It has been a long time since Kurt Warner was considered one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks and even longer since the Arizona Cardinals were viewed as a good bet on the road.
While Warner is no more than a capable veteran, the Cardinals have turned into one of the league’s strongest underdogs.
Arizona is on the road as a 31/2-point underdog to Tampa Bay today. The Gold Sheet editor Bruce Marshall is making his top play the Cardinals, who are 4-0-1 as underdogs this season, 9-1-1 as underdogs in their past 11 games and 6-1-1 in their past eight on the road.
“I think Arizona is a very live ‘dog and can win this game,” Marshall said. “The Cardinals had a week off, and they needed it to get healthy. They can function with Warner in there.”
Arizona has improved defensively, ranking 10th in the league, and running back Edgerrin James has rebounded from a poor season to rank fifth with 603 yards rushing.
With second-year quarterback Matt Leinart injured and lost for the season, Warner has taken control. His numbers are solid — six touchdown passes and a 95.2 rating — and his leadership has helped a young team.
Warner hurt his left (non-throwing) elbow and used the bye week as recovery time.
The Buccaneers, 4-4 straight up, are depleted at running back and conservative on offense. Jeff Garcia threw three interceptions, his first three of the season, in a 24-23 home loss to Jacksonville last week.
“Garcia started to regress,” Marshall said. “He’s a good complementary quarterback, but he is having to shoulder more of the load, and I’m not sure he can handle it.”
Marshall (goldsheet.com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 9 lineup:
• Washington (-31/2) at New York Jets — The Jets switched to Kellen Clemens as their starting quarterback too late to salvage their season. I’m not a huge Redskins fan, but things are going sour on Jets coach Eric Mangini, whose team is 1-6-1 against the spread. I would rather take Washington.
• Green Bay at Kansas City
(-21/2) — I am getting more sold on the Packers. But the Chiefs at home are a good value,
13-5-1 against the line since 2005, and they’re coming off the bye. Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen has eight sacks, and he’ll get in Brett Favre’s face. Kansas City coach Herman Edwards’ teams seem to get it done with defense and a low-risk offense. I’ll take the Chiefs.
• Carolina at Tennessee (-4) — Under the total (351/2) might be the best call. David Carr looks like he’ll go as the Panthers’ quarterback, and he doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The Titans’ Vince Young is not 100 percent healthy and has limited mobility. Young passed for only 42 yards last week against Oakland. Tennessee is 2-5 in its past seven as a favorite.
• San Francisco at Atlanta
(-3) — The 49ers might be the league’s most troubled team, even more than Miami and St. Louis. San Francisco’s offense has averaged 8.8 points in the past four games. The 49ers don’t have any receivers who can get open. Even the Falcons, with Joey Harrington at quarterback, can outscore San Francisco. Go with the Falcons.
• Jacksonville at New Orleans (-31/2) — This is the type of game where the Saints will miss injured running back Deuce McAllister because the Jacksonville defense is nasty. The Jaguars’ ground game will protect inexperienced quarterback Quinn Gray. New Orleans has won three in a row but still is a flawed team. I like Jacksonville as my second-best play of the week.
• Denver at Detroit (-3) — It’s hard to take the Broncos, but I don’t know if I want to lay the points with the Lions. The Denver defense might be able to slow quarterback Jon Kitna and the Detroit wide receivers. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has been good historically as an underdog, and quarterback Jay Cutler is making progress.
• Cincinnati at Buffalo (pick) — The Bengals are a dysfunctional team, and the Bills are overachievers, so go with Buffalo. The Bills’ offense is OK with J.P. Losman at quarterback. The Bills look good on defense, which is opposite of the Bengals. Buffalo has covered four in a row and is 4-0 against the spread at home.
• San Diego (-7) at Minnesota — I’m going to ride the Chargers, who have won three straight by 26 points per game. I’m not a fan of coach Norv Turner, but San Diego has picked up momentum and has got enough playmakers to cover for Turner’s inadequacies. Vikings rookie Adrian Peterson might have trouble running against a tough Chargers defense.
• Seattle at Cleveland (-1) — The Browns have been one of the league’s pleasant surprises, but I’ll give the Seahawks a shot here. Cleveland has the league’s second-worst pass defense, and with Seattle wideouts Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett returning, that could loosen things up for running back Shaun Alexander. The Browns are 6-0-1 over the total. I’ll go with the Seahawks and over 461/2.
• New England (-51/2) at Indianapolis — I would rather watch San Francisco-Atlanta. No knock on New England, but you have to look at Indianapolis at home getting points. The Indianapolis defense is so improved with strong safety Bob Sanders healthy. The Colts should get wide receiver Marvin Harrison back. Indianapolis has won 13 straight at home, and it’s rare to get points with a team like this.
• Houston at Oakland (-3) — It looks as if it will be Sage Rosenfels at quarterback for the Texans and Josh McCown for the Raiders. Oakland’s offense is struggling, and first-year coach Lane Kiffin is getting exposed and is maybe a little overmatched. Houston has a chance, even with Rosenfels.
• Dallas (-3) at Philadelphia — The Eagles are slowing games with Donovan McNabb’s short throws, and I don’t know if they’re dynamic enough to win. Philadelphia has gone under the total in eight of its past 11 games. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is more of a playmaker. I lean to Dallas and under the total (461/2).
Compiled by Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans.