The Arizona Cardinals are coming into the 2021 season with some high expectations. They started 2020 with a record of 6-3, but ended the season with a whimper, going 2-5 the rest of the way.
Kyler Murray’s nagging injuries were a big reason for the decline in performance, as the offense was stuck in the mud without his ability to run the football. After scoring at least 30 points six times the first eight games of the season, Arizona accomplished that only once in the last eight games.
The Cardinals will look to put that behind them this season and get over the hump. The NFC West looks like it will be one of the strongest divisions in the NFL, so they will be battle-tested throughout the season.
Here are three reasons that the Cardinals are legitimate Super Bowl contenders this year.
3. Kyler Murray Will Emerge As MVP Candidate
Kyler Murray started the season with a breakneck pace. The Cardinals were 6-2 and he was a big reason why teams couldn’t slow him down, whether it was through the air or on the ground with his legs. But, once a nagging injury crept up, Murray became more one-dimensional and the Cardinals’ offense struggled.
Murray ran the ball double-digit times only once in the final eight games after doing it five times the first eight. He averaged nearly 11 rushing attempts per game the first half of the season and only 5.8 times the second half.
Through eight games, Murray was right in the thick of the MVP race. That should happen again in 2021 as long as he remains healthy. He is a true dual-threat that can easily surpass 4,200 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards this season.
2. J.J. Watt Legitimizes The Defense
The Arizona Cardinals defense lost a key veteran piece when Patrick Peterson departed for the Minnesota Vikings in free agency. However, they were able to add an impact defender in J.J. Watt to help offset that loss.
Watt has battled some injuries in recent seasons but was able to play in all 16 games in 2020. While he recorded only 5.0 sacks, the least amount he has had when playing all 16 games, he will help legitimize the Cardinals defense and could see a career revival in Arizona.
Chandler Jones, another incredible pass rusher, will be bookending him on the defensive line and will have something to prove after being able to play in only five games himself. Markus Golden and Devon Kennard are two more solid pass rushers from the linebacker position. Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins will bring some versatility to the group as well.
Watt’s presence will help the rest of those players flourish. With a shaky secondary, the Cardinals will need Watt and the rest of the front seven to get after the quarterback with some consistency.
1. Offense And Kliff Kingbury Are A Scary Force
Kliff Kingsbury was looking to revolutionize the NFL game with the air raid offense he brought with him from Texas Tech. Entering his third season, the offense should start clicking now that he has had three offseasons to shape the roster to fit his scheme.
Kyler Murray looks the part of a stud quarterback and runs the offense to perfection. Being in his third season will only improve his command of the offense. He also has improved talent around him. The backup quarterback position was also shored up with veteran Colt McCoy being brought in to help in case Murray suffers an injury again.
Veteran A.J. Green was signed in free agency and Rondale Moore was selected in the second round to help bolster the receiving group. DeAndre Hopkins remains one of the best receivers in the NFL, while Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella provide solid depth. At running back, James Conner will be replacing Kenyan Drake, making a solid one-two punch with Chase Edmonds.
With so much talent at his disposal, Kingsbury should finally be able to unleash his full offense and take the NFL by storm. This will be a difficult group to stop as long as everyone is healthy.