The Arizona Cardinals come into the 2021 season looking to improve on their 8-8 finish from last season. More importantly, the team needs a playoff berth to help head coach Kliff Kingsbury remove his feet from the fire. In only his third year as head man of the Cardinals, many believe Kingsbury is already on the hot seat.
Compiling a 13-18-1 record over his first two seasons as an NFL head coach, Kingsbury’s team needs to continue improving this year by finishing with a winning record. It’s a feat that will be much easier said than executed, given that the Cardinals play in the NFL’s toughest division.
This year, the NFC West will be rough and rugged again, likely sending two of its teams to the postseason as it did last year. The Cardinals were close to landing a postseason spot last year, but faltered down the stretch before losing that berth to the Chicago Bears.
This season must be different if Kingsbury plans on being in Arizona long-term. In my opinion, the Cardinals don’t have to win the division, but the playoffs are a must. If any division can send three teams to the playoffs, it’s the NFC West. There is hope for the Cardinals, as I see the Seattle Seahawks sliding back a bit from where they have been in recent years.
The LA Rams should be a cut above the rest, with Matthew Stafford at quarterback, along with one of the best defenses in the league. While the Cardinals can compete for a wild card spot, their six divisional games won’t be easy.
With a healthy starting QB, even the San Francisco 49ers are expected to be back in the mix of the division. Even if the Niners start rookie Trey Lance at some point this season, they’ll be able to contend for a playoff spot, if not a division title as well.
Kingsbury’s fate in Arizona all depends on the growth of Kyler Murray. Murray started the season off strong last year, but the team suffered a three-game losing streak in November, contributing to their missing the playoffs. Murray certainly should not shoulder all the blame for last season’s collapse, but he did go multiple games without throwing a touchdown pass, with two contests where he neither threw nor rushed for a TD. We know he wants to be great, but the great ones make plays under the worst of circumstances on the field.
The only way Kingsbury will be great in the NFL is if his QB is recognized as great. Kingsbury and Murray are joined at the hip. The only question is, for how much longer? If this duo can’t get it done this season, Kingsbury may be back in college calling plays on Saturdays again much sooner than he expected.