On to the next ones: A look at the Cardinals’ 2020 opponents
With the NFL schedule officially released, the Arizona Cardinals can take a look at what the season projects to be like.
With a 5-10-1 record under Kliff Kingsbury in his first year as a head coach, the Cardinals are looking to build off Year 1 improvements.
Standing in their way is the usual NFC West teams, a brutal back-half of the schedule, and a Monday Night matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
Here’s a look at the Cardinals’ 2020 opponents:
The Cardinals will play seven of their 16 games (43.75%) against 2019 playoff teams.
Five of the 12 playoffs teams are set to take on the Cardinals in 2020, two of which came out of the NFC West. The 49ers secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC, while the Seahawks earned a Wild Card berth.
With an added Wild Card seed this season, Arizona has a chance to get in.
The league apparently thinks so, too. The Cardinals have a primetime game against the Seahawks on Week 11 Thursday Night Football, and the Week 16 game against the 49ers could be flexed to Saturday.
If all goes according to how Cardinals fans dream, those two games could be telling in an NFC race.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN
There will be not one, not two, but four new coaching hires on the docket, three of which come from the same division. The Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants all made the switch this offseason.
Of the four, only the Cowboys had a .500 record, as the group finished with a combined 20-44 record in 2019.
The Redskins and Panthers will have relatively minimal time to adjust to their new respective coaches before they meet the Cardinals, as Arizona will play Washington in Week 2 and Carolina in Week 4.
Arizona then gets the Cowboys for a Monday Night Football matchup in Week 6. The Cardinals don’t play the Giants until Week 14.
TALE OF TWO HALVES
Seven teams the Cardinals face next season finished with a .500 record or lower. Six finished above .500, including all three NFC West foes.
The schedule is largely split in half: The first half of the season is predominantly teams at .500 or lower. The second half is almost exclusively teams above.
Over the first eight games of the season, the only two teams Arizona will play against who had a record better than .500 in 2019 are the 49ers and Seahawks. The Cowboys were at .500. The others — Redskins, Lions, Panthers, Jets, Dolphins — were all below.
It will be important to play well over that half of the season, because it gets rough afterward. After Week 9 against the Dolphins, Arizona will only have one more game against a team that finished below .500 in 2019.
In order: Bills, Seahawks, Patriots, Rams, Giants, Eagles, 49ers, Rams. Of those, only the Giants won fewer than nine games.
RUN THE ROCK
While more and more teams look to the air, a gritty ground game still pays dividends in the NFL.
Seven Cardinals opponents for 2020 (SF, SEA, BUF, PHI, NYG, DAL, CAR) finished the regular season among the top 14 in the NFL for rushing with at least 1,819 yards on the ground. San Francisco led the pack of 2020 opponents, putting up 2,305 yards and 23 touchdowns. Only three teams (NYJ, DET, WSH) had less than 10 rushing touchdowns.
The Cardinals found themselves right in the mix, finishing the season with the 10th-best rushing attack in terms of yards per game.
Just five of the 13 teams (DAL, CAR, NE, LAR, DET) on the Cardinals’ schedule were in the top 10 for passing in 2019.
That could bode relatively well. The Cardinals pass defense allowed the second-most yards and second-most touchdowns last season.
The rush defense was poor too, with the ninth-most yards allowed, but — and perhaps because of the porous passing defense – allowed just nine rushing touchdowns, sixth-best in the league.
EASTBOUND AND DOWN
The Cardinals will face off against both the AFC and NFC East, with the Lions (NFC North) and Carolina (NFC South) sprinkled in the mix. As a division, the AFC East finished the season 34-30, third in the NFL, while the NFC East posted a 24-40 record.
It’s a new year of football, but the old foes remain for Arizona.
The NFC West led the NFL with a 38-25-1 record this year, as the 49ers and Seahawks finished the season at 13-3 and 11-5, respectively.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
When looking at the home and away win-loss totals, the Cardinals’ 2020 opponents fared much better at home, combining for a 35-27 record. On the road, it was a different story, as the teams went 33-30-1.