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The 5: Most intriguing matchups on schedule for Cardinals in 2019

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 09: Arizona Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks to the media at the Arizona Cardinals Training Facility on January 9, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The schedule has been finalized. The games are set.

Like every season, there are a number of games circled on the schedule that really stand out.

This season, the Cardinals not only meet up with some familiar faces, but they also get a taste of some of the new blood around the NFL.

With a new-look team, and coming off a forgettable 2018 campaign, the magnifying glass is zoomed in on the Valley sports team.

Here’s a look at the top five games for Arizona in 2019:

1. SEASON OPENER VS. LIONS

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

While the season opener is an obvious choice, there’s some extra weight surrounding it in the Valley.

Expect every Cardinals fan to be glued to the TV, radio or online as the team takes the field for the first time in a meaningful game under first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Last season, one of the Cardinals’ worst showings offensively was against the then-4-8 Detroit Lions. Arizona failed to muster a touchdown in the 17-3 defeat, as the team compiled just 279 yards of offense.

David Johnson was effective, rushing for 49 yards on 15 carries, while quarterback Josh Rosen threw for 240 yards and an interception, ending with a QBR of 31.4.

Defensively, the Cardinals showed up.

Lions QB Matt Stafford threw for just 101 yards and no touchdowns in the outing, while four Lions runners accounted for 122 yards and a score on 31 carries.

Now, with former head coach Steve Wilks and staff axed, how will the new regime fare in what is shaping up to be a winnable game?

Add the No. 1 pick into the mix — if it wasn’t shopped — and it’s the perfect storm.

Can Johnson find success in the new offense? Can the offensive line hold up, and keep the QB upright? What will the defense bring to the table?

Those are just a few of the questions already surrounding the team.

It’s only one game, but it could shine a light on how the season might shape up for the Cardinals.  — Tyler Drake

2. WEEK 7 – GIANTS: WHO’S STARTING WHERE?

After having been linked off the field over the course of the offseason in regards to Kyler Murray, the Cardinals and New York Giants will get their chance to go at one another on the field in Week 7.

The big question is, who — if either — will have Murray at the helm?

What we do know:

Patrick Peterson and the secondary luckily won’t have to deal with Odell Beckham Jr. in the matchup with the WR being traded to the Browns this offseason, but Chandler Jones and the defensive line will have their hands full with Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley.

Last year as a rookie, Barkley went to work on opposing defenses on the ground to the tune of 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns. The running back also caused problems in the passing game, recording 91 receptions for 721 yards and four touchdowns.

The success from the rookie RB didn’t translate to wins for New York, however, as the Giants went 5-11 as Eli Manning’s play was called into question at times.

Like Tampa Bay, there are also a few familiar faces with the G-Men.

After former defensive coordinator James Bettcher took his talents to New York following his tenure with Arizona, the coordinator has poached a few players from the Cardinals’ ranks. That includes free safety Antoine Bethea, defensive end Markus Golden, linebacker Kareem Martin and Olsen Pierre, most notably.  — Tyler Drake

3. WEEK 10 – BRUCE AND THE BUCS

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Talk about awkward.

After retiring from the Cardinals in 2018, and getting a clean bill of health to return to coaching, Bruce Arians is back on the sidelines as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He’s not the only one with Arizona connections either.

Joining him this offseason were former Cardinals linebackers Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter, running back Andre Ellington, quarterback Blaine Gabbert and offensive lineman Earl Watford.

Coming off a 5-11 season filled with three- and four-game losing streaks, the Buccaneers provide an emotional test for the Cardinals later in the season.

Now with Ryan Fitzpatrick gone to Miami, the QB saw time as the starter in 2018, it looks to fully be the Jameis Winston show in Tampa Bay.

While Winston has had his fair share of ups and downs both on and off the field, he has the weapons to burn people. Mike Evans proves to be the top pick in his arsenal as the two-time Pro Bowler has put up five straight 1,000-yard performances and has compiled 40 touchdowns since entering the league in 2014.  — Tyler Drake

4. WEEK 11 – 49ERS-CARDS TNF CLASH ON HALLOWEEN

On top of this being the Cardinals’ lone primetime game of the season, there’s intrigue around this game because of where it rests in the season.

The San Francisco 49ers will be nine games in and the Cardinals 10. We will know what these two teams are by then, particularly how legitimate San Francisco can be with Jimmy Garoppolo.

There’s also the head coach matchup of Kingsbury and Kyle Shanahan. Entering year three, Shanahan has earned the respect of being one of the best offensive minds in the league. That’s the reputation Kingsbury has coming into the league, but like Shanahan, Kingsbury will need to prove it.

Last season, the Cardinals’ first two wins of the season came against the 49ers in Week 5 and in Week 8. Arizona hasn’t lost to San Francisco since the 2014 season, as the Cardinals are winners of the last eight meetings. — Kellan Olson

5. WEEK 15 – BAKER AND THE BROWNS

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Keeping on the trend of playing former Cardinals coaches, Arizona has a date set with Freddie Kitchens and the Cleveland Browns in December.

Kitchens, who served as the Cardinals running backs coach for 11 years, brings with him a Browns team looking to turn the page.

Adding Baker Mayfield through the draft last season, Cleveland ended the year at 7-8-1.

This offseason, they revamped the roster, including additions of Beckham Jr. via trade and Sheldon Richardson, Morgan Burnett and Kareem Hunt all coming from free agency.

The group joins an already solid offense, replete with Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, David Njoku and Antonio Callaway.

In 16 games, Landry caught 81 balls for 976 yards and four touchdowns. Chubb, who started just nine games last season following Carlos Hyde being traded to the Jaguars, proved to be a vital piece to Cleveland’s attack. The running back rushed for 996 yards on 126 carries, scoring eight touchdowns. He added 149 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 20 receptions. — Tyler Drake

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