The Zona Zone: Arizona Cardinals 2022 Season Preview
With the NFL kicking off today, there's no better time to give my overall predictions for the Arizona Cardinals 2022 season. With a horrible end to 2021, no real problems answered on the offensive line and cornerback spots, and more questions to start this season than last season, things are looking bleak for the Cardinals in 2022. Regardless, I am hopeful the Cards will figure things out and have a strong finish for the first time since Kliff has been at the helm of this franchise. Let's take a look at what could go right and wrong for Arizona in 2022 in the first edition of the Zona Zone!
Photo: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Season High and Lows
The good news is the Cardinals bring back a lot of starters from a year ago. Offensively, Kyler inked one of the largest contracts in NFL history and is prime position for an MVP season. Yes, he won't have D-Hop for the first 6 games, but with the addition of college teammate Marquise Brown, breakout candidate in Greg Dortch, and Zach Ertz returning for his first full season with the Cardinals, he'll have more than enough weapons to make ends meet until his return. James Conner also takes over as an every-down back and Trey McBride should be a serviceable backup tight end. Defensively, JJ Watt should lead this unit and be able to stay healthy for most of the season, while Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson pair up as one of the top safety duos in the league.
The bad news is this team lacks much needed depth, especially on the offensive line, edge rushing unit, and cornerback positions. Pair that with Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury getting major extensions, even though they haven't lived up to expectations, it's hard to see future success with this team as long as they are running the show. It'll take a lot for this team surprise a lot of people, so here's to hoping they'll figure it out.
Besides some of the big names like Kyler Murray, James Conner, and Marquise Brown, there are some other hidden gems on this Cardinals team that people may be overlooking. Since his first game with Arizona in 2021, Ertz finished with the 4th most points among all tight ends from Week 7 to Week 18 in PPR formats (5th in standard). With a full offseason to work with Kyler, he should keep on that pace, even with Trey McBride breathing down his neck for reps.
I am hesitant with James Conner since he is very touchdown dependent, but with him being the every-down back this year, he should see similar production, and may even see a higher yardage total from a season ago. Still, I would avoid playing him and try to trade him early in the season. Another strong candidate is D-Hop. When he was healthy from Week 1 to Week 7, D-Hop had the 12th most fantasy points in PPR formats among all wide receivers (10th in standard). With his Week 7 return this season, D-Hop in a sneaky trade acquisition option leading up to his return, and his production could pay off heavily, no matter who you give up for him.
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Key Breakout Players
It's a make or break year for plenty of players on this roster. I'll be naming three offensive and defensive players to watch out for this season.
Kyler Murray - just inked a huge contract, has played like an MVP sometimes, while also playing like a bottom tier QB at other times.
James Conner - needs to prove he's more than a TD machine, needs to have a better contribution in the pass game.
Rondale Moore - needs to prove he's more than a gadget player and can be an every-down slot receiver.
Isaiah Simmons - he has the most to prove out of everyone on this roster, has to be a top-10 playmaker like he was drafted to be, or he'll be a free agent come 2024.
Byron Murphy - had a good season last year, but now needs to show he's a true CB1 and can cover anyone the Cardinals ask him to.
Dennis Gardeck - he's normally a backup, but he needs to step up big as a situational pass rusher; he was the most efficient pass rusher in 2020, and then became the least efficient in 2021.
Week 1 Preview
There are plenty of key players out for the Cardinals this week, namely Rondale Moore, Trayvon Mullen, and possibly JJ Watt, and that could do a big blow to both sides of the ball. Kyler will have the majority of his offensive line healthy, but he Chiefs front seven looks much better this year than in 2021. Kyler should still do some damage with Hollywood, AJ Green, Greg Dortch, and Zach Ertz running routes all game long, and I hope he uses his legs more this game and this season.
Defensively, our pass rush looks terrible, as Dennis Gardeck and Markus Golden will lead the way if JJ Watt doesn't play. Add that with a subpar interior and a questionable coverage unit, the Chiefs are most likely gonna have a field day against our defense. If Isaiah Simmons makes a major leap and can hold Kelce to minimal targets, we may have a chance to stay in the game.
Overall, this game doesn't look good. Kyler will need to carry this offense on every drive, and even that may not be enough to keep up with a fresh and explosive Chiefs offense. I have Kansas City winning this one, 34-24, giving Kliff Kingsbury his first Week 1 loss of his NFL career.
Photo: AP Photo/Brett Carlsen
Game by Game Breakdown
Week 1: Cardinals vs Chiefs
I already broke this one down above, Cardinals drop Week 1, 34-24.
Week 2: Cardinals (0-1) at Raiders
Similar to Week 1, the Cardinals will deal with another explosive AFC West offense. No corner on this roster can keep up with Davante Adams, and Hunter Renfrow is too crisp of a route runner to be stopped by anyone other than Budda Baker. Similar to the Chiefs, Simmons will be tasked with stopping Darren Waller, which is a rarity in the NFL. The one silver lining is the Raiders offensive line is garbage and their secondary is also suspect. It'll be a close one, but I have the Cardinals winning this one 28-24.
