Gambling Guide: 2018 Arizona Cardinals — win total?

Even in transition, Cardinals' mix of established stars, up-and-comers could surprise

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Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (USA TODAY Sports photo)

2018 win total: 5.5

2017 ATS record: 6-9-1

Optimist view: Closing in on his 35th birthday, Larry Fitzgerald remains a force of nature, and David Johnson’s healthy return and pursuit of 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the second time in three years gives Arizona a one-two skill punch capable of offsetting a dearth of remaining weaponry on offense.

Speaking of one-two punches, Chandler Jones gets sidekick Markus Golden back from an Oct. 2 ACL tear, reuniting the NFL’s most prolific pass-rush pairing from two years ago. Arizona acquired via trade from Cleveland CB Jamar Taylor, a more competent complement to Patrick Peterson than the Cardinals had last season, and also signed Bene’ Benwikere and drafted Christian Campbell.

Mike Iupati and D.J. Humphries are healthy, and joined by newcomer RG Justin Pugh, giving one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines a few promising pieces. In new QB1 Sam Bradford’s last full game (Week 1 last season) and last full season (2016 in Minnesota), he was outstanding.

Pessimist view: There’s a reason we didn’t mention the quarterback until so late in the previous section: It’s probably a matter of when, not if, Bradford is injured. First-rounder Josh Rosen, although arguably the most pro-ready of all the NFL's rookie quarterbacks, also has been hampered by durability issues. Arizona also has Mike Glennon, and we saw how that film ends last year in Chicago.

The WR corps, sans Fitzgerald, was wholly unreliable last season, and little was done to replace John and Jaron Brown, save for the selection of second-rounder Christian Kirk.

Plus, there were major defections for a second consecutive offseason on defense, where Tyrann Mathieu, Tramon Williams and Josh Mauro, not to mention excellent coordinator James Bettcher, could be difficult to replace on the NFL’s No. 4 unit. The Cardinals didn’t lose as many difference makers defensively as a year ago (Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, Alex Okafor, among others), but now they’re also changing schemes under new coach Steve Wilks and rookie coordinator Al Holcomb.

On schedule: The good news for Wilks is that his new crew opens with three of four at home, none against 2017 playoff teams — the table is set for a pleasantly surprising fast start. But once Thanksgiving arrives, Arizona’s season could depend on that quick start, with trips to the Chargers, Packers and Falcons — all viable Super Bowl threats — and a finale at imposing Century Link against a Seahawks outfit that we feel is being a bit overlooked.

The Cardinals also trek to Minnesota in October and Kansas City in November, which are both difficult environments against aggressive clubs headed by new quarterbacks who should have their bearings straight by that point. And it should be noted that Arizona earned one-quarter of its wins last season vs. the Jimmy Garoppolo-less Niners, and a transitioning defense won’t be as fortunate this time around.

Prediction: Over

Arizona has won at least six games in nine of the past 11 seasons, and Arizona’s past three coaches have exceeded 5.5 wins in Year 1. The Cardinals might have a new coaching staff and QB of the future, but they also have a nice blend of established stars and up-and-coming players.

Fitzgerald and Johnson are the kind of QB-friendly weapons any quarterback, but especially three of them that are new in a system, wants. What's more, they might have the chain-moving chops to ease the defense's growing pains.

Yet, in Peterson, Jones and Golden and Haason Reddick, Arizona’s ‘D’ has enough teeth to remain dangerous as new pieces take time to jell, and we’re optimistic that Robert Nkemdiche and Budda Baker might be ready to ably take the baton from departed stalwarts.

Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, each in Wilks’ shoes a year ago as rookie coaches, face new challenges in Year 2 in getting their players to avoid reading their clippings after strong debuts and subsequent offseasons. It’s a transitional time for the NFC West, and the Cardinals have the playmakers and talented roster to remain competitive, if not vie for a division crown.