|Cardinals Odds||+3 (-120)|
|Titans Odds||-3 (+100)|
|Time||1 p.m. ET|
|Odds via DraftKings. Find up-to-the-minute NFL odds here.|
In 2020, Arizona started the season as the next young team ready to take a leap. Leading the offense to new heights, Kyler Murray looked like the next young QB ready to push for MVP consideration.
A shoulder injury to Murray derailed the Cardinals’ season and left them sputtering to a .500 finish. Now, healthy again, Murray will look to lead a revamped Cardinals roster to another fiery start.
Tennessee faced the opposite problem. It had earned its place among the good in 2020, but a predictable offense and weak defense held the Titans back from great. To solve their blandness on offense, the Titans made a splashy move and added stud receiver Julio Jones. Jones will bring an extra dimension to their offense, but the defense still needs to show it can improve — even if that is from bad to average.
Both teams enter this year with hopes of breaking through to the next level behind their gifted offenses. However, questions on defense could hold either back. This sets the stage for a shootout to start Week 1. Let’s look deeper to see if that is the right angle to take.
Cardinals Could Be Susceptible To The Pass
Murray’s injury proved to be the ultimate damper to Arizona’s explosive start. His throwing numbers dipped, and he avoided rushing to prevent further damage. A full offseason should have given his shoulder enough time to heal and have Murray back to throwing like he did early last year. However, we will need to see if he continues to avoid injury risk by electing to limit his rushes.
Murray’s injury may have hurt Arizona to end the year, but the front office was sold on what it saw. Excited by their young QB, the Cardinals pushed their chips to the middle of the table to win now. Following their aggressive mindset, the Cardinals signed J.J. Watt and A.J. Green and traded for Rodney Hudson early in free agency.
In the draft, their first two picks were LB Zaven Collins and WR Rondale Moore. As a first-round linebacker, Collins’ main focus will be helping a run defense that ranked 25th in yards per carry allowed. Moore will have much bigger shoes to fill, as he will be replacing Larry Fitzgerald as the Cardinals slot receiver.
Defensively, the Cardinals need to find a solution against the pass. While Arizona built up many of its weakest units, little was done at cornerback. Not only were there no major additions, but Arizona also lost Patrick Peterson to the Vikings. What remains is not a pleasant site. Below is a snapshot from Mike Clay about Arizona’s current cornerback room.
Cardinals CB situation:
Byron Murphy (2019 2nd)
Robert Alford (did not play in 19-20)
Marco Wilson (Rd 4 rookie)
Tay Gowan (Rd 6 rookie)
Luq Barcoo (’20 UDFA)
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 2, 2021
Against the Titans, those young corners will be put to the test trying to stop Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. If Watt and Chandler Jones don’t wreak havoc as expected, the Titans may have a field day on offense. Fortunately, Murray and the Cardinals offense will have the same opportunity against the Titans defense.
Titans Must Bridge Gap Between Offense And Defense
The Titans relied on their run game as the cornerstone of their offensive and defensive game plan last season. On offense, the run set up the pass and created easy opportunities for the Titans’ athletic playmakers. On defense, the Titans knew no one could stop their rushing attack. So, just one turnover and they could run the clock out.
While this game plan helped boost Tennessee to the echelon of good teams, its playoff performances showed the separation from great. Once a team stopped Derrick Henry, the offense would come to a halt and that was it.
In response to their playoff struggles, the Titans added future Hall of Famer Julio Jones. The combination of Jones and A.J. Brown gives Tennessee two elite playmakers who both demand double coverage. Even if a coordinator chooses to play two deep to slow both receivers, the running lanes will be wide open for Henry. These elite threats will cause sleepless nights for opposing coordinators every week.
Adding Jones did not come without its own cost to the offense though. Tennessee lost both its second- and third-leading receivers from last season as Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith left in free agency. Worse than losing personnel, the brains behind the operation, Arthur Smith, moved on to become head coach of the Falcons. This leaves Tennessee with a lot of talent but a first-year coordinator in Todd Downing to piece it together.
Defensively, the Titans did use resources to boost one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Bud Dupree and Denico Autry were the two big signings to help pressure QBs. The duo combined for 15.5 sacks last season.
As for the backend, Tennessee brought in Janoris Jenkins and spent its first pick on Caleb Farley to help in coverage. This might lead to an improvement over the course of the year but, early on, new players in a new system could spell trouble.
Similar to the Cardinals, a dynamic offense is paired with a defense full of questions. The good news for Tennessee is the defense may just need time to gel, and the offense can carry the load until it is up to speed.
The question marks on defense for both teams make backing either a risky proposition. However, looking at the total, the over appears to have some value.
For Tennessee’s offense, no team, let alone the Cardinals defense, can match the Titans’ talent. Also, the big-play potential of Jones, Brown and Henry can create big plays late, even as they milk the clock.
For Arizona’s offense, it has the cheat code of DeAndre Hopkins. The attention given to Hopkins will allow A.J. Green to face single coverage for the first time in his career. Last year, Green did look far from his usual self. However, his size and route-running should still cause problems for any individual defender.
Back a shootout in Nashville to start the season. I’d play this up to 53.5.
Pick: Over 52.5 (-110) at DraftKings
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