The 2021 schedule -- with fans expected to be back in the seats after a pandemic-ravaged 2020 season -- is out, and the Cardinals know the path to reach what they hope for is a playoff berth in the first 17-game regular-season in NFL history.
The Cardinals are on national TV three times, all at home -- an Oct. 28 "Thursday Night Football" game against the Packers, a Dec. 13 "Monday Night Football" game against the Rams, and a Christmas night game on NFL Network against the Colts. They have a late bye in November, a tough stretch to begin the year (three of four on the road, including the opener in Tennessee) and Kyler Murray gets his return home to Dallas on Jan. 2 and his rematch with Baker Mayfield on Oct. 17.
The Cardinals also know their preseason schedule, although some dates have yet to be finalized:
A look at the full 2021 Cardinals schedule:
The Cardinals get to open the regular season on the road, with their new young inside linebacking corps of Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins tested early by All-Pro running back Derrick Henry and the play-action ways of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The last time the Cardinals went to Tennessee in 2013, they built a big, late lead, only to have Ryan Fitzpatrick lead a comeback that led the game to overtime, when Jay Feely kicked the game-winner for the Cards. Cornerback Malcolm Butler has a chance to play against his former team right away. And for the Cardinals to battle against a playoff team immediately will be an excellent early test.
Let's call it what it is: The Patrick Peterson Reunion Game. The long-time Cardinals cornerback will return to State Farm Stadium, perhaps with a chance to match up against wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. It'll be tough for any other part of the game to overshadow that storyline. The Cardinals are going to have their cornerback corps tested with the Justin Jefferson-Adam Thielen receiving duo, and the Cards' defense up front needs to slow running back Dalvin Cook.
It's a matchup of No. 1 overall pick quarterbacks, although in this case, the Cardinals have a major edge with Kyler Murray's experience over the rookie status of Trevor Lawrence. It's the first year for Lawrence, for coach Urban Meyer, and for yet another version of the Jaguars. This early in the season, heat and humidity will likely be a factor.
The last time the Cardinals went on the road to play the Rams, it ended in disappointment. The Cards dropped the 18-7 season finale, Murray got hurt, and the team missed the playoffs. The Cardinals have yet to beat Sean McVay as head coach in eight meetings. Now the Rams have a new quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and have tried to ramp up their push to win the NFC West. The Cardinals have similar hopes, but they need to topple the Rams at some point to make that happen.
Another NFC West game. A second straight week for the Cardinals to avenge a disappointing loss from the end of the 2020 season, when the Niners came to Arizona and stunned the Cards. The question is, who will be the 49ers' quarterback? Does Jimmy Garoppolo remain under center this deep into the season or will No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance find his way on to the field in his rookie year? The 49ers will be healthy again, but the Cardinals beat a healthy 49ers in the 2020 season opener at San Francisco.
It's Kyler Murray vs. Baker Mayfield II, in the debut of the 17th game. The Cardinals won in Cleveland back in 2015 – long before Kyler and Baker were around – and when the teams met in 2019 the first time the Oklahoma quarterbacks faced off, the Cards cruised to a 38-24 win. The Browns are a playoff team now, however. The question, as it usually is, is what quarterback is going to have the better game? An interesting sidenote – the Browns were reportedly hot after J.J. Watt before he picked the Cardinals. So not really a revenge game, but that could be juicy for one side or the other. Will Kyler get to give buddy Baker more grief after this one?
Cardinals-Texans has never been a headline-grabber, but it is now. Sure, Bill O'Brien isn't around any longer, but with DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt getting their first chance to play against the team that drafted them and saw them become stars, make no mistake – both are relishing the opportunity. It's hard to get a handle how this game could turn out, because of the uncertainty around Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. But there is little doubt Watt and Hopkins will spread their motivation that week around the locker room.
