Two of the NFC’s favorites will face each other in Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints, expected to win the NFC South, and the Arizona Cardinals, a favorite in the very strong West division, will match up with each other on the league’s first Sunday. Head coach Bruce Arians has quietly put together one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the NFL taking the Cardinals to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009. Arians was named the league’s Coach of the Year as a result. What is even more impressive about the Cardinals success last year is that they did it playing three quarterbacks. Hopefully, they don’t have to do that again. Carson Palmer returns healthy after a knee injury ended his 2014 season prematurely. Even with a healthy Palmer behind center, New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals odds only favor the home team by just a field goal (-2½) with the over/under total at 48.
Looking past the season opener, Arians and the Cardinals will need Palmer to stay healthy because the drop-off to No. 2 QB Drew Stanton is noticeable. Arizona upgraded the offensive line by adding Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati to help ensure that Palmer plays all 16 games. Running back Andre Ellington returns after an injury as well and the Arizona running game will also help take pressure off of Palmer and the passing game. The Cardinals finished 31st in rush offense last year, something that will need to improve if they are to contend with Seattle for the NFC West title. For those looking to bet on New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals odds, it is important to note that Vegas currently has 62% of the NFL picks for week 1 taking the Cards laying the points at home.
In New Orleans, Drew Brees returns for his 15th NFL season. He and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards last year with 4,952. Brees also threw for 33 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. He lost his number one target in TE Jimmy Graham in free agency, but has one of the most unheralded groups of receivers in the league. Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, and Nick Toon give Brees ample targets in the passing game. The Saints beat Arizona, 31-7, the last time the two teams met back in 2013. Arians has the Cardinals on a different level now, which will make a New Orleans victory even tougher this time around. The week 1 season opener (Sunday, September 13th) between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals can be seen live on FOX at 4:05pm EST from the University of Phoenix Stadium.
It has been the most miraculous turnaround of the past five years. The Arizona Cardinals hired Bruce Arians just two years ago and have 21 wins to their credit. The Cardinals went 11-5 last season, finished second to Seattle in the NFC West, and earned a wild card berth in the playoffs. A repeat performance is likely if Arizona can stay healthy. Even if they do not, it is possible that Arians and his staff can work the same magic they worked in 2014. Sportsbooks certainly think so with Vegas Super Bowl predictions cautiously listing the Cardinals as +2500 favorites to win the championship, +1400 to win the NFC Conference while NFL odds have Arizona at +400 to win the NFC East. Quarterback Carson Palmer, now 35 years old, is aging and coming off injuries that cut his season short. Arizona started the season 9-1 last year but after Palmer’s ACL tear faltered down the stretch with backup QB Drew Stanton.
The Arizona Cardinals won only two of their last six games. It didn’t help matters that starting RB Andre Ellington was lost for the season in December. Arizona averaged a paltry 81.8 yards per game. Regardless, hopes are high once again in terms of Super Bowl predictions as a healthy Palmer returns as does wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown. While Fitzgerald (32) is no longer an elite receiver, he is still a very capable No. 1… if he has the QB that can get him the football. The former Pitt All-American was on track for another 1,000-yard receiving season before Palmer was lost for the year. The running game, as well as pass protection, gets a boost with the addition of Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati. The Cardinals also signed A.Q. Shipley to start at center and drafted 6-5, 307-pound offensive tackle D.J. Humphries out of Florida. Arizona also added Northern Iowa running back David Johnson (6-1, 225) to try and take some of the pressure off of Ellington.
Arizona did lose some key contributors to its fifth-ranked scoring defense. First and foremost was the loss of coordinator Todd Bowles who became the new head coach of the New York Jets. Linebacker Larry Foote retired, defensive end Darnell Dockett signed with San Francisco, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie is now a Jet. The Cardinals did add linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and LaMarr Woodley to offset the loss of Foote, but will count on DE Calais Campbell to become a force on the defensive line. Arizona generated just 35 sacks last year and will need to do better if they are to compete for the 2015 NFC West title. Campbell had seven and team-leader Alex Okafor had eight. Arians has done a masterful job of resurrecting the Cardinals to make a run in Super Bowl predictions. His best coaching job may need to come this season as the Cards have two dates with Seattle and must play the entire AFC North, arguably the toughest division in NFL odds.
Cardinals Update (9/9/15): Arizona are now +3300 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +1600 to win the NFC Conference and +500 to win the NFC West.