Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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WEEK 1 BAL at DEN (THU) GB at SF *NE at BUF *TB at NYJ

Prediction: ARI 17, STL: 27 (Line: STL by 4.5)

Players of Interest: All ARI wideouts, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook

The Rams swept the Cardinals in 2012, winning 17-3 at home and later 31-17 in Arizona. This should by a fascinating matchup since both teams know each other well, but the Cardinals will be sporting a new offense with a couple of new players and the Rams enter the second season under HC Jeff Fisher with their own additions to the offense. That is still likely to not be enough to counteract the poor road record of the Cardinals but it will help better understand how the changes are impacting their respective offenses.

1 @STL - 10 HOU -
2 DET - 11 @JAC -
3 @NO - 12 IND -
4 @TB - 13 @PHI -
5 CAR - 14 STL -
6 @SF - 15 @TEN -
7 SEA - 16 @SEA -
8 ATL - 17 SF -
9 BYE WEEK ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
ARI @ STL Rush Catch Pass
QB Carson Palmer 280,1
RB Chris Johnson 60 4-20
WR Larry Fitzgerald 6-90,1
WR Michael Floyd 5-70
TE Jermaine Gresham 2-20

Pregame Notes: The Cardinals are all new this with Bruce Arians bringing his offensive mastermind style to the desert where offense has all but disappeared. New players and new schemes all around no doubt take time to come to fruition but the team looks vastly upgraded even before it ever steps onto the field. The 1-7 road record of 2012 makes this one a tough challenge for an opener. Opening with a new offense is always hard on the opposing defense, but the Cardinals have a long way to go back to respectability and start away from home makes a win this week a tall order.

QUARTERBACKS: The Cardinals have produced one of the worst passing attacks for the last couple of seasons as the team tried to convince themselves that Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Derek Anderson could get the job done. They could not. The team has languished in mediocrity since Kurt Warner left so now the upgrade is with Carson Palmer who comes off a 4018 yard season in Oakland which is more akin to 6000 yards considering what he had to work with there.

Bottom line - Palmer gives the Cards at least an average quarterback and maybe better. With Larry Fitzgerald already an elite wideout, the move was needed and will produce an improvement over the last three years. How much is what remains to be seen but at least Bruce Arians knows offense and that will translate into better stats for all.

RUNNING BACKS: There is optimism that the rushing game will improve this year if only because it was so bad last season. Then again - when was the last time it wasn't sub-standard? Rashard Mendenhall comes over from the Steelers where he produced three straight 1000 yard seasons before an Achilles injury robbed him of much of last year. Mendenhall twisted a knee in training camp as well but he's clearly the best runner on a team that has only every-injured Ryan Williams and the rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington for depth. The offensive line is also a work in progress after spending a few seasons of poor performance. New offense will want to rely on the rushing effort but how well Mendenhall can produce will be as much up to the offensive line as it does Mendenhall.

WIDE RECEIVERS: As has been the case for many years, here lies the strength of the offense and really the only hope for winning games. Larry Fitzgerald comes off a career worst season but Carson Palmer holds the promise of better stats. Amazingly, Fitzgerald was limited to only 798 yards and four scores last year after five straight 1000 yard seasons. Back in the Warner days, Fitzgerald was good for up to 1400 yards and double digit touchdowns. He won't be alone either. Andre Roberts is a serviceable #2 but he drops to the #3 while Michael Floyd steps up after a disappointing rookie season of 45-562-2. Floyd has been talked up by the coaches in training camp this year and the ex-Notre Dame star was the 1.13 pick of the 2012 draft. There is plenty of talent here to create a very dangerous tandem if Palmer can provide the firepower.

Fitzgerald hauled in eight passes for 92 yards in St. Louis last year.

TIGHT ENDS: Rob Housler enters his third season and while he received some hype, chances are it was pretty hollow. Housler only managed a stat line of 45-417-0 last year and still has yet to score in the NFL. It is a new offense being installed but the Cardinals have never had a decent tight end since, oh, they moved from Chicago in 1960. Housler is currently out with a high ankle sprain anyway.

MATCH AGAINST THE DEFENSE: The Cardinals are installing a new offense and have never been much on the road. The Rams defense was barely average last year but should continue to improve with CB Cortland Finnegan and LC James Laurinaitus. This week could be better since the Rams have not had much to go on to prepare for the new offensive scheme but it's unlikely that anything is going to work well outside of the wideouts. Last year both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady had big games in St. Louis but the other six games allowed just a total of one touchdown. Figure on better days ahead for Palmer and the rest but this should be a tougher game than most. It is not nearly as much fun playing the Rams since Jeff Fisher took over. We'll know more about the Cardinals after this week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Whatever Carson Palmer does with the ball is notable. Specifically, he needs to first connect with Larry Fitzgerald early and often but also employ Michael Floyd who should be a big-time talent just waitnig for an accurate pass.

