Arizona will win the NFC West in 2021
By: Gladys Louise Tyler
The 8-8 Arizona Cardinals were in the playoff hunt for part of the 2020 season. This is true even though head coach Kliff Kingsbury was 3-9 against the NFC West, including a 0-4 record against Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams.
The Cardinals started 2-0 in the West, only to end on a four-game losing streak in the division.
They were 5-2 before ending the season on a 3-6 bender.
There were a few reasons for the losing streak:
- Wide receiver Christian Kirk looked the part of the number two wide receiver until the final eight games. In the last eight, he managed a paltry 22 receptions, 234 yards, and zero touchdowns.
- Quarterback Kyler Murray got injured in Week 11 against the Seattle Seahawks. After that, the offense scores 30 plus points only once the rest of the season.
- Linebacker Chandler Jones incurred a bicep injury in Week 5. He ended his season with 11 total tackles and one sack. Without Jones, the Cardinals’ defense gave up close to 28 points a game on the road.
There is also the possibility that Kingsbury’s offensive prowess is over-rated, but that could be an overstatement as the offense worked for the first half of the season.
But this year the Cardinals will not only reverse their fortunes within their division, but win the NFC West outright.
At first glance, it seems like an improbable statement. The NFC West is the most competitive division in the NFL. But it is possible, and here is why:
QUARTERBACK KYLER MURRAY
Murray showed improvement until his Week 11 injury. He finished the season with a completion percentage that was 2.8% better than the previous year. He threw for six more touchdowns and had 40 more rushing attempts. The rushing attempts elevated his rushing touchdowns by seven compared to last year.
WIDE RECEIVER DEANDRE HOPKINS
There is no doubt the addition of Hopkins boosted the offense. Hopkins finished the season with a career-high 71.9% catch rate. He was targeted 160 times and had six touchdowns.
This being his second year with Murray should make the pairing that much more formidable and the duo should put up huge numbers in 2021.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
This might be the most important reason the Cardinals are set to win the division this year. Their free agency acquisitions are more of a “win-now” mentality than let’s rebuild for the future.
Although they lost both Patrick Peterson and Kenyan Drake in free agency, they gained players (who, if they remain healthy) will help them win now.
- Running back James Conner
- Wide receiver AJ Green
- Defensive end JJ Watt
- Cornerback Malcolm Butler
- Kicker Matt Prater
And yes, the NFC West did make some splash acquisitions. The Los Angeles Rams acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford for the win-now mentality. The San Francisco 49ers obtained Trey Lance for the future, and well, the Seattle Seahawks attempted to upgrade their defense, with cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Pierre Desire and defensive end Aldon Smith.
Depending on your “go-to” source, the Cardinals either have the fourth most difficult schedule or the 13th. If you go by the Cbssports.com strength of schedule, the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks will face a harder schedule than the Cardinals.
CARDINALS 2021 SCHEDULE
WEEK 1 @ TENNESSEE TITANS
WEEK 2 v MINNESOTA VIKINGS
WEEK 3 @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
WEEK 4 @ LOS ANGELES RAMS
WEEK 5 v SAN FRANCISCO NINERS
WEEK 6 @ CLEVELAND BROWNS
WEEK 7 v HOUSTON TEXANS
WEEK 8 v GREEN BAY PACKERS
WEEK 9 @ SAN FRANCISCO NINERS
WEEK 10 v CAROLINA PANTHERS
WEEK 11 @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
WEEK 12—NOV 28 BYE WEEK
WEEK 13 @ CHICAGO BEARS
WEEK 14 v LOS ANGELES RAMS
WEEK 15 @ DETROIT LIONS
WEEK 16 v INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
WEEK 17 @ DALLAS COWBOYS
WEEK 18 v SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
WINNING THE NFC WEST
This is Kingsbury show me year. His team has to improve against the West foes, including the zero wins against the Rams. The Niners will have the slew of players that were injured back; the question remains it Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo under center this season. The Seahawks are, well, the Seahawks, doing little to appease quarterback Russell Wilson’s concerns; they remain who we thought they were until proven otherwise.
The path through the NFC West appears to go through California. If the Cardinals can break even with their NFC West rivals, there is no reason they cannot overtake the NFC West championship belt (and if there isn’t one, there should be).