Arizona Cardinals: Massive makeover doesn’t warrant wager on win total

The Arizona Cardinals have one of the lowest projected win totals headed into the 2019 NFL season. Despite being vastly improved, I don't think either side is worthy of a wager.

Arizona Cardinals

Win total: 5 (O -135/U +115)
2018 Pythagorean Wins: 2.19 (+0.81)
Key additions: OG Max Garcia, OT Desmond Harrison, OT Marcus Gilbert, DT Darius Philon, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Robert Alford, OLB Terrell Suggs, OG J.R. Sweezy
Key losses: S Tre Boston, OLB Deone Bucannon, QB Josh Rosen, S Antoine Bethea, OG Mike Iupati
Early Round Rookies: QB Kyler Murray (rookie), CB Byron Murphy (rookie), WR Andy Isabella (rookie), DE Zach Allen (rookie)
Coaching changes: Fired Head Coach Steve Wilks, fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Byron Leftwich, fired defensive coordinator Al Holcomb. Hired head coach Kliff Kinsbury, hired offensive coordinator Tom Clements, hired defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Kliff Kingsbury head coaching record: N/A

Offseason

Whatever you think you know about Arizona from last year has to be thrown out of the window. The franchise went through a major overhaul this offseason, replacing the entire coaching staff, drafting a brand new quarterback and embracing a shift in offensive philosophy. Many have criticized the Kliff Kingsbury hiring, citing his 35-40 record at Texas A&M as proof he can’t handle head coaching duties.

Whatever your opinion of the hire may be, the Cardinals have gone all-in. They moved on from last year’s first-round pick Josh Rosen to draft Kyler Murray with the first overall pick and followed that up by selecting three wide receivers in the same draft. Kingsbury has the QB he has coveted since Murray’s high school days. At the very least, Arizona is giving him every chance and tool to succeed.

Not only has Arizona committed itself to Kingsbury and his offensive philosophy, but they also brought in several quality veterans on the defensive side to bolster that unit. The 2018 Cardinals have to be eliminated from your memory. This is a brand new team with a brand new look that will shock many teams this year.

Defense

Contrary to popular belief, I think the Cardinals can have a productive defensive unit in 2019. They brought in players from winning teams: Terrell Suggs (Baltimore Ravens), Jordan Hicks (Philadelphia Eagles) and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (Pittsburgh Steelers). Arizona added several players who can instill a winning attitude to the franchise. Kyler Murray doesn’t have to take on a leadership role right away. He can focus on learning the offense while the veterans they added can be the locker room presence they need.

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Defensive performance tends to vary year to year, and you can make the case this unit takes a step back in 2019. They are incorporating a new system and will not have All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson for six games to start the year. That said, I think the offense being productive will drop their points per game number, and what we get are offsetting factors that lead to another solid year for the defense.

Free-agent acquisition Robert Alford and rookie Byron Murphy will be tested early, as they will square off against Kenny Golladay/Marvin Jones, speedster Marquise Brown, D.J. Moore/Curtis Samuel, Tyler Lockett, A.J. Green**/Tyler Boyd, and Julio Jones/Calvin Ridley without Patrick Peterson. We’ll get to see right away how much the offseason additions will help the Cardinals.

The defense will have to repeat their level of play from the 2018 season, as Warren Sharp has them with the hardest strength of schedule of passing offenses, including the overall hardest schedule of opposing offenses.

**Pending Green’s ankle injury of course

Offense

The offense will be the Cardinals bread and butter in 2019. As I mentioned above, anything they did last year has to be forgotten. You had Mike McCoy calling halfback dives when down by 20+ points to continue to “establish the run.” Say what you want about Kingsbury’s coaching history, I’m betting he knows better than to mimic the archaic approach McCoy took.

Murray

The talk of the town in Arizona will no doubt be Kyler Murray this season. He had one of the most prolific seasons in college a QB has ever produced. He produced a higher “expected points added” mark than his predecessor Baker Mayfield, among other advanced metrics. PFN Film Room’s Nick Zeller-Singh thinks Murray will begin to bring the Cardinals back to relevance through some growing pains.

