
Larry Fitzgerald has played 16 games en route to 1,000-plus yards in each of the past three seasons, but the 20 receivers who have posted a 1,000-yard season at age 34 have gone on to play 3.0 fewer games and see a dip of 12.9 yards per game in their age-35 campaigns.
The offensive line has almost nowhere to go but up after ranking 31st in pass-blocking and 21st in run-blocking last season. Left tackle D.J. Humphries, who is back after missing most of 2017, is an asset when healthy, along with free-agent acquisition Justin Pugh.
Mike Iupati will also be back after missing most of last season, but he and free-agent acquisition Andre Smith haven’t earned an even average seasonal grade from PFF since 2015.
PFF ranks the unit 27th heading into the season.
The one player there is no negative counterpoint for is David Johnson, who will continue his quest for 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards.
Ultimately, Wilks could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor in Carolina, Buffalo’s Sean McDermott, riding a good defense and quarterback who doesn’t turn the ball over to a surprise 9-7 finish.
Or, Wilks could follow in the footsteps of a coach like Vance Joseph, who inherited a 9-7 Broncos team with a great defense, hired Mike McCoy to run the offense and watched it all fall apart.
If I had to choose, I’d go under six wins — the schedule is brutal — but I’m going to do what we probably all should have done when given the chance to watch “The Godfather Part III”: Pass.
The Bet: Pass
Arizona Cardinals 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 3
- Avg. Spread: +4.4
- Strength of Schedule: 31st (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Cardinals: Week 3 vs. CHI
- Use Cardinals’ opponents: Week 2 @ LAR, Week 6 @ MIN, Week 13 @ GB
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Picks: RB David Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald
- Sleepers: WR Christian Kirk, RB Chase Edmonds
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“We took a lot of action on Arizona to win the division, and they’re at 10-1 now after opening 80-1. We also moved their win total from 5.5 to 6, but haven’t seen anything noticeable on their Super Bowl odds at 100-1.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Sam Bradford to Start Week 1? (-1200/+600)
With the starters set to rest in Week 4 of the preseason, the only way Bradford doesn’t start in Week 1 is if he gets hurt in practice.
That’s not impossible, considering his knees are about as sturdy as a Jenga tower in an earthquake, but it’s nowhere near as likely as the 7-8% chance MyBookie’s odds imply. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Bradford Starts Week 1
Death, Taxes and DJ Hitting Value in DFS
David Johnson is back! He’s one of only six running backs to ever rack up at least 400 total PPR points in a single season.
The SPARQ-plug handled 23.3 touches per game in 2016 and offers arguably the most complete skill set of any running back in the league.
Johnson is particularly lethal as a receiver, which greatly enhances his value: According to the FantasyLabs NFL Trends tool, Johnson joins Alvin Kamara as the NFL’s only running backs to average at least 15 DraftKings points per game with a Consistency Rating of 60% or higher since 2014. – Ian Hartitz
More on the 2018 Arizona Cardinals
- Bookmakers Have Big Liability on Browns, Dolphins and Cardinals
- David Johnson: Can He Thrive Without Arians, Palmer?
- Larry Fitzgerald: Can He Still Be Productive at 35?