DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals’ schedule favors potential run to playoffs

May 15, 2024, 6:07 PM | Updated: May 16, 2024, 3:45 pm

Buzz is a rare word. It’s an onomatopoeia, a word that imitates the sound it describes.

It’s the sound made by swarming insects and excited sports fans. It’s the sound of nervous chatter and rabid anticipation. And following their 2024 schedule release on Wednesday, it serves as a refreshing tailwind for the Cardinals.

Buzz. Can you hear it?

The Cardinals are feeling the excitement, whether it’s the wave of positive headlines, robust ticket sales or the retirement of a game-wrecker nemesis in Los Angeles (Aaron Donald). Their newly minted schedule will only help them make the playoffs in the months ahead.

Here’s why:

Their Week 1 debut at Buffalo is a reprieve from the snow-globe games one might encounter later in the season while footballing on the shores of Lake Erie. It’s also a huge platform and a great opportunity to declare your intentions from the opening kickoff of the season. It’s a statement game, a great way to keep everyone locked in over the summer.

During their impressive closing act, the 2023 Cardinals defeated the Steelers in Pittsburgh and the Eagles in Philadelphia. Beating the Bills in Buffalo would be a powerful trifecta and great momentum boost.

There are other weather-related breaks. The Cardinals travel to Green Bay in mid-October (Week 6), avoiding the bone-chilling cold. They travel to Miami in Week 8, when the stifling humidity begins to dissipate. Their only outdoor, cold-weather game occurs on Dec. 22 in Charlotte, against a terrible Panthers team that now ranks as the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchise.

Every schedule also has pitfalls and potholes. The Cardinals face five returning playoff teams in the first six weeks of the season. They have only one prime-time game, a Week 7 contest against Jim Harbaugh’s Chargers. They host the NFC’s best team (49ers) in the final week of the season, when a playoff berth might be on the line.

But there isn’t an abundance of A-list quarterbacks among the 11 non-divisional teams the Cardinals will face in 2024, a list of opponents that includes the Bills, Jets, Chargers, Bears, Vikings, Packers, Lions, Commanders, Panthers, Dolphins and Patriots.

I’d prefer Murray in at least nine of those games. Only Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers tilt the playing field in the other team’s favor.

The Cardinals are also facing the four transitioning teams that selected quarterbacks in the first round of the recent NFL draft, including four rookies who might be starting for their respective teams (Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy). That’s a big advantage for Arizona.

Their bye comes in Week 11, which is fine. They were an unchosen candidate to play in Germany, which is a blessing considering the franchise’s recent resume of distracted football abroad. And for the second consecutive season, the Cardinals will not play on Thursday Night Football.

The excitement is real. Maybe it’s the four-win team that was good to the last drop, a team that never quit under rookie head coach Jonathan Gannon. Maybe it’s another perceived master draft class from General manager Monti Ossenfort, who seems to have a gift for selecting the right kinds of football players. Maybe it’s the incoming star power of Marvin Harrison Jr., who arrives with the blessing and endorsement of Larry Fitzgerald. Or maybe it was the sight of Kyler Murray hanging out courtside at a NBA playoff game with running back James Conner, proving that connectivity will not be an issue with our NFL team.

Whatever the reason, the Cardinals seem to be hitting all the right notes. Not that long ago, fans were grumbling over a hike in season-ticket prices. Today, the team has sold out all its lower-level inventory and ranks third in the NFL in new season-ticket sales. If we truly speak with our wallets, the Cardinals are riding a wave they haven’t felt since their appearance in Super Bowl 43.

They are also faced with a question that has hexed and betrayed so many of our sports teams in the past.

Can they meet and exceed new expectations? Can they live up to the buzz and make it louder?

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6–10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

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