I am honestly not sure what to expect from the Arizona Cardinals entering this season. They made a brilliant move in 2013 in hiring Bruce Arians as their head coach and have won at least 10 games each season since. Last year they won a surprising 13 regular-season games in taking the NFC West title -- I definitely had Seattle winning that division again.
The Cardinals beat the Green Bay Packers in an absolutely thrilling divisional-round game thanks to a monster effort from receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a future Hall of Famer. But then quarterback Carson Palmer, who had an MVP-caliber season, imploded in the NFC title game in Carolina. And really that's why I don't know what to think of this team because I don't have a ton of confidence in Palmer. He really has never won a huge game. Palmer was a turnover machine against the Panthers and was picked off twice the week before by Green Bay, and there easily could have been at least three more interceptions. Plus, what is the likelihood that a 36-year-old Palmer plays all 16 games again? I'm fairly stunned the team didn't draft a QB fairly early this year as a bridge to the future. Drew Stanton, the current backup, isn't that guy. And the Cardinals are going nowhere if he has to play multiple games. I'm not sure Fitzgerald can have another big season, either, at age 33 (by the time season begins).
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The Cardinals were 7-1 on the road last season (tying Carolina for the league's best mark), 6-2 against the spread and 5-3 "over/under." They play three away games against teams that made the playoffs last year. It certainly looks harder than their home slate. Arizona won't be going 7-1 away from home again. In fact, I project a 4-4 road record. Arizona is given a wins total of 10, with the over a -140 favorite. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 25 at Bills (+2.5): Arizona is off a home game vs. Tampa Bay, while Buffalo has a bit more time to prepare as it's home to the Jets on a Thursday in Week 2. If you are going to play in Buffalo, obviously you prefer that it be early in the season before the weather gets nasty. So the Cardinals at least catch a break in that regard. It's their first visit to Buffalo since 2004. Key trend: Cardinals 6-4 ATS in past 10 September games as road favorites.
Oct. 6 at 49ers (+6): Thursday night game. Arizona is home to the Rams in Week 4. San Francisco is home to Dallas. The Cardinals won 19-13 at the 49ers in Week 12 last season. Fairly immobile Palmer had a rare 8-yard touchdown run with 2:28 left for the go-ahead points. It was Arizona's first road win in this series since 2008. The Cardinals were actually outgained on the day. Key trend: Cardinals are 2-2 ATS all-time as road favorites in the series.
Oct. 30 at Panthers (-3.5): Arizona is off a huge home game vs. Seattle the previous Sunday night and this is ahead of the Cardinals' bye week. Carolina comes off its bye week. The Cardinals were crushed in Charlotte 49-15 in January's NFC Championship Game. Palmer was terrible, throwing four interceptions (one returned for a score) and fumbling twice. At one point, the Cardinals had turnovers on three consecutive plays. Key trend: Cards 6-4 ATS in past 10 before their bye week (any location).
Nov. 20 at Vikings (-1.5): Arizona is home to San Francisco in Week 10, while Minnesota is in Washington. The Cardinals beat the visiting Vikings 23-20 on a Thursday in Week 14 last year. I remember that game well as it looked like Minnesota was driving to potentially tie the game on a field goal, but Dwight Freeney stripped the ball from Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater with five seconds left. Chandler Catanzaro's 47-yard field goal with 1:23 to go was the winning score. Palmer threw for 310 yards and two scores. Key trend: Cardinals 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 at NFC North teams.
Nov. 27 at Falcons (+3.5): Atlanta is off its bye week. Arizona has lost three of the past four meetings, the last 29-18 in November 2014. Julio Jones torched Arizona's Patrick Peterson that day. Stanton was the QB for the Cardinals with Palmer out injured. Key trend: Cards 3-7 ATS in past 10 at NFC South teams.
Dec. 11 at Dolphins (+3): Arizona comes off a home game vs. Washington. Miami is in Baltimore in Week 13. It's the Cardinals' final 1 p.m. ET start of the regular season. Really the date of this game is a break for Arizona, too, as it doesn't have to deal with the heat and humidity that would certainly be in South Florida in September and probably October. The Cardinals have won the last three meetings in the series. Key trend: Cards 6-4 ATS in past 10 at AFC East foes.
Dec. 24 at Seahawks (-3.5): Cards are off their home finale vs. New Orleans. This would seem to be Arizona's only shot at playing in some really bad weather. Seattle is home to the Rams on a Thursday in Week 15. Arizona won 39-32 in Seattle last year off the Cardinals' bye week. Palmer threw for 363 yards and three scores. Fitzgerald caught 10 balls for 130 yards. Andre Ellington's 48-yard TD run with 1:58 left was the clincher. Key trend: Cards 3-7 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 3.5 points in series.
Jan. 1 at Rams (TBA): As usual, no lines for a Week 17 game with too many potential intangibles. Los Angeles is off a Week 16 home game vs. San Francisco. Arizona won 27-3 in Week 13 in St. Louis a year ago. The Cardinals had 524 yards of offense and held the Rams to nine first downs. Fitzgerald made his 1,000th career reception in the game, becoming the youngest to reach that mark. This will be the Cardinals' first game in Los Angeles in 22 years. Key trend: Cards have covered five of past six meetings (any location).
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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