Thursday Night Football: Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a preview of Monday night‘s matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, courtesy of STAT Stack:


Line: Cardinals -6.5, Total: 50.5


Rise of the Phoenix

In 2015, the Arizona Cardinals went 13-3 and lost in the NFC Championship game. The next two seasons, they were sub-.500, going 15-16-1. Then, in 2018, the wheels came off after they drafted QB Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick and the team went 3-13. The season went so poorly that the head coach Steve Wilks was fired in the same calendar year that he was hired; Wilks was hired in January of 2018 and fired in December of 2018.

The team decided to go outside the box and hire an up-and-coming college coach out of Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury. And rather than ride it out with Rosen simply because they used so much draft capital on him, the Cardinals immediately moved on and used the #1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft on Kyler Murray, who was the also the 9th overall pick in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft and was planning to pursue baseball before his Heisman-winning season in 2018. Many analysts opined that because of his size (5-foot-10, 207 pounds), it was a mistake for Murray to play football and a mistake by the Cardinals to take him first overall. So the team now had a head coach that didn’t fit the prototypical mold and a quarterback who didn’t either.

Despite a 5-10-1 season in 2019, Murray was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and the team scored 361 points, which was 136 more than the league-worst 225 they scored in 2018. Last year, the Cardinals had a promising 6-3 start to the season, but a lingering shoulder issue seemed to bother Murray as his played tailed off towards the end of the year and the team finished 8-8. Despite his size, and the limitations of the shoulder injury, Murray has yet to miss a start in his 3-year NFL career.

That brings us to this season, where the Cardinals are 7-0 and Murray is the current betting favorite to win the league’s MVP award. Back in 2018, when the Cardinals had Josh Rosen at quarterback and Steve Wilks as their head coach, the team had the worst offense in the NFL. They scored 225 points for the season with 24 offensive touchdowns. This season, through seven games, the Cardinals have scored … 225 points with 26 offensive touchdowns.  The 2021 Arizona Cardinals are averaging four more points in the FIRST HALF (18.4) than the 2018 Cardinals averaged for the ENTIRE GAME (14.1).

It’s a simple formula in the NFL: get the right head coach and pair him with the right quarterback and you just might win some games. It might be simple, but it sure isn’t easy. If it was, the Jets would probably be a lot better.


Rodgers as an Underdog

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have been an underdog more than you’d think; since the start of the 2019 season, it has happened eight times in the regular season. In all eight games, the Packers were the road team and they were 6-2 against-the-spread (winning each of the six games straight-up). The Cardinals are currently 6.5-point favorites; if that number gets to 7, it would be just the second time in his entire career that Rodgers started a game as an underdog of at least 7 points in the regular season (2018 against the Rams — Packers lost but covered the spread). In fact, Rodgers has been an underdog of at least 6 points only three times prior to this week, and he’s 2-1 ATS with the only loss coming at Arizona in 2015.

On the other side, the Cardinals are one of the hottest spread teams in football, covering eight of their last 11, including five straight. They are 6-1 vs. the number so far this season. In addition, the under has cashed in nine of their past 14 contests.

As far as how the tickets and money have been dispersed, 54% of the bets and 69% of the money is on Arizona. The Cards opened as a 3-point favorite but the Davante Adams news (more below), coupled with the heavy action on the NFL’s last unbeaten team, has pushed it to 6.5. And, while 67% of the tickets are on the over, 52% of the money (including sharp money) is on the under. That’s likely the cause for the movement there, as the total opened at 53 and now sits around 50.


No Davante, No … Problem??

Adams was placed on the COVID-19 list this week and will miss Thursday Night’s showdown between two of the best teams in the NFC. Understandably, many believe that Adams’ absence will have a major impact on the outcome of the game … how could it not? He has caught more than one-third of the passes that Aaron Rodgers has completed this season (52 of 151). He’s accounted for 44% of the yards that Rodgers has thrown for (744 of 1,710). Adams has also caught three touchdown passes and 35 of his 52 receptions have been for a first down. According to Next Gen Stats, of the team’s total air yards, Adams has been targeted for 43.8%, the fourth-highest share in the NFL. His 73 targets are tied for second with DJ Moore (Cooper Kupp has the most with 81), as are his 52 catches (tied with Tyreek Hill and again trailing Kupp, 56).

Since Adams entered the league in 2014, he’s been incredibly durable. He’s never played fewer than 12 games in a season and out of a possible 119 games, he’s appeared in 107. Aaron Rodgers has started a game without Davante Adams only 10 times since the team drafted Adams, and that includes a Week 17 game in which Rodgers only threw five passes and then was lifted for rest (we will remove that game for the following statistics). And believe it or not, in the nine full games that Rodgers has been without Adams, the Packers are 9-0. Rodgers has been very good in those games, as well, completing 68% of his passes for 287.2 yards per game and has an overall touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22-to-3. He’s thrown a touchdown on 7.4% of his passes and an interception on 1.0% without Adams, and his passer rating is 115.5.

Those numbers are all better than Rodgers’ numbers with Adams since 2014. Last season, Adams missed two games (Weeks 3 and 4 against the Saints and Falcons). In those two games, Rodgers completed 48 of 65 throws (73.8%) for 610 yards, 7 TD and 0 INT. It’s worth noting that in the game against the Saints, WR Allen Lazard had a career-high 146 yards; Lazard will also miss this game against the Cardinals due to COVID-19 protocols. It’s also worth noting that both Lazard and Adams missed the game against the Falcons and TE Robert Tonyan had a career-high 98 yards. Tonyan will also … just kidding, Tonyan will play. And probably makes a good fantasy starter this week for those who are so inclined…

So, the Packers are better without Davante Adams then, right? Obviously not. Rodgers is an elite passer and although nine games seem like a lot, it’s still a small sample size that we shouldn’t overreact to; Adams has played 100 games with Rodgers, compared to the 9 that Rodgers has played without him. But our job is to provide the info and the context and allow you, the reader, to do with those numbers what you will.

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