The big question right now is whether it'll be Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking the Packers when they come to town or not. If he is, this is a team that reached the NFC Championship game and is led by the reigning MVP. The Packers haven't been in Arizona since the famous Divisional Playoff game in the 2015 season, when Rodgers had two Hail Mary prayers answered to get to overtime, before Hail Larry won it for the Cardinals. That's another big question – does Fitz play in this game?
The Cardinals meet a division foe for a second time. The last time Hopkins was in the stadium, it was his Cardinals' debut and he lit up the Niners. Can he go for Round Two, especially with different weapons catching the ball (A.J. Green, Rondale Moore) than were around a year ago? It'll be a fascinating thing watching the Cardinals' offense evolve over the season.
It's not quite the same as Patrick Peterson coming back, but Haason Reddick gets his own return date to State Farm Stadium, and we'll see how he has been able to build on his career year for the Cardinals last year. The Panthers ran all over the Cards a year ago in Carolina in an ugly 38-20 loss, but the Cards have beefed up their defense. The Panthers have a new quarterback in Sam Darnold, who was injured last season when the Jets played the Cardinals. Carolina will also have running back Christian McCaffery, who missed last year's game with injury.
The first meeting of the season against the Seahawks is a trip to the Pacific Northwest a little earlier than most recent years. For all the changes and improvements the rest of the division has made, the Seahawks still are coached by Pete Carroll and quarterbacked by Russell Wilson, so you know what you are getting. But the Cardinals have done a nice job playing well and winning sometimes in Seattle. It'll be good to be back to normal with an expected raucous crowd, after the eerie fan-less night game the teams played in Seattle a season ago.
And on the 12th week, they rested.
By the time the Cardinals get to Chicago, is rookie Justin Fields the quarterback? Or will it be Andy Dalton, for whom the Cardinals made life miserable in Dallas last season when he was playing for the Cowboys? The Cardinals didn't have the best day the last time they played the Bears – in Arizona in 2018, a difficult 16-14 loss that proved to be the last NFL appearance for QB Sam Bradford – and this time, it'll also be about how the QB (Kyler Murray) can deal with Khalil Mack and a still formidable Chicago pass rush. That wind off Lake Michigan in December could be some kind of fun too.
On "Monday Night Football," the spotlight will be on DeAndre Hopkins versus Jalen Ramsey. You know Hopkins would like to make some inroads on that battle. The Cards would benefit greatly if he could. Monday night went well for the Cardinals last season in Dallas, and now, the Cards get the benefit of an electric home crowd.
All kinds of familiar – the Cardinals have seen plenty of quarterback Jared Goff, and for all his ups and downs, Goff often had good games against the Cards. And of course, it seems like the Lions might as well be in the same division as the Cardinals, given that the two teams seemingly find a way to play each other on an annual basis. Last year's heartbreaking home loss to the Lions was a gut-punch for the Cards – but at least the kicker that beat them, Matt Prater, is now kicking for the Cardinals.
Merry Christmas! Nothing like a visit from Carson Wentz to spice up the holidays. When the Colts last came to State Farm Stadium, Bruce Arians handed his former team and former quarterback Andrew Luck a 40-11 beatdown in 2013. This Colts team is still trying to figure out its post-Luck QB situation, and Wentz is the latest try. But the Colts were a playoff team last year and have built up a nice defense. Added bonus: Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. plays for the first time against the team for which his father played for to begin his career.
Back to Dallas, where Kyler went home last season and engineered a domination of the Dak Prescott-less Cowboys. It's always an event to play the Cardinals' former NFC East rival, and now that Murray – voted recently as the best Texas high school player ever – is with the Cards, it only heightens the intensity. If these teams are where they want to be in the standings, this game could have a lot of hype attached.
The Cardinals, after finishing off the season on the road every season since 2016, are finally back home to wrap it up. The game could be on Saturday instead, depending on the rest of the league schedule and the standings and games being flexed. There could be a ton on the line in the NFC West or with a playoff berth. But there is no truth to the rumor there will be another race between Budda Baker and D.K. Metcalf -- unless Russell Wilson wants to throw an interception first.