Biggest takeaways, things to watch within Cardinals’ 2023 schedule
May 14, 2023, 11:11 AM | Updated: 11:31 am
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Eighteen weeks. Seventeen games. A lot of unknown.
The Arizona Cardinals and the rest of the league now have the maps to their season following the NFL-wide schedule release on Thursday.
The road ahead is anything but easy for new Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort, with the AFC North, NFC East and their own division headlining the gauntlet that lies ahead.
And with every schedule, comes the storylines.
Here are some the major takeaways from Arizona’s 2023 slate:
Out of the spotlight
No, your eyes don’t deceive you: the Cardinals are without a primetime game in 2023.
After seeing a handful of national games last season, the Cardinals came in as one of four teams currently without one.
They’re joined by the Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans., all of which are expected to struggle this season.
It shouldn’t come as much surprise given where the Cardinals currently stand amid a rebuild with two of their star players (quarterback Kyler Murray and tight end Zach Ertz) working their way back from torn ACLs on unknown timelines.
A strong effort, however, could pay off in 2024 (if not sooner thanks to schedule flexing).
Just ask the Detroit Lions, who strung together a 9-8 record last year under second-year head coach Dan Campbell and spoiled the Green Bay Packers’ season along the way. They were shut out of primetime games outside of their annual Thanksgiving Day slot.
“We always talk about, you play your way into primetime,” vice president of NFL broadcasting Onnie Bose said via Zoom on Friday. “You play your way into bigger television windows. And the Lions have done that. … They earned it with their play on the field.”
Cards kick off in the capital
This is not the season opener I expected!
I thought the schedule makers had Cardinals-Eagles in Philadelphia written all over Week 1.
Instead, it’s the Washington Commanders, who appear on their way to new ownership this offseason.
And of their 2023 opponents, the Commanders fall in the works-in-progress tier of things. Some may be writing off Arizona already, but this one could be a better game than many expect it to be.
Washington added some new pieces in quarterback Jacoby Brissett and rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes to the mix that includes wide receiver Terry McLaurin and pass rusher Chase Young but are not world beaters by any means.
There’s a chance Gannon and Co. sneak one out in D.C.
Despite what happens against Washington, things are going to get tougher in a hurry for the Cardinals, with a four-game stretch against 2022 playoff teams.
Week 2 brings the New York Giants to town before the Dallas Cowboys head to State Farm Stadium in Week 3.
Gannon is all too familiar with the Giants, Cowboys and Commanders, having coached against them the past two seasons as defensive coordinator for the Eagles.
Then it’s a road test against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4, followed by a matchup in Cincinnati versus the Bengals in Week 5.
In a word: Yikes.
Picking up a victory over this stretch of games should be applauded even if it does impact draft positioning.
The return (maybe)
When the Cardinals head to Houston to take on the Texans in Week 11, it’ll mark the first time wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was back at his old stomping grounds since Houston dealt him to Arizona in 2020.
That is if he’s still on the team.
NFL Draft implications
There are also draft picks to consider in Week 11 against Houston following Ossenfort’s dealings with the team during the 2023 NFL Draft that landed the Texans’ first-round pick in Arizona’s lap.
If you think about it, the Cardinals come out of Week 11 as winners either way.
A win throws another loss on the Texans’ record, which helps increase the value of Houston’s pick that the Cardinals’ own.
A loss improves Arizona’s own draft pick.
The return II
The other “reunion” (if that’s what you want to call it) comes six weeks later when the Cardinals travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.
It’ll be the first time new Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon returns to Philadelphia after serving as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator for two seasons.
There’s been a lot of noise directed at Gannon from Philadelphia fans ever since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs took down the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
It’s only going to continue in the City of Brotherly Love.
Bring a jacket
Weeks 16-17 are going to be cold ones, with back-to-back games against the Chicago Bears and Eagles on the road.
Look for James Conner to handle the bulk of the offensive workload and hope it doesn’t snow.
Hope for a run?
If I had to pick a positive stretch in the season for the Cardinals, it’ll have to be from Weeks 9-12.
During that timeframe, Arizona has winnable games against the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams.
And if Murray is back around that time, chances of coming out that part of the schedule .500 or better isn’t out of the question.