One of the league’s most disappointing teams a year ago, the Arizona Cardinals look to erase the stench of a sub-.500 record in 2016 when they open the season at the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon. Arizona won 34 games over a three-year span, capped by a 13-3 mark and NFC West title in 2015, before stumbling to a 7-8-1 mark last season.
The Cardinals have won seven in a row against the Lions and newly minted quarterback Matt Stafford, who became the league’s highest-paid player when he signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension at the end of last month. Detroit made the playoffs last season with a 9-7 mark, but it lost its final three games after Stafford dislocated a finger on his throwing hand and bowed out meekly in a first-round playoff loss in Seattle. “I’m a big, huge fan of Matthew,” said Arizona coach Bruce Arians. “I think he’s got one of the best arms in the business. He can make every single throw. He’s tough as nails.” Arians is looking for a bounce-back season from veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who figures to throw often despite the presence of third-year running back David Johnson, the NFL leader with 20 touchdowns in 2016.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Cardinals -2. O/U: 48
ABOUT THE CARDINALS (7-8-1, 2nd in NFC West): Palmer had an MVP-caliber campaign in 2015, establishing career highs in touchdowns (35), passing yards (4,671) and passer rating at 104.6 — the latter number dipping to 87.2 last season. Larry Fitzgerald turned 34 on Aug. 31, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down and remains Palmer’s top target, hauling in a combined 216 passes over the last two seasons. Speedster John Brown was slowed by injuries a year ago and is battling a quadriceps last year, but Johnson provides a lethal two-way threat after rushing for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns while hauling in 80 receptions for four more scores. Arizona features one of the league’s elite cornerback in Patrick Peterson and ranked No. 2 defensively last season, but the unit also surrendered an average of 33 points during a killer 1-4 stretch just after midseason.
ABOUT THE LIONS (9-7, 2nd in NFC North): Stafford has passed for at least 4,200 yards for six consecutive seasons and was at his best in the clutch last season, guiding Detroit to eight fourth-quarter victories before his injury and the team’s subsequent late slide. Stafford’s performance was more impressive given the retirement of all-everything wide receiver Calvin Johnson and a ground game that ranked 30th in the NFL and lost starting running back Ameer Abdullah in Week 2 to a season-ending Lisfranc injury. Golden Tate went over 1,000 yards with his third consecutive 90-catch season and will lead a receiving corps that features Marvin Jones (55 catches) and promising rookie Kenny Golladay. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was limited in practice Wednesday but is expected to play — he registered 14.5 of the team’s 43 sacks in 2015 but was held to two last season.
1. Johnson set an NFL record with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in 15 straight games.
2. Stafford was benched for the only time in his career in a 42-17 home loss to Arizona on Oct. 11, 2015.
3. LBs Markus Golden and Chandler Jones had 12.5 and 11 sacks, respectively, last season as Arizona notched a league-best 48.
PREDICTION: Cardinals 23, Lions 20