Gaining Fantasy Points ARI 30 32 17 28 27 10
Preventing Fantasy Points STL 15 22 9 23 21 12


1 ARI - 10 @IND -
2 @ATL - 11 BYE WEEK
3 @DAL - 12 CHI -
4 SF - 13 @SF -
5 JAC - 14 @ARI -
6 @HOU - 15 NO -
7 @CAR - 16 TB -
8 SEA - 17 @SEA -
9 TEN - ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
vs Rush Catch Pass
WR Tavon Austin 6-80,1
WR Kenny Britt 3-40
WR Chris Givens 4-70,1
TE Jared Cook 5-70
PK Greg Zuerlein 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The Rams enter into 2013 with a defense that has greatly improved and a completely retooled offense. Surprisingly the Rams did not elect to really replace the departed Steven Jackson other than fill in with the depth already on the roster. The Rams were 4-4 at home last year but owned the Cardinals like most opponents. The big difference this year is that no longer is this a run-first attack using Jackson. It now joins the rest of the league with a pass-first scheme that now has plenty of targets for Sam Bradford.

QUARTERBACKS: Sam Bradford still has yet to build upon his Rookie of the Year performance but much of that has been a glaring lack of receivers. Last year the Rams drafted Brian Quick and Chris Givens but only Givens ended up to be any sort of difference maker. Bradford spent the season throwing for roughly 220 yards and maybe two scores each week. An average showing to be sure but 2013 now has Bradford entering his fourth season. He now gets to throw to a second-year Givens, first wideout in the draft in Tavon Austin and they brought in Jared Cook as the wideout who gets to lineup as a tight end. Add in the absence of Steven Jackson and there is every reason to expect at least incremental improvement in the passing effort that could be significant once it all comes together.

Bradford passed for 141 yards and two scores on the visiting Cardinals last year. He later had 205 yards and two scores in Arizona.

RUNNING BACKS: It is somewhat interesting that Jeff Fisher did not grab an early rookie back from the draft this year though the batch was not considered stellar this year and none went in the first round. Instead he looks to replace Jackson with one of the two rookies he drafted in 2012. Isaiah Pead was the highly drafted (2.18) runner with the pedigree who just never got the job done and Daryl Richardson who was nearly an afterthought as the 7.45 pick in that draft and the final back selected in 2012. But RIchardson has consistently outplayed Pead. The offseason had reports that Pead was the likely #1 in a committee approach but same as last year he stumbled and Richardson just won't go away.

For the first week, the projection will only be for Richardson though there will be a committee at play here - the only question is the ratio between Richardson and Pead which will likely depend on in-game production.

The Rams never scored a rushing touchdown on the Cardinals last year but Steven Jackson ran for over 80 yards in both match-ups.

WIDE RECEIVERS: All eyes will be on Tavon Austin who was the first wideout selected in the 2013 season and comes off back-to-back 100+ reception seasons at West Virginia despite his more diminutive size of 5-8 and 175 pounds. He'll likely play on special teams as well given his eye-popping open field ability. Chris Givens takes the #2 role here though he may well end up with the most receptions on the team. Austin Pettis will take the #2 since Brian Quick still cannot climb the depth charts. Rookie Steadman Bailey should also play at least occasionally. This is by far the best set of wideouts that Bradford has ever been given.

TIGHT ENDS: The optimism with the wideouts is matched by the hoped-for boost by acquiring Jared Cook from the Titans in the offseason. That re-unites him with the coach that initially drafted him and Cook is 6-5 and only 248 - built to be a receiver and less just another blocker. Cook is another tight end blessed with the height of a tight end and yet the speed of a wideout. This will be interesting to track because the expectations are high in St. Louis about what Cook can bring to the table.

MATCH AGAINST THE DEFENSE: The Cardinals are installing a new defense but they have much the same players from 2012 when they played top ten defense across the board. LB Daryl Washington starts the year with a four game suspension but Karlos Dansby was brought in and will cover for him. Both starting safeties are gone but SS Yeremiah Bell and FS Rashad Johnson should get the job done. The defense is mostly defined by Patrick Peterson who remains perhaps the best cover corner in the league. He should match on Austin or Pettis (though that would be a waste). There is speculation that the Rams intend on using Austin much more heavily than they have let on as well.

For the first week out, the match between a newly-stocked offense and a new defense is hard to reliably make. Even the match-up for Peterson could be tough. But with the likelihood that the Rams will not have a dominating rushing game this week means it is reasonable to consider Givens, Austin and Cook for the season opener at home.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tavon Austin had 100+ catch seasons in college but will he be used as a possession guy or more as a gimmick all over the field running and receiving and playing special teams? Jared Cook is another must witness since he should be a big part of the game plan to justify his expense and use his talent.

Gaining Fantasy Points STL 22 26 12 26 29 7
Preventing Fantasy Points ARI 3 10 11 1 15 32

WEEK 1 BAL at DEN (THU) GB at SF *NE at BUF *TB at NYJ

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