With no quality quarterback to throw to him, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was a forgotten star during the Arizona Cardinals’ free-fall last season. He needed change, and it came in two forms.
The Cardinals changed coaches, turning to Bruce Arians, and brought in veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. The offensive renovation was on display last weekend, as was a rejuvenated Fitzgerald, who caught both of Palmer’s touchdown passes.
Fitzgerald had only four touchdown receptions last season, when Arizona lost 11 of its last 12 games to finish 5-11. The Cardinals’ win during that dismal stretch was a 38-10 blowout of the Detroit Lions.
The teams meet again today on the same field in Arizona, and handicapper Andy Iskoe (TheLogicalApproach.com) is siding with the Cardinals as 1½-point underdogs.
“Offense was a problem for Arizona last year,” Iskoe said. “I like what the Cardinals showed against St. Louis last week. I’m not suggesting he’s an elite quarterback, but Palmer is a proven quarterback, and they have some decent receivers to complement Fitzgerald.”
Palmer passed for 327 yards in a 27-24 loss to the Rams, who erased an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit. He will have to outduel another hot quarterback.
The Lions’ Matthew Stafford threw for 357 yards in a 34-24 victory over Minnesota.
“I like the coaching of Arians, and I think the Cardinals believe in him,” Iskoe said. “Arizona has such a tough early schedule, maybe its best-case scenario is 2-6 after eight games, and this has to be one of the two. I like the Detroit team, but I just don’t like this spot.”
Fitzgerald was bothered by a hamstring injury that limited his practice time late in the week. He is listed as questionable but expected to play today.
Iskoe analyzes the rest of today’s Week 2 schedule:
■ San Diego at Philadelphia (-7): I don’t have a play on this game. I would lean toward the Eagles, the better team. Maybe the best play on the Eagles, especially early in the season, is the first half because it takes opponents a half to adjust to coach Chip Kelly’s offense. I was looking over the total initially, but 54½ to 55 seems too high.
■ Cleveland at Baltimore (-6½): The Ravens are stepping down in class after losing at Denver, and the Browns are stepping up in class after losing a home game to Miami. I look toward Baltimore and maybe the under (44). I would expect we’ll see a better defensive effort out of the Ravens, who might have tired in the second half against the Broncos because of the heat and altitude. Cleveland’s offense still has a lot of problems.
■ Tennessee at Houston (-9): My lean is toward taking the points with the Titans, who are an improved team. Jake Locker is showing improvement as a quarterback. The Texans never have been the kind of team that blows away opponents. I’m probably not going to play this, but it could be a low-scoring game.
■ Miami at Indianapolis (-2½): When I look at these teams, I don’t see a significant amount of difference. The Colts have the better quarterback in Andrew Luck, and they have shown an ability to win close games. The Dolphins are on the road for the second straight week. Laying less than a field goal, I prefer Indianapolis.
■ Carolina (-3) at Buffalo: I don’t know if the Panthers are a mature enough team to lay points on the road. The Carolina offense didn’t find a rhythm against Seattle, and quarterback Cam Newton’s talents were not featured. Newton ran five times for 38 yards and was held to 125 yards passing. I can make a case that the Bills impressed me more last week, and I see more positives with Buffalo than I do with Carolina.
■ St. Louis at Atlanta (-6): The Rams were 11-3 against the spread as underdogs last year under coach Jeff Fisher. The Falcons have done exceptionally well with coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan when coming off a loss. I prefer to be on Atlanta, which has more offensive weapons with the addition of running back Steven Jackson. I might look over the total of 47, but I’m not sold on the St. Louis offense. I could see the Falcons winning by something along the lines of 31-21.
■ Washington at Green Bay (-7): I like the over (49½) more than I like a side. The Packers played well at San Francisco and were in the game the entire way. I don’t like what I saw of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who was tentative Monday. One of these teams is going to start 0-2, and I think it’s going to be Washington.
■ Dallas at Kansas City (-3): There is a lot more to like about the Chiefs at minus-2½, but I still prefer them at 3. The line at the LVH sports book 10 days ago was pick ’em. We’ve seen an adjustment of 2½ to 3 points based upon last week’s results. Kansas City had an impressive win at Jacksonville, though I can’t give them a tremendous amount of credit for that. This situation is more favorable for the Chiefs. There has to be concern about the health of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant, as it’s pretty clear neither will be at 100 percent.
■ Minnesota at Chicago (-6): The key to stopping the Vikings is containing running back Adrian Peterson, who had a 78-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage against Detroit but finished with 93 yards. Minnesota might be able to pressure Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. I’m not going to play this game, but I prefer taking the points with the Vikings.
■ New Orleans (-3) at Tampa Bay: I know a lot of so-called wise guys and sharps are making a case for the Buccaneers. But Tampa Bay has problems in the locker room, and we could be on the verge of seeing a player revolt against coach Greg Schiano. There are too many negatives with the Buccaneers. At 3 or less, I would side with the Saints.
■ Jacksonville at Oakland (-5½): I prefer to look under the total (39½) rather than playing a side. These are two inconsistent offenses. I’m not comfortable with either team. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor gives the Raiders a dimension they lacked in recent years. I could see this being a 17-14 or 17-10 type of game.
■ Denver (-4½) at New York Giants: It’s a good spot for the Giants, who generally play well for coach Tom Coughlin after a poor effort. They need to avoid an 0-2 start in a contentious division, the NFC East. The Broncos probably can win the AFC West in a walkover. The line is dipping from 5 to 4. I would not be surprised if Eli Manning led the Giants to an upset win.
■ San Francisco at Seattle (-3): You can make compelling arguments for either side. No love is lost between the coaches — Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh — and Harbaugh remembers the 49ers being embarrassed 42-13 on this field last year. Seattle is down a couple of defenders because of suspensions. The 49ers under Harbaugh are capable of winning on the road, and I prefer taking 3 points.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL