Which NFL Team is Flying Under the Radar?
By Lenn Robbins The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
Is it possible the best team in the NFL has been flying under the radar all season?
The Arizona Cardinals have the league’s best record at 9-2 and they play in the NFC’s best division, the West. That record could very easily be 10-1 had A.J. Green not stopped his route in the end zone, allowing journeyman CB Rasul Douglas to make an interception with 12 seconds left in a 24-21 Green Bay win.
The Cardinals have been without star quarterback Kyler Murray since that defeat and still managed to win 2-of-3. They had a bye last week, meaning that both Murray (ankle) and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) should be near 100-percent for Sunday’s game at the Bears.
Yet, the Cardinals continue to be an afterthought.
Perhaps it’s because the Rams were the talk of the division coming into the season after acquiring Matt Stafford?
Or the perennial success of the Seahawks, who won the division last season and figured to be a force with coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson, until the latter’s forefinger looked like it came out of a Snyder’s pretzel factory.
Or maybe there were some who believed that the 49ers had surrounded a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo with enough talent to compensate for the QB’s shortcomings?
And, of course, the Tampa Bay Dynasty was anointed the instant Super Bowl XV ended with confetti raining down on Tom Brady and that ferocious defense? The Cards? Meh.
Now here we are, heading into the stretch run of the season and the hot teams are the Patriots, with a veteran guru coach and a poised rookie quarterback, or the resurgent Chiefs or the immunized Packers. Maybe the Cardinals are overlooked because they toil in the something call the Mountain Time Zone? O.K. maybe that was a stretch. But this isn’t.
With Murray and Hopkins back, the Cardinals are eight-point favorites at the 4-7 Bears. Then comes a home game against the skidding Rams, who the Cards already defeated, 37-20 in L.A., the winless Lions, a home game against the surging Colts, a road game against the sliding Cowboys, and a home game against the Seahawks, losers of 6-of-7, including a 23-13 home setback to the Cards.
The Cardinals should be favored in every game, except perhaps that road game in Dallas, if the Cowboys get healthy (Amari Cooper, Neville Gallimore, Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence) and get back to winning. Consider that: We could be looking at a 14-win Arizona team, or better.
Yet, the loudest noise you hear out of Arizona these days is speculation that coach Kliff Kingsbury will leave his NFL team, which boasts one of the game’s most talented QBs, to return to the college ranks at an Oklahoma, which is headed to the Southeastern Conference where monsters named Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Texas A&M reside.
Too bad Rodney Dangerfield has passed away. He’d love these Cards.
SAINTS +4.5 over Cowboys – The best thing the Cowboys have going is that coach Mike McMarthy will miss the game under COVID protocols. The Saints, losers of four straight, turn to Taysom Hill at QB as the Replace Drew Brees Campaign sputters.
$Cardinals -8 at BEARS – Even Justin Fields will look on in awe and wonder, “How did he do that?” as Kyler Murray wins big in his return.
$Bucs -11 over FALCONS – Tom Brady doesn’t lose back-to-back games. Especially when Atlanta is on the back end.
$Colts -9 over TEXANS – We’ve been on the Indy bandwagon from Day 1. The Texans don’t have a bandwagon. They traded it away for a 6th-round pick in the 2023 draft.
JETS +6.5 over Eagles – The Eagles were the losing participants in one of the worst games of the season, a 13-7 eyesore to the Giants. But the Jets are coming off a win in which their rookie quarterback’s rating was 9.8. Could be another nominee for worst game of the season.
BENGALS -3 over Chargers – The Bengals seem to have rebounded from their shocking loss to the Jets and subsequent hangover loss to the Browns. The Chargers defense has gone AWOL.
DOLPHINS -4 over Giants – The Dolphins, winners of four straight, can join 30 other teams in the Wildcard hunt with a win. The Giants, with their new offensive coordinator, exploded with 264 yards of total offense in their scintillating, 13-7, win last week.
Washington Football Team +2.5 over RAIDERS – There is no analytical reason for this pick. In fact, the Raiders snapped a three-game losing streak and enjoyed a Thanksgiving Day mini bye. However, one gets the sense this WFT really enjoys playing for Ron Rivera and suddenly the team is in the playoff hunt. Huh.
$RAMS -13 over Jaguars – If the Rams are ever going to get back on track, this is it. Trevor Lawrence has struggled like most rookie QBs and LA’s defense can make a veteran QB look bad.
STEELERS +4.5 over Ravens – Steelers have lost two straight, that following a 16-16 tie against the Lions. Coach Mike Tomlin has guaranteed changes. The Ravens desperately need a better running game. Last week we said we’ll take any team getting more than a field goal in an AFC North game. Full disclosure: We lost both games.
SEAHAWKS +3.5 over 49ers – This is new territory for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, losers of three straight and 6-of-7. The 49ers will be without two of its biggest weapons – LB Fred Warner and WR Deebo Samuel. Seattle is one of the toughest places to play.
CHIEFS -10 over Broncos – So what we’re being led to believe is that the Chiefs are BAAACK. Didn’t Cam Newton make a similar proclamation? We’re buying on this one. Take Patrick Mahomes out of the equation, for a moment. The Chiefs defense has been much healthier and therefore, better of late. If Denver can’t get its run game going, 10 points will seem like a steal.
BILLS -2 over Patriots – The Bills are in a somewhat situation as the Rams. Both are home, although New England is a much stauncher opponent than Jacksonville. The Patriots game plan for success makes even the slightest spread significant. Mac Jones plays if safe. The defense is daunting. No turnovers. If Buffalo is going to win the AFC East, no less make a Super Bowl run, this is a must-win.
Vikings -7 over LIONS – Even if Dalvin Cook can’t play, the Lions are so inept. Detroit deserve better.
Home team in CAPS
$ Best bets
Last Week: 4-11; Best Bets: 0-3.
Season, 86-88-3; 9-11.