The biggest red flag, for me anyway, is that we have just one year of film on him. He is one of only four QB’s to be taken in the first two rounds despite having less than two years of starting experience. That list includes Mark Sanchez, Cam Newton, Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Blunder. College experience is a great indicator of professional success, so there is a possibility that Murray is not what we saw last year.

What we know for now is the Cardinals have their guy. They have gone all-in on the Kingsbury/Murray combo. A plethora of jobs rest on the success of this pairing.

Skill Positions

Given the lack of exciting tight end prospects and the style of offense Kingsbury wants to run, the Cardinals are a candidate to lead the league in four-receiver sets in 2019. Christian Kirk is poised for a breakout, while Larry Fitzgerald will maintain some role in the offense.

Andy Isabella is the early favorite to be the primary slot receiver, while the 4th spot will be a mix of KeeSean Johnson, Kevin White, and Hakeem Butler. KeeSean Johnson has shined in camp according to beat reporters; he could actually be the most prominent rookie receiver on this squad.

David Johnson has a chance to reach his lofty goal of 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards he set for himself a few seasons ago. Many seem to have forgotten the player that was considered by some the best running back in the league just three seasons ago. With the new offensive philosophy coming to Arizona, I expect a bounce-back year for Johnson.

Offensive Line

Prognosticators point to the offensive line as a reason why the Cardinals will continue to struggle in 2019. While I am not going to call the unit good, I think they did enough to improve from bottom five to say, bottom 12 in the league. The onus will be put on offensive line coach Sean Kugler to help improve one of (if not the) worst unit in 2018.

Marcus Gilbert was a dependable tackle when he was able to stay on the field for Pittsburgh between 2013 and 2016. A mix of injuries and a suspension has kept him off the field for the past two seasons, but if he can play the majority of the season, he could be the most overlooked acquisition of the 2019 offseason.

D.J. Humphries has a surprisingly good season by Pro Football Focus’ metrics, which gives the Cardinals a solid tackle tandem. The interior figures to be an issue, but Kyler Murray’s scrambling ability should help mitigate that weakness. Keep an eye out for 6th round rookie Lamont Gaillard. Considering how bad the center position was for Arizona last year, a solid camp could earn him a starting role.

While the defense faces the toughest schedule of opposing offenses, the Arizona offense falls on the opposite end of that spectrum. Warren Sharp projects them to face the easiest overall schedule of opposing defenses, including the 4th easiest pass defense schedule and 4th easiest run defense schedule. That right there has got to be music to Kingsbury’s ears. This offense could be involved in a lot of shoot outs, which would be a blast to watch.

Strength of Schedule

Overall the Cardinals project to have the 10th hardest strength of schedule according to Warren Sharp. The travel, however, is brutal. They have a combined eight trips to the eastern and central time zones. The bright side is from week 11 to the end of the season, Arizona does not have to leave the pacific time zone. The caveat, however, is that projects to be the toughest portion of their schedule.

Suggested Bets

This number is still five at most online sportsbooks, with varying “juice” at each book. Pinnacle, the sharpest book online, has the highest odds on the over at (-143).

Before the Peterson suspension, and before I delved in, I really liked this over. I loved the offseason acquisitions they made, and I loved the change in philosophy the organization embraced by hiring Kingsbury and drafting Murray. I was a proponent of keeping Rosen at first, but now that it’s all said and done, I’d be lying if I said I don’t love the way they look.

This number is too low. The Bengals, Lions, Giants, Raiders, and Redskins are all projected to win 1 1/2 to 2 more games. Meanwhile, they are on par with the Miami Dolphins in terms of projected wins. The latter is just laughable. I think this team is better than all the aforementioned squads. In a vacuum, there is value with the win total at 5.

That said, it’s hard to pull the trigger given their travel and schedule dynamics. On top of that, Kingsbury and Murray are both rookies. It’s a lot to ask a duo to come in and have success right away. I have no idea how Kingsbury is going to handle late-game situations. I do like the additions they made to the offensive line, but the interior is still a weakness while the starting tackles both have struggled to stay on the field the past two years.

I’ll be honest; I’m torn here. This is not a five win team, yet there are a lot of intangibles going against them. I would lean over, but can’t recommend a bet on it given those intangibles.

Bets: none/lean over
Movement: none

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