The Cardinals are looking to prove they’re a Super Bowl contender while the Saints are aiming to prove that they can rebound from 2014. That makes this Week 1 contest quite important.
The Saints were simply awful last year. Defensive injuries didn’t help, but this offense failed to function well at home in the Superdome, probably the biggest surprise of all. Now, Drew Brees moves forward without Jimmy Graham at tight end, trying to regain the form of previous seasons. The Saints do need balance from their running game, but they still need their passing game to land big plays and set up the running game in turn. That’s a huge need for this team on Sunday and throughout the season.
The Cardinals had a ton of momentum last season, posting a 9-1 record until Carson Palmer got hurt. Then they sank like a rock, losing five of their last seven games, including a playoff game against a losing team, the Carolina Panthers. With Palmer back, will this team pick up where it left off, or will this season be noticeably different, and not for the best of reasons?
The line here has fairly steadily resided at minus-2.5 points for the Cardinals. The reason odds are where they are? Actually, there are probably three or four reasons. First, the Cardinals are favored because they’re at home. Second, they’re favored because they had a much better team last season. New Orleans plummeted from being a divisional round playoff team to a club which lost double-digit games. That is not something any analysts were prepared to expect. In terms of getting the benefit of the doubt on the moneyline (which team will win straight up), the Cardinals get the nod.
Someone else would ask with very good reason, “Why aren’t the Cardinals favored by a larger margin?” That’s a fair question, given the gap between these teams for much of last season. A foremost reason is that Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer has a history of injuries. While he’s healthy right now, he is brittle, and everyone saw last season how completely this team collapsed without him. There is some uncertainty about how well Arizona can put all the pieces back together this year. On the other side of the coin, there is a definite thought in the minds of some bettors that New Orleans is going to be at least a decent team this season – maybe not 11-5, but at least 9-7. It’s hard to see the Saints be a losing team for a second straight season with Drew Brees in the saddle.
The Saints have starting running back C.J. Spiller listed as questionable with a knee injury but he’s likely out. Cornerback Brandon Browner, who has been resting a lot in the preseason, is probable for this game with his leg injury. Running back Khiry Robinson is questionable for this game. Safety Jairus Byrd is out indefinitely with a knee injury and cornerback Keenan Lewis is out for four to six weeks with a hip injury. That means the secondary will be missing two key regulars.
The Cardinals have listed tight end Troy Niklas as questionable for this game with a hamstring injury. Tackle Bobby Massie will miss this game as part of a three-game suspension by the league. Linebacker Daryl Washington is also suspended for this game. Guard Mike Lupati is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Defensive lineman Corey Peters is on the injured reserve list and will not play. Wide receiver Michael Floyd is questionable for this game with a finger injury.
Handicapping The Game
The Cardinals seem to be for real, mostly because head coach Bruce Arians seems to be for real. As long as Palmer remains healthy, this team will play defense and not commit turnovers, offering a definite path to success. With your Sunday NFL pick Take Arizona to cover.
Free NFL Pick: Cardinals -2.5 at Bovada