What stands out across Arizona Cardinals’ 2021 schedule
There is no great reveal accompanying the NFL’s schedule release. We have known for months who the Cardinals are playing in 2021.
It’s the sequencing of opponents that makes the exercise so irresistible. It’s a chance for football fans to predict win totals and set expectations based on conventional wisdom, on what they remember from the previous season.
That’s the folly of it all. Mainly, because football teams and their intentions rarely stay the same from one year to another.
Smart fans look for timing of the bye week (Week 12); quality of opposing quarterbacks (nine opponents feature new quarterbacks or uncertainty at the position); number of prime-time appearances on national television (three, all at home); potential bad weather games (the only outdoor road game after Week 13 is in Southern California); and daunting road trips (not many).
The first game of the season comes on the road, against an 11-win team that is physical and well-coached. Zaven Collins will start his NFL career by staring down Derrick Henry, a steamrolling running back who rushed for over 200 yards on three different occasions in 2021. Also, new cornerback Malcolm Butler gets to lock up a former teammate, star receiver A.J. Brown.
This is a tall task but nothing motivates football players like fear. The Titans in Week 1 will certainly keep the Cardinals focused during the drudgery of training camp.
Home opener marks the homecoming of Patrick Peterson. Don’t expect a Ring of Honor ceremony. Second consecutive week facing an impact running back (Dalvin Cook). First big test for revamped secondary (Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen).
Cards likely to face a rookie quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) in his third NFL start.
at L.A. Rams:
Cardinals still haven’t beaten Sean McVay, who is 8-0 against Arizona as head coach. It will be even more difficult against Matthew Stafford, the new quarterback in L.A.
vs. San Francisco:
A second consecutive NFC West battle following a series of September challenges make this a daunting home game.
Rematch between Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks from Oklahoma.
Expect DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt to have monstrous games. And for David Johnson to spend much of the afternoon running from sideline to sideline.
at Green Bay:
The Cardinals host the Packers on Thursday Night Football. The platform only makes sense if Aaron Rodgers is still playing for Green Bay, a quarterback with a history of astonishing performances at State Farm Stadium.
at San Francisco:
How many fans will be allowed to attend games in California?
The Cardinals have lost five consecutive games to the Panthers, including two painful playoff losses. Revenge!
Road games in the Pacific Northwest always bring out the best in the Cardinals, and this one comes with the reward of a prolonged rest after it’s over.
Week 12 is a little deep into the schedule for a bye week, but better later than early.
Late November football in Chicago. And I bet J.J. Watt still plays without sleeves. Bears will enter the game with additional, as one of six teams who will play on Thanksgiving the previous week. Cardinals will be even better rested, as they are coming off their bye week.
vs. L.A. Rams:
The Cardinals get a Monday Night Football berth, against an opponent that has routinely blown the doors of Arizona in the past four years.
Cards know the Lions all too well, having played the NFC North squad seven times in the past eight years. And Jared Goff won’t be nearly as dangerous without Sean McVay pulling his strings.
Christmas night football in Arizona. Prepare for an onslaught of “Murray Christmas” jokes, quotes and anecdotes.
Kyler Murray is 7-0 at AT&T Stadium, including three state championships and a Big 12 championship.
Let’s hope this game means something. And let’s hope the Cardinals learn how to finish games and seasons a lot better than they did in 2020.