ESPN analyzes the best- and worst-case scenarios for Cardinals in 2023

Aug 22, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: Aug 24, 2023, 8:43 am

Arizona Cardinals QB Colt McCoy (left) and RB James Conner (right). (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

Arizona Cardinals QB Colt McCoy (left) and RB James Conner (right). (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

Coming off a 4-13 season, dealing with the departures of J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins and waiting for a healthy Kyler Murray, there isn’t much on paper to favor the Arizona Cardinals improving upon last season.

According to 20,000 ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) simulations of the entire NFL season, the Cardinals’ floor is at 3-14 and their ceiling at 8-9.

If they fall more toward 3-14, they’ll secure a high first-round selection.

Arizona also has the Houston Texans’ first-round pick. Houston’s projected floor is 3-14 with a ceiling of 9-8, according to the FPI simulations.

The Cardinals dealt the No. 3 pick to the Texans in exchange for the No. 6 pick and the 2024 first-round pick of Houston in the 2023 NFL Draft. Houston used that pick to draft defensive end Will Anderson Jr. out of Alabama immediately after selecting highly prized Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud second overall.

If both the Cardinals and Texans finish with a poor record in 2024, the Cardinals could have two high first-round draft picks — potentially even picks Nos. 1 and 2.

Projecting a horrid season from Houston could’ve been the strategy all along, but if Stroud exceeds expectations and leads the Texans to a 9-8 record or better, the Cardinals will end up getting a lower first-round pick.

As for themselves, the Cardinals have yet to name a starting quarterback, as veteran Colt McCoy and rookie Clayton Tune are the top candidates to fill in for Murray as he recovers.

In the meantime, the Cardinals will likely focus on their running game, with back James Conner set to lead the offense in his third season with the team. In 28 games with Arizona, Conner has racked up 1,534 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns while reaching the Pro Bowl in 2021.

“All offseason, the Cardinals have said they’re going to commit to the run more this season than in the past. That will fall on Conner,” ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss wrote. “If he can get going, especially early in the season behind a revamped offensive line, the Cardinals’ passing game will come into shape quicker than expected. If not, Arizona will become one-dimensional and run into trouble.”

Nonetheless, the Cardinals appear to be rebuilding under a new coaching staff on defense and lack firepower without Murray.

If both the Cardinals and Texans have an underwhelming season, the Cardinals could potentially select two of the nation’s top players in the 2024 NFL Draft.

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ESPN analyzes the best- and worst-case scenarios for Cardinals in 2023