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Arizona Cardinals vs. Denver Broncos Game Preview and Prediction

Patrick Peterson

Patrick Peterson

Arizona and Denver are set to get back to the field when the two teams return from their byes to face each other Sunday afternoon on FOX. The Cardinals (3-0) are one of two teams (Cincinnati) still undefeated entering Week 5, while the Broncos (2-1) look continue its recent dominance at home following their overtime loss in Seattle two weeks ago.

On paper, this shapes up as a matchup of contrasting styles and strengths. Arizona ranks among the NFL’s stingiest defenses while Denver boasts one of the most explosive and potent offenses. The Broncos also have the benefit of playing at home, as they are 11-1 (including playoffs) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High since last season.

Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Denver -8

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Three Things to Watch

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1. Arizona’s QB Controversy?

The Cardinals are 3-0 despite the fact that Carson Palmer has played just one game. Palmer has missed the past two games because of a bruised nerve in his right shoulder. After showing signs of improvement during the bye week, he experienced a setback earlier this week and met with another doctor to get a second opinion. Palmer’s status for this game is uncertain at best, but this situation is nothing new for head coach Bruce Arians. Drew Stanton has started, and won, the past two games in relief of Palmer. While his statistics (32-for-62, 411 yds., 2 TDs) may not jump off of the page, Stanton has taken care of the ball (no turnovers) and done what he’s needed to do to put his team in position to win. Arizona’s early success is due in large part to a defense that’s held the opposition to 71.7 yards rushing and 15 points per game. The Cardinals will certainly have their hands full trying to slow down Denver’s high-powered offense at home, which means the offense will definitely need to do its part. Whether Palmer will be able to play remains to be seen, but Arians and the rest of team  are more than comfortable with turning the reins over to Stanton. The question that looms, however, is what happens if Palmer continues to be hampered by his injury, especially if Stanton continues to produce winning results? Arizona’s undefeated record may not be the only thing on the line in this game.

[inline_team_schedule team-id=14 date=20140904 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=6][/inline_team_schedule]

2. Will the Real Broncos Offense Please Stand Up?

Denver’s offense set numerous records last season, including the mark for scoring (606 points). The Broncos averaged a whopping 37.9 points per game in 2013 and had already scored 127 (42.3 ppg) prior to their fourth game. Through three games this season that number has dropped all the way to 25 points per game. Granted they are coming off of a game in Seattle, one of the toughest places to play in the NFL against the defending Super Bowl champions, but Denver’s season-high thus far is the 31 points scored in its opener against Indianapolis. Contrast that to last season when the Broncos scored at least that many in all but three regular-season games. Some of the faces from last season’s record-setting offense have changed, but capable replacements were brought in. Emmanuel Sanders, who replaced Eric Decker, has not only fit in, he’s thrived as one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets. The running game has stumbled out of the gates though, as Montee Ball has not been able to replace Knowshon Moreno’s production thus far. Still, with Manning as the field general and a wealth of talented and explosive playmakers at his disposal, this remains one of the league’s most feared offenses. Perhaps the Broncos ironed out the kinks during their bye week and will look a lot more like the unit that lit up the scoreboard for most of last season. This matchup against a stingy Cardinals defense that has overcome a rash of injuries will certainly serve as a good measuring stick for Manning and company.

3. Denver’s Defensive Boost

Arizona’s defense has been one of the early surprises this far, as the Cardinals’ stop unit has been successful despite a bunch of injuries to key players. And while Denver’s defense has not enjoyed the same statistical success early on, the Broncos are about to receive a big boost with the return of starting linebacker Danny Trevathan. The team’s leading tackler last season, Trevathan fractured his knee during the preseason, but he finally returned to practice this week and should make his season debut. Trevathan’s return not only stabilizes the linebacker corps, it also means that Denver’s defense will be as close to full strength as it’s been this season. General manager John Elway will be among those paying close attention during this game to see how the unit he envisioned entering this season performs on the field now that Trevathan will line up alongside All-Pro linebacker Von Miller with free-agent additions DeMarcus Ware up front and Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward anchoring the back end. With Trevathan back in the fold, it’s time to see if Denver’s defense can be championship-caliber or is an ineffective collection of expensive pieces.

Final Analysis

Arizona, not Denver, is the undefeated team entering this matchup, but there’s a reason the Broncos are a comfortable favorite in Vegas’ eyes. Even though Peyton Manning and the offense haven’t produced the same results early on compared to last season, this unit is still as dangerous any in the NFL, especially at home. The job Bruce Arians’ team has done on defense, especially given the key personnel missing in action, has been impressive, but it’s obvious this will be this unit’s biggest test yet. The Cardinals are too well-coached, disciplined and feisty for this one to get really out of hand, but the home team simply has too much offensive firepower, and I also expect Denver’s defense to make a statement of its own at some point. Arizona puts up a fight, but it’s tough for a visiting team to leave Sports Authority Field at Mile High unscathed.

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Prediction: Denver 31, Arizona 20