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.
If it wasn't for an ill-advised throw on the 1-yard line with just twenty seconds left, the Seattle Seahawks could have easily became back-to-back Super Bowl champions last year. Instead, the New England Patriots hoisted the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time since 2001. Although predictions have the Seahawks favored to win the hardware this season, Seattle will need to watch out for conference foes the Green Bay Packers not to mention a potential upset in their own division if the defense cannot fully recover from numerous injuries this off-season. That being said, the Seattle Seahawks are favored in 2015 NFC West odds to win at -275 followed closely by the Arizona Cardinals (+400), St. Louis Rams (+1000) and the San Francisco 49ers (+1200).
The Legion of Boom secondary is still recovering from last year's grueling effort with Kam Chancellor nursing a knee and groin injury not to mention is still holding out for a better contract. Richard Sherman opted not to undergo Tommy John surgery this off-season for an injured elbow while Earl Thomas did go under the knife to repair a torn labrum (shoulder). On the offensive side of the ball, Russell Wilson will be without a key figure on the line with center Max Unger being traded to the New Orleans Saints for TE Jimmy Graham. Doug Baldwin is penciled in as the Seahawks #1 wide receiver despite hauling in just 825-yards for 3-touchdown this season. And then there is Marshawn Lynch aka Beastmode. The bruising running back pounded his way to 1,306-yards last year but didn't have his number called when it mattered most last season. How will that effect his effort this year? We'll just have to wait and see.
2015 NFC West odds to win the division have the Arizona Cardinals listed as +400 favorites since going an impressive 11-5 straight up and against the spread albeit without a healthy quarterback. Carson Palmer was undefeated at 6-0 before suffering a torn ACL. The 35-year old will be entering his 13th season and will have a difficult time finding WR's Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald behind a questionable offense line which includes first round pick D.J. Humphries (Florida). The St. Louis Rams are still in a rebuilding phase having traded for QB Nick Foles (Eagles) and signing an injured RB Todd Gurley (Georgia) during the off-season. That being said, the pair could end up providing enough offense to surprise the other NFC West teams and give the Seahawks a run for the title.
RB Tre Mason will assume the rushing duties until Gurley is healthy while WR's Kenny Britt and Brian Quick will look to better last season's mark of just 6-touchdowns. Rounding out the division is the San Francisco 49ers who will have a new head coach in Jim Tomsula. QB Colin Kaepernick returns after throwing 3,369-yards for 19-touchdowns last season but gone is RB Frank Gore who was replaced in the back-field by Carlos Hyde. On paper, Kaepernick has a decent receiving squad with RB Reggie Bush, WR Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith (Ravens) and TE Vernon Davis. On defense, coordinator Eric Mangini looks to utilize a 3-4 scheme with LB's Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch anchoring the unit. Eric Reed will resume his position at safety with Antoine Bethea at free safety.
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.
With the major league baseball season hitting August, the National League divisional races are heating up. In the East, the New York Mets are taking a run at the team everyone saw as a shoe-in for the National League title in 2015, the Washington Nationals. The Nats are getting an MVP type of season from their star, OF Bryce Harper. Harper leads the league in home runs with 29, is fourth in RBIs with 68, and is batting .331, good for second in the NL. Washington went out last offseason and added righthander Max Scherzer to an already strong pitching rotation. Scherzer is 11-8 and in the top five in ERA at 2.22. With that being said, 2015 National League Pennant odds to win favor the Nationals at +450 followed by the Dodgers at +300.
The problem for Washington is the scrappy New York Mets (+700). Starting pitcher Jacob deGrom is 10-6 and second in the NL in ERA at 2.09. Matt Harvey has nine wins and reliever Jeurys Familia has 28 saves. It is their strong pitching that has put them in a position to challenge Washington for the East Division title. The Mets rank dead last in runs scored and batting average in the NL. The addition of Yoenis Cespedes, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, should help. The St. Louis Cardinals are listed as +325 favorites in 2015 National League Pennant odds to win and appear on their way to a third consecutive NL Central title. They have MLB’s best record and are a favorite to win their third World Series title of the 2000s (2006 and 2011). The Cardinals lead the NL in ERA (2.67) and generate enough offense to give themselves a legitimate shot in baseball predictions at another NL championship.
In any other division, the Pittsburgh Pirates (+800) would flourish. Gerrit Cole leads the NL in wins with 14 and is in the top five in ERA (2.29). Reliever Mark Melancon leads the league in saves with 33. The Pirates have made the postseason the past two seasons and should again. The two teams that were going to surprise the National League – San Diego Padres (+2800) and the Chicago Cubs (+800) – both currently sit behind the favorites in their respective divisions. The Cubs, with their new manager Joe Maddon, went out and acquired Jon Lester in the offseason. Lester is just 6-8, but Jake Arrieta is 11-6. Still, the Cubs will probably be at home this postseason.
The Padres acquired former Dodgers star Matt Kemp in the offseason, but Kemp’s performance thus far has been pedestrian. He has 11 home runs and is batting just .254. Leftfielder Justin Upton leads the team with 18 homers, and 57 RBIs, but even Upton hits just .247. Reliever Craig Kimbrel leads the NL in saves with 31, but it won’t be enough for San Diego to overtake the Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants (+550) in the NL West. 2015 National League Pennant odds to win have the Los Angeles Dodgers at +300 and they arguably have the best 1-2 pitching punch in the majors. Zack Greinke is 10-2 with a MLB-leading 1.41 ERA. Last year’s league MVP Clayton Kershaw is 9-6 with a 2.37 ERA. In terms of baseball predictions, pitching will be the key to win the NLCS which gives the Dodgers a great chance to challenge St. Louis.