Who had the Arizona Cardinals as the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team?
Nobody? That sounds about right, although I did recommend taking the Cardinals to win the NFC West over the summer. But even Arizona’s biggest fans probably didn’t have them pegged for a 5-0 start.
However, could a road trip to Cleveland for a conference crossover mark the end of Arizona’s undefeated season? Let’s break it down:
- Opening line: Cleveland -2.5
- Current line: Cleveland -3
- Total: 49.5
Deja vu for Arizona?
Last season, the Arizona Cardinals were 5-2 before Kyler Murray suffered a shoulder injury that affected him the rest of the season. They went 3-6 down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs.
History might be repeating itself, as Murray was limited in practice Wednesday with a right shoulder injury.
Murray wasn’t right, and neither were the Cards. After putting up at least 31 points and 400 yards in each of their first four games, Arizona mustered just 17 points and 304 total yards against the 49ers. The Cardinals covered as 5-point favorites, but they probably shouldn’t have. Heck, they probably could’ve lost straight up, as San Francisco was starting rookie Trey Lance and went 1-for-5 on fourth down attempts.
When Murray is right, this offense is damn tough to stop. The Cardinals rank 6th in passing DVOA as Murray has spread the ball out to DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore. The tailback tandem of Chase Edmonds and James Conner isn’t great, but it’s been effective enough to garner respect from opposing defenses.
I wrote in the summer about how this defense could take the next step after an excellent 2020 campaign. So far, the Cardinals have done just that. Arizona ranks fourth in defensive DVOA and 3rd in passing DVOA despite an unheralded group at cornerback.
But where Arizona has been more vulnerable is against the run, where they rank 13th in DVOA and are allowing 5.4 yards per rush attempt.
The Cardinals also will be without star pass rusher Chandler Jones and center Rodney Hutson. You don’t want to be shorthanded in the trenches against Cleveland.
Browns are legit despite close losses.
The Browns have been on the wrong side of two complete shootouts. But despite their 3-2 record, they’re still one of the best teams in the league and a viable Super Bowl contender.
Cleveland’s identity is to run teams into submission with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns are 1st in rush DVOA and are averaging 5.4 yards per carry. This season, Baker Mayfield has been up and down, but he was terrific last week against the Chargers, throwing for 305 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Cleveland has a loaded front seven led by Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, who’s having a great season. The Browns rank 5th in rush defense DVOA and generate pressure on 30.9% of their opponents’ dropbacks. But Cleveland’s secondary is a question mark.
Against less explosive teams like Chicago and Houston, the secondary has dominated. Against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, they’ve been unable to stop anything. So which Cleveland secondary are we getting this week?
Everything in this game screams Cleveland. And this actually might be my favorite bet of the weekend.
First off, Murray is not right. We saw last week and last season how quickly Arizona’s offense could go down the drain when he’s not 100%.
Second, Cleveland should dominate this game on the ground, moving the chains, sustaining long drives, and keeping Murray and Arizona’s offense on the sideline.
Finally, even the weather seems to be playing into Cleveland’s hands, as winds averaging 20 miles per hour are expected along Lake Erie, making things even harder on Arizona’s air raid offense.
I also like that Cleveland is coming off a devastating loss, which makes me think they’ll be fully focused on a bounce-back effort.
Lay the points with the Browns before this number gets too high.
PICK: Browns -3
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