I don’t know about you, but I haven’t stopped watching DeAndre Hopkins’ game-winning catch on an equally impressive Hail Mary hurl from Kyler Murray. It’s the catch of the season(s) and has put almost all of the momentum in the competitive NFC West in the Arizona Cardinals’ favor.
There’s a reason teams shouldn’t get rid of an elite wide receiver for pennies, and when another gets away with such a mind-boggling trade, it’s also a big reason for its success. Hopkins’ addition—along with an improved and emerging defense and an improved and emerging young quarterback—have helped push the Cardinals into a three-way tie for the division; Arizona currently holds onto first place (with tiebreakers) but it has a chance to be in the lead outright with a win Thursday.
The rematch between the Seattle Seahawks and the surging Cardinals will not only have big implications for the NFC West but, with the expanded playoff field, it will also affect the rest of the NFC standings. There’s a good chance the three teams currently tied for the division—the Los Angeles Rams are also 6-3—will make the playoffs; there’s even a chance the San Francisco 49ers (4-6) could also make the postseason just 2.5 games back.
While the same storylines have followed each team in this division, the Cardinals are on the verge of rewriting theirs. The Seahawks’ defensive woes, frustrating play-calling, and inability to utilize Wilson as a passer and rusher have led to a 1-3 stretch that started with a 37-34 loss to the Cardinals in Week 7. The Rams are still trying to prove investing this much in a young head coach and a polarizing quarterback will pay off. The 49ers have, once again, been plagued by injuries. But the Cardinals, however, are beginning to erase some of the criticism that followed them last season. Arizona is no longer playing “pretty-boy football,” and it certainly isn’t “boring.” The Cardinals have been aggressive and a little risky; both have worked (mostly) in their favor. The Cardinals are first in total offense, averaging 425 yards per game.
“I guess that means we're doing something good,” Murray told NFL media Wednesday. “This being Week 9, we've got a lot of work to do. It's a good stat, a lot of progress from last year to this year, [but] it's a long season.”
I guess he’s right—on both accounts. The Cardinals may be racking up yards at a higher rate than any other team, but they don’t have the best offense; it’s still fairly incomplete with plenty of room for improvement. Arizona leads the league in rushing yards (with 169 per game, slightly edging out the Baltimore Ravens) but is 13th in passing yards, averaging 257 yards per game. The Cardinals are tied for sixth in scoring and are ninth in offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders.
It seems as though Arizona has been on the verge of a big breakout since the early weeks of the 2020 season, and Thursday’s matchup gives the team a chance to execute another big and season-changing win.
The Cardinals entered the year with lofty expectations. After finishing 2019 with just five wins and another fourth-place finish in the NFC West, Arizona needed to take a giant leap this season; it’s nearly there. While Murray hasn’t been perfect, he’s using his blend of strength and speed to help propel the Cardinals into contention.
What makes Thursday’s game the most compelling, besides the obvious playoff implications, is the dual-threat quarterback matchup. Murray is a young Russell Wilson and seeing the two go toe-to-toe again will bring another anxiety-ridden viewing experience for fans of both teams. Wilson may be better, more experienced, and arguably more trustworthy with the game on the line; but Murray is going up against a putrid defense. He had one of his best games of the season against the Seahawks a few weeks ago, completing 71% of his passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns for a 104.5 quarterback rating. That primetime, overtime thriller has set the stage for another exhilarating game.
Can the Cardinals truly turn the page on a forgettable past as the bottom feeders of this division? Or will the Seahawks recover and avoid losing three consecutive games for the first time in the Wilson era? The odds are currently in Seattle’s favor, but after Sunday and the string of wins Arizona has come away with late, heroic efforts from Murray—sound familiar, Seahawks fans?—etc., it’s time to stop betting against them.