Week 3: Cardinals (1-1) vs Rams
Rams struggled Week 1 against the Bills, but that won't be the case Week 3. Kupp looks even better than last season, and if Stafford can spread the ball out even more, they should have no issue picking apart the Cardinals defense. The one good thing is that they should have Antonio Hamilton back by then, and he had a very impressive camp. It won't help much, but will make the beating a little better than expected. Rams with this one handily 28-14.
Week 4: Cardinals (1-2) at Panthers
I love Baker on the Panthers and think they have a lot of good going for their franchise, but Kyler has bested him both times they've played in their careers. Their defense should be at full strength, and besides the absence of D-Hop, this offense should be hitting it's stride by now after playing some tough defenses to start the year. Cardinals win this one 30-24.
Week 5: Cardinals (2-2) vs Eagles
I think the Eagles look very solid over the course of the season, and the Cardinals will be one of the few teams to give them problems. It's gonna be a close one, but Jalen Hurts is destined to break out this year and has the weapons to do so. Another case of the Cardinals defense not being able to keep up with an explosive offense. Eagles win this one 30-17.
Photo: AP Photo/Roger Steinman
Week 6: Cardinals (2-3) at Seahawks
Seahawks are prime to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season. It's an away divisional matchup, so it'll be closer than expected, but I still have the Cardinals winning this one with relative ease right before D-Hop's return. Give it Zona with a late TD to put it away, 33-20.
Week 7: Cardinals (3-3) vs Saints
This game will be a test. The Saints are solid at every position, and Michael Thomas should get back to 2018/2019 form. With that said, D-Hop should have a massive game in his first healthy game in nearly a year, and that should be enough to give the Cardinals the edge. It'll be a shootout, but the Cardinals win on a game winner from Matt Prater, 38-35.
Week 8: Cardinals (4-3) at Vikings
With a new coaching regime and a beefed up front seven, the Vikings could give the Cardinals plenty of issues with schemes and matchups. The Vikings biggest issue is their secondary and offensive line, which the Cardinals should be able to exploit similar to how they did a season ago. Cardinals take this one 28-21.
Week 9: Cardinals (5-3) vs Seahawks
Three weeks later and little should change. Now with the Cardinals at home and D-Hop on the roster, this should be a blowout. Cardinals win big 41-20.
Week 10: Cardinals (6-3) at Rams
It's very hard to beat a team twice in one season, and I think the Cardinals exact their revenge on the Rams. D-Hop should torch Ramsey like Diggs did in Week 1, and everything else should fall into place. This defense should be locked in with a solid scheme at this point in the season, and Stafford will have an off game. Cardinals win a close one, 21-20.
Photo: Chris Coduto/Getty Images
Week 11: Cardinals (7-3) vs 49ers
The 49ers are one of the biggest question mark teams in the league, mainly due to Trey Lance running the offense. The Cardinals gave him a handful last season, and should do the same the first time these two teams meet. Deebo and Kittle will get theirs, but this offense should light up this secondary, and Hollywood will have a career day in Week 11. Cardinals win big 38-20.
Week 12: Cardinals (8-3) vs Chargers
The Chargers are one of the top teams in the league, and that will be put on display right before the Cardinals bye week. An unexpected 6-game win streak comes to a close in a rout by the Chargers, with a final score of 43-24.
Week 14: Cardinals (8-4) vs Patriots
Coming out of the bye week, the Cardinals will be ramped up and healthy to take on a unpredictable Pats squad. This will be the mastermind of Belichick vs the athletic prowess of Kyler Murray. Expect this to be a low scoring bought, with the Cardinals winning 14-9.
Week 15: Cardinals (9-4) at Broncos
If one thing stays consistent, it's that Russell Wilson cooks the Cardinals at least once a year. Being that this will be the only time these two teams face off this year, he'll do exactly that. Russ should put up big numbers against a shallow secondary, and this defense will be too much for the Cards to handle. Broncos take the W, 27-14.
Photo: Derrick Spencer/Arizona Cardinals
Week 16: Cardinals (9-5) vs Buccaneers
For the first time in his career, Kyler matches up against the GOAT in Tom Brady. It'll be an offensive explosion for both teams, but I have the Cardinals taking the win in OT, by a score of 41-38.
Week 17: Cardinals (10-5) at Falcons
This matchup has "trap game" written all over it. At this point, Marcus Mariota will either have proven he's a capable NFL starter and he was more than worth the #2 overall pick back in 2015, or Desmond Ridder will have won the job by now. I'll go with the latter, and his playmaking ability will give the Cardinals some headaches. Add in young offensive weapons and an underrated defense, this game will be closer than normal. Cardinals escape with a late TD, 24-20.
Week 18: Cardinals (11-5) at 49ers
Like I said earlier, it's very hard to win against the same twice, and considering it's the season finale in your division rival's house, the Cardinals will fall short in this one. Trey Lance should have a big game here to cap off his first season as a starter, and the 49ers will emerge victorious 31-16.
The Cards finish with an 11-6 record, but they should play a competent team in the Wild Card Round. I see the Cardinals capped at a Divisional Round exit, and may very likely get knocked out before then, which will end the 2 year streak of the Super Bowl host taking the Lombardi home.
This is a major make or break year for the Cards. With Kyler Murray's new contract, they really only have one or two seasons after this one to make a push, and this one will lay the groundwork to make that happen. The Cardinals have low expectations this season, and should exceed the majority of them.