Easy April takeaways and predictions for Cardinals’ 2018 schedule
Welcome to the most ridiculous ritual in sports:
When the NFL released its official schedule on Thursday, the sequencing of games sent fans into a frenzy. It became a headline story across the country, even though teams like the Cardinals have known the identity of their 13 opponents since late December. Conclusions were drawn and predictions will soon follow, even though the folly of this exercise should be obvious to all.
Smart football fans and scarred bettors realize that every week is its own season, impossible to forecast and subject to injuries, matchup problems, time zones, weather patterns and bad bounces.
This is also one of the treasured mileposts of the offseason, and not the time for cold-hearted reason. This is the emotional equivalent of Opening Day in Major League Baseball, when optimism trumps logic and defies hard lessons learned in the past.
On the surface, the talking points are compelling. In 2018, the Patriots will open at home against the Texans, allowing Tyrann Mathieu to make an immediate splash with his new team. The Giants host the Jaguars in Week 1, marking the first time that Jacksonville executive Tom Coughlin will face the team he led to a pair of memorable Super Bowl victories.
Coughlin’s last public appearance at MetLife Stadium occurred when he was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor. Like a defiant actor at the Academy Awards, he refused to leave the stage when his time had expired, even though players had already returned to the field. And when Coughlin showed up in Arizona last season, monitoring his Jaguars from the press box at University of Phoenix Stadium, his volatile temperament and table-banging antics astounded those who are duty-bound to mute their rooting interests and keep their mouths shut.
Meanwhile, the Patriots host the Colts in Week 5, where contentious embers of Deflate-Gate have been reignited, courtesy of Josh McDaniels’ withdrawing from his verbal commitment to take over as head coach in Indianapolis.
The NFL clearly understands the confluence of conflict and drama. They appreciate good television and the power of cliffhangers, scheduling nothing but division games in the final week of the season. And in Arizona, where the team hasn’t posted a winning record in two seasons, the road map is complicated and hard to decipher.
The Cardinals have road games in Minnesota, Green Bay and Atlanta, where they haven’t posted a win in 135 years combined. They travel to Kansas City, where the weather and crowd noise are always more formidable than expected. Arizona hasn’t posted a victory here in four previous visits, playing so poorly that the post-game barbecue is little consolation.
They also are gifted with three home games in the opening month of the season. Their one primetime appearance should benefit a team that flourishes when flying below the radar. The bye week comes in Week 9, landing at the midpoint of the season. Only one road game is slated for a breakfast start in Arizona (10 a.m.), where body clocks and disrupted routines have frequently led to erratic performances. There are no games on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, when the collective mindset can be scattered and full of distractions.
Here are the easy takeaways that seem important at the moment, and will mean very little once kickoffs commence in September:
Week 1: Home game against Washington, pitting the quarterback the Cardinals wanted (Alex Smith) against their third option (Sam Bradford).
Week 2: Road game against Los Angeles, an early opportunity for the Cardinals to make an impact statement, atoning for two losses to the Rams in 2017. Including an embarrassing 33-0 defeat in London that marked the end of Carson Palmer’s career.
Week 3: Home against the Bears. Good break for the Cardinals and a bad deal for Chicago writers, who will lament a trip to the Valley that arrives in September, before ice scrapers are part of their morning commute.
Week 4: Home game against Seattle, and a wonderful opportunity for new head coach Steve Wilks to emerge from the shadow and legacy of Bruce Arians, who was 0-4-1 against the Seahawks in Glendale.
Week 5: Road game in San Francisco, where the Cardinals will experience a vested fan base and not relish in the sound of crickets.
Week 6: Road game in Minnesota, where Kirk Cousins is the new quarterback, where the Cardinals haven’t won since 1977 and where the decibel level can cause thunderclap headaches. If he’s still standing, it’s the perfect platform for Bradford to show Vikings fans what could’ve been had he not succumbed to another injury in 2017.
Week 7: This is already a loss for the Valley. The Cardinals play a home game against Denver on Thursday Night Football, making their only primetime appearance of the season following a short week of practice. If that wasn’t bad enough, ASU hosts Stanford on the same night, splitting the audience and local allegiances.
Week 8: Home game against San Francisco, the perfect launching pad into the second half of the season. Win here, against a team that always causes problems in Glendale, and the Cardinals will enjoy their bye week.
Week 9: OFF
Week 10: Road game in Kansas City, at a time when Patrick Mahomes might be an overwhelmed rookie hitting the wall, or a breakout star in the NFL. I’m betting on the former, but it’s still not enough to win this game.
Week 11: Home against the Raiders. Jon Gruden is back on the sidelines after a lengthy stint in television, just like ASU head coach Herm Edwards. Except one guy is still considered an impact coach while the other is a dinosaur targeted for ridicule. Maybe the Cardinals will do the Sun Devils a favor, changing that narrative when this game is over.
Week 12: Road game in Los Angeles. Former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy (now the Cardinals offensive coordinator) against former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt (now the Chargers offensive coordinator). I like their chances, especially in a small stadium, where attendance will resemble the dark days at Sun Devil Stadium.
Week 13: Road game in Green Bay, where the average temperature bottoms out at 19 degrees and where half the city’s population has a Brett Favre jersey hanging in the closet. Enough said.
Week 14: Home against Detroit, where familiarity breeds apathy. This is the fifth consecutive season the Cardinals will play the Lions, and the 14th time since the 2000 season. Neither team has won a Super Bowl, and their dueling histories make their battles feel small.
Week 15: Road game in Atlanta, where the Cardinals have a history of showing up in a sleepy funk, leading to lopsided losses. Somehow, the worst professional sports town in America has served as kryptonite to our NFL franchise.
Week 16: Home game against Los Angeles. If the Cardinals exceed expectations, this could be the most important game of the season.
Week 17: Road game against Seattle. After Bruce Arians arrived in Arizona in 2013, the NFL learned that the Cardinals and Seahawks always save the best for the last. The Cardinals have won four of their last five games in Seattle, a road trip that has come to symbolize the ultimate consolation prize.
In other words, W-L-W-W-L-L-L-W-L-L-L-L-W-L-W-L
But history proves that playoff projections based on a team’s schedule are beyond futile. They’re absurd. And with all these moving pieces in the Valley, from Bradford’s health to the impact of a new regime, that’s good news for football fans in Arizona.