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This Sunday the Arizona Cardinals travel out east to do battle with perennial playoff contender Tennessee in the NFL’s opening weekend slate of games.
Arizona is currently a +2.5 underdog to a Titan’s squad that could be without star receiver A.J. Brown. The third year Pro Bowl standout is currently nursing a knee injury that limited his practice time this week.
Brown remains confident he’ll be ready for kickoff despite missing practice on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals enter Sunday’s match-up relatively healthy outside of LB Dennis Gardeck and WR Antoine Wesley, who are both expected to miss the opener.
The road opener at Tennessee will mark the debut of prized free agent acquisition J.J. Watt. The former Defensive Player of the Year missed the preseason slate due to a lingering hamstring but is said to be fully healthy entering week one.
Watt previously spent his entire 10-year career residing in the AFC South, while terrorizing the Titans as a member of the Houston Texans.
The O/U for the game is set at 52 total points, which is one of the highest totals for week one.
This is due much in part to the uncertainty surrounding both team’s inexperienced secondaries. For Arizona, they’ll be without presumed number one cornerback Malcolm Butler following his abrupt retirement late last month.
In addition to their cornerback quandary, the Cardinal defense will also be tasked with slowing down the league most violent runner in Derrick Henry.
Henry’s current O/U odds for projected rushing yards against the Cardinals sits at 99.5.
For assistance in keeping that number as low as possible, Arizona will lean on standout rookie LB Zaven Collins.
The first round rookie’s physical style of play will be a welcomed addition for a Cardinal defense that was a pedestrian 22nd against the run (4.6 ypc) last season.
Key Matchup: Bryon Murphy vs. Julio Jones/A.J. Brown
With Malcolm Butler no longer factoring into Arizona’s plans at cornerback, the default number one corner duties fall upon third year pro Bryon Murphy.
The former 33rd overall pick will have his hands full against perhaps the most physically dominate receiving duo in the NFL.
Expect a great deal of help from the likes of Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, and maybe even Isaiah Simmons in an attempt to slow down this pair of alpha receivers.
While it may be cliché to suggest that Cardinal QB Kyler Murray is going to produce big time fantasy production, there’s not denying that the Pro Bowl signal caller is primed for another fast start statistically.
The Cardinals have significantly upgraded Murray’s receiving core with the likes of A.J. Green and Rondale Moore. Combine that with Christian Kirk in a contract year and you could be looking at career highs for Murray across the board.
Lastly I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the addition of big Rodney Hudson upfront, who will undoubtedly aid against interior pressure that was too often prevalent with former starter Mason Cole.
Murray has been a consensus top five fantasy quarterback entering the 2021 season, and that’s not expected to change against a Titan defense that leaves much to be desired.
Projected Stats: 325 yards passing, 3 TDs, 65 yards rushing, 1 TD
Take the Cardinals and the points, as Arizona should benefit from a Titan offense in transition that will miss the presence of both Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis.
The Julio Jones addition is significant but the future Hall of Famer has never consistently played with a quarterback not named Matt Ryan.
The transition from one Ryan to the next (Ryan Tannehill) will take time.
It’s also worth noting that the Titans will no longer benefit from the standout play calling of former OC Arthur Smith, who is now the head coach of Atlanta.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal offense should be cued up for a breakout game against a Tennessee defense with minimal star players. The secondary is again underwhelming while the pass rush is led by Steeler castoff Bud Dupree.
This all adds up for a recipe of success for head coach Kliff Kingsbury who, with a win on Sunday, would move to 2-0-1 in season openers.
Cardinals 30, Titans 24
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