Just when you think things can’t get any tougher for the Arizona Cardinals, they do. This week, the Cardinals will travel to the Mile High City to battle the Denver Broncos. Both teams come in off a bye week, but some of Arizona’s injured players didn’t progress as much as expected during the time off. QB Carson Palmer actually regressed and it looks like he’ll be on the sidelines for some time now. RB Andre Ellington continues to nurse a foot injury, something that will likely hinder him for the entire 2014 campaign.
Arizona defeated a tough opponent two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers, but will be stepping up in class this week on the road in Denver. Meanwhile, the Broncos were last seen losing against the Seattle Seahawks after a furious second-half comeback came up just short. Denver has been dealing with injuries of its own, but appears to be in better shape than the Cardinals. WR Wes Welker has had extra time to recoup from a concussion and there are no other significant players on this week’s injury report.
QB Peyton Manning vs. Cardinals Secondary
Manning will always be a key matchup for opposing defenses, because stopping the Broncos starts with stopping Manning. Any by stopping, we really mean slowing him down. Manning hasn’t been as dominate as he was a year ago, but that was to be expected with a tougher schedule in 2014. That said, Manning still ranks fourth in the NFL in passer rating (108.5) and ninth in passing yards per game (271).
The strength of Arizona’s rejuvenated defense over the past two years has been stopping the run (72 yards per game, good for fourth-best in the NFL) but it hasn’t been quite as stout against the pass. The Cardinals rank 18th against opposing passing attacks, allowing just under 245 yards per contest. To have a shot at pulling the upset, Arizona will need to step up its performance in the secondary.
The Cardinals should be able to stop RB Monte Ball and company with relative ease (Denver averages only 75 yards per game rushing), so look for them to devote extra resources in pass defense to try and keep Manning under wraps.
Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd vs. Broncos Secondary
We could easily call out Drew Stanton here, but felt it more appropriate to focus on Fitzgerald and Floyd against a soft Denver secondary. The Broncos enter Sunday’s matchup ranked 31st against the pass allowing 285 yards per game Stanton has been an admirable fill in for the injured Palmer and has made significant strides each week under center. It will be up to Fitzgerald and Floyd, however, to make things easier for Stanton by getting open down the field.
Rookie wideout John Brown can also be a difference maker here. Brown has emerged as a legitimate threat, particularly in the slot, and could give the Broncos a taste of their own medicine in three wide receiver sets. Look for Brown and Fitzgerald to find some room underneath but the real task will be up to Floyd stretching the field. If he’s able to accomplish that, it will open things up for Stanton and also for Ellington on the ground.
Cardinals are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 road games.
Cardinals are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games following a S.U. win.
Cardinals are 5-2-1 ATS in their last 8 games as a road underdog of 3.5-10.0.
Cardinals are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games overall.
Broncos are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games overall.
Broncos are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games in Week 5.
Broncos are 7-21 ATS in their last 28 games as a home favorite of 3.5-10.0.
Broncos are 16-35-2 ATS in their last 53 games as a home favorite.
All of the trends point strongly in the direction of Arizona and given the resilience it’s shown over the season’s first three games, it’s easy to back those up with on-field performance. The Broncos have certainly increased their physicality over a year ago, but this Cardinals team is about as physical as they come, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Although it showed signs of life in the second half against Seattle, Denver’s offense has struggled mightily so far, particularly when compared to the prolific numbers it put up in 2013. Take Arizona and the points here as it will be a close game with the Cardinals having an outside shot to win outright.
Pick: Arizona +7.5
Score: Denver 24 Arizona 20
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