It has been a hard fall for Bruce Arians in more ways than one. Two weeks ago, the 64-year-old was hospitalized with chest pain. Soon after being released, he coached the Arizona Cardinals to a painfully lopsided loss.
A season after winning 13 games, the Cardinals are 4-6-1, and the optimism that surrounded them in August is now buried in the desert.
Much of the blame for the team’s demise is pointed at Carson Palmer, a 36-year-old quarterback who suddenly appears elderly. A season after passing for 35 touchdowns, he has only 15. He has been sacked 32 times, which is a lot of punishment for an old man to absorb.
On the surface, there’s not a lot to like about the Cardinals, who are not going to the playoffs. But for those inclined to grab a shovel and dig a little deeper, some numbers show the situation is not as hopeless as it seems.
Arizona actually ranks No. 1 in the NFL in total defense (allowing 294 yards per game) and No. 2 in pass defense.
David Johnson has emerged as an elite running back for the Cardinals, with his 921 yards and 10 touchdowns each ranking third in the league. He also has 55 catches out of the backfield. Larry Fitzgerald might be close to retiring, but he’s still producing and not quitting. He ranks second in the league with 78 receptions.
Despite its losing record, Arizona has a plus-17 point differential this season. The Washington Redskins, who roll into Glendale, Arizona, on Sunday with a 6-4-1 record, are plus-16 in point differential.
It’s all optimism around the Redskins, but they rank 25th in run defense, and their star tight end, Jordan Reed, is out with a shoulder injury.
This also is a tricky scheduling spot for Washington, which lost at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and plays at NFC East rival Philadelphia on Dec. 11.
The Arizona defense is capable of quieting Kirk Cousins and the Redskins’ pass-catching threats. Johnson is capable of running through Washington’s leaky defense. Arians is capable of motivating his players. I’ll play the Cardinals as 2½-point favorites.
Four more picks for Week 13 (home team in CAPS):
Lions (+6) over SAINTS: Drew Brees tends to light up defenses in the Superdome, where he has passed for 19 of his 30 touchdowns this season. The Saints have covered seven of their past eight games. But quarterback Matthew Stafford will do some damage, too, and Detroit has a stronger defense. Stafford led the Lions to a 35-27 win at New Orleans last December.
Bills (+3) over RAIDERS: Some analytics-based handicappers say Oakland is way overrated. The Raiders are confident and finding ways to win — much like Carolina did last season — and their success is the real deal. But how will quarterback Derek Carr deal with a dislocated right pinky finger? LeSean McCoy, Tyrod Taylor and Buffalo’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense will provide a major test for the Oakland defense. The Raiders are 3-10 against the spread at home under coach Jack Del Rio.
STEELERS (-6) over Giants: A six-game win streak for the Giants stops here. New York has feasted on weak opponents and poor opposing quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger is loaded with weapons and set to lead Pittsburgh (6-5) to a win it needs to stay atop the AFC North.
Colts (-2) over JETS: According to most power ratings, Indianapolis should not be a road favorite over New York. But this is Andrew Luck against Ryan Fitzpatrick in a quarterback mismatch. The Jets left their best effort on the field in a loss to New England last week.
Last week: 4-0-1 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow @mattyoumans247 on Twitter.