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Last weekend this blogger made his annual pilgrimage to Reno, NV, ostensibly to gauge the temperature of the sporting public regarding the Arizona Cardinals.
Cocktail servers in cheerful hairstyles and abiding grins combed the sportsbook at the Peppermill Hotel and Casino, ferrying over-iced, lower-shelf cocktails to wagering hopefuls gathered around small, round tables in the muffled calm preceding kickoff of the morning games, before the flash of 100 TV monitors set visiting hopefuls in replica jerseys aglow alongside unshaven locals burning Camels down to the butt and recounting last week’s wagering triumphs to anyone within earshot.
I observed that a bloody mary does tend to lubricate one’s thinking as one considers, say, adding woeful Jacksonville and the points to a parlay card. But soon enough I settled in, scanned the board and got down to business.
I noticed the Peppermill had installed visiting Arizona as a mere 2.5 favorite over the Detroit Lions. The oddsmakers had either lost confidence after the Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season to St. Louis the previous week or they reasoned that the Lions were due to bust out at home for their first win. Judging by the yelps that would rise up when Arizona’s Chris Johnson broke off another big run or Carson Palmer threw for one of his three touchdowns, the smart money in the room was on the Cardinals. In the end, Arizona returned to winning form and dismantled Detroit 42-17 at Ford Field, to the delight of many.
This week I’ll watch the Cardinals take on Pittsburgh in the relative quiet and fresher air of my home. Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger is still nursing a knee injury and is unlikely to play. Coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have hatched a plan, therefore, to stop backup QB Michael Vick and running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell has ripped off consecutive 100+ yard games at a nifty 5.5 yard clip. Vick’s game no longer features explosive running speed, and Arians will trust the No Fly Zone to stop Vick’s short and mid-range passing game. All defensive eyes will be on Bell whenever he touches the ball.
Aging sack machine Dwight Freeney will take the field for the first time this year. Arizona hopes he can recapture some past magic and partially replace the departed John Abraham’s 11.5 sacks of last year.
Defense aside, one can’t ignore that the 2015 Arizona Cardinals are an offensive juggernaut, scoring over 40 points in three of their first five contests. The team is healthy and weapons abound, bolstered by the return of RB Andre Ellington, who raced for a 63 yard score last week. Chris Johnson continues to impress at 5.1 yards per rush. Carson Palmer forgot to pack his knee brace last week at Detroit–really–but it will be safely attached this week to help withstand whatever menacing shots Pittsburgh blitzers might deliver.
Palmer’s QB rating of 114 has him breathing the same air as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Another strong performance, this time in the roiling cauldron of Three Rivers Stadium, will go a long way toward solidifying Arizona’s place among the NFL elite.
This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation