Ladies and gentlemen, the 2021 NFL schedule is officially here. With the draft in the books and most rosters all but locked and loaded for the fall, we can finally turn our eyes toward the season. The NFC West, in particular, promises plenty of intrigue this year, with the Rams loading up around Matthew Stafford, the 49ers likely turning to Trey Lance and the Seahawks looking to lean on Russell Wilson once again. The Cardinals, meanwhile, might quietly be the most interesting of them all, with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray entering a pivotal Year Three. Here's a full rundown of their 17-game schedule, including key matchups and a season prediction:
2021 Cardinals schedule
|18||vs. Seahawks||Jan. 9||5:25 p.m.||FOX|
Cardinals key games
- Week 14 vs. Rams: Los Angeles swept Arizona in 2020, including in a do-or-die Week 17 matchup. The Cardinals are due for a rebound and, in fact, need one if they want to prove they're capable of contending alongside their stocked-up rivals.
- Week 5 vs. 49ers: Division games are always important, yes, but this one feels especially crucial. San Francisco is healthier and now boasts a more dynamic QB. If the Cards want any shot at claiming the West, they need to step up at home here.
- Week 17 at Cowboys: How much has Arizona improved its defense? We'll probably find out in Dallas, where the Cowboys have one of the NFL's most explosive offenses, especially if Dak Prescott shows no signs of wear and tear from his injury.
Cardinals toughest matchup
Week: 6 | Date: Oct. 17 | Time: 4:05 p.m.
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
The Browns as feared opponents? Yes, you read that right. This is an out-of-conference showdown, so it may not make or break Arizona's season, but boy will it be a tough one. Traveling to Cleveland to go up against maybe the NFL's most balanced roster, including a killer ground game and revamped defense? Outside of the divisional games, this'll be a true test of fortitude.
Cardinals projected win total
2021 record prediction: 9-8
The West might be the best in the NFL, so it's hard to confidently project any team's finish. But if Arizona can take care of business outside the division, it at least has a legitimate path to wild-card contention. Consider, for example, that the Cardinals get both the Lions and Jaguars -- two obviously rebuilding teams -- on the road, as well as several others (e.g. Bears, Texans) in transition at QB or elsewhere. At the end of the day, it's still hard to trust Kingsbury and Co. over the Rams, who added firepower; the Seahawks, who still have Russ; and the 49ers, who will be much healthier; but an above-.500 finish appears within reach.