This third game of the 2020 NFL season will be an interesting indicator of how far the Arizona Cardinals have come in their last 19 contests. The Kyler Murray/Kliff Kingsbury era in the Valley of the Sun started last season with the Detroit Lions as their opponent in Game One. And it didn't go as expected. The boys from Eminem-land shot out to a 24-6 lead before Murray could get his feet underneath him in his first-ever NFL game. Eventually, the homestanding Cards came storming back to tie it at 27, but that's how the game ended after a scoreless overtime.
This year, the Cardinals (2-0) are just a fun team to watch, with lots of energy and movement in their offense which allows them to wear defenses down as the game goes on. They've shot out to two straight impressive wins over San Francisco and Washington. Meanwhile, the Lions are in a funk, having blown double-digit leads to both Chicago and Green Bay in limping out to an 0-2 start.
Detroit at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 27 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Cardinals -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Kyler Murray is playing at an MVP level
Call him short. Call him young. Call him whatever you want. But make sure to start it with "Mister" because the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft is pulling in all kinds of respect for his hot start this season. Through his first two games, Mr. Murray has accounted for 674 total yards, including 516 through the air while completing 67 percent of his passes. On top of that his wild scrambles from the pocket have been the stuff of legend, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns with his legs. He is the first Cardinals quarterback to score touchdowns both throwing and running in two straight games since Jim Hart in 1969. All apologies to Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers, of course, but you could argue that Murray has had a better start to the season than anybody.
And to think, this guy actually considered a baseball career instead? Phewwww.
2. Down and distance is key
As Brady Quinn noted last week, the Cardinals don't really have plays in their playbook for a 3rd-and-long situation. Even with the emerging duo of wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and veteran Larry Fitzgerald, Murray is not usually a rear-back and heave-it type of quarterback (though he showed some of his arm strength on a 54-yard pass to Andy Isabella vs. Washington). The Cards have converted just one of their nine passing attempts on 3rd-and-8 or longer so far. So keeping Murray and Co. in those long-yardage situations will be a huge boon to the Lions D. On the flip side, Detroit signal-caller Matthew Stafford must keep his third downs manageable as well, especially considering the Cardinals' defense leads the NFL in that category thus far.
3. The hot seat
Remember how former Lions head coach Jim Caldwell was fired after a 9-7 season? That would qualify as a dream season for Detroit right now because since then, Matt Patricia has gone 9-24-1 after taking the coaching reigns in 2018. For now, Patricia is still the head coach but that could change at any moment, of course. Especially in this here today, gone tomorrow NFL world. Patricia's Lions have now blown double-digit leads in their last four games, including the final two games of 2019 and a 23-6 lead in Week 1 vs. Chicago (a 27-23 loss) and a 14-3 lead last Sunday in Green Bay (a 42-21 loss) and they also have lost 11 straight games overall. It will be interesting to see how the Lions come out and play this game. If they jump to another lead, it will be a crushing blow if they end up losing another game in comeback fashion.
Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the Lions, I can see this as a rallying point for them. They've got steam coming out of their noses right now and they will hustle pell-mell to try and make amends for their poor start. But at the same time, I just see the Cardinals having too much firepower to suffer a loss here.
Look for a tight, back-and-forth game where the inspired Lions will make it come down to the final possession. But in the end, Kyler Murray is just not the same player that he was vs. the Lions last season as he's become a more confident and electric playmaker. I'm thinking Murray just makes one more big play than Matthew Stafford, keeping the Cardinals perfect for another week.
Prediction: Cardinals 31, Lions 24
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.