The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Arizona Cardinals have a zero percent chance to win the NFC West. That’s not a typo.

Arizona Cardinals Coach Kliff Kingsbury gets a chance to turn the Cardinals franchise around. The team finished 3-13 last season, the worst record in the NFL, and missed the playoffs for a third year in a row. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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The Arizona Cardinals finished 3-13 last season, the worst record in the NFL, and missed the playoffs for a third year in a row, prompting the club to part ways with coach Steve Wilks after just one season. If you don’t count interim coaches, it was the first time since 1952 the franchise said goodbye to its coach after just one turn on the sidelines. To replace Wilks, the Cardinals looked to the college ranks, giving Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech his first gig with a pro club.

Kingsbury coached the Red Raiders to a 35-40 record over six seasons, never finishing better than the 8-5 mark of his debut season (2013). He did, however, coach Kansas City Chiefs MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes for three seasons in Lubbock, Tex.

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Other changes include the signing of 36-year-old veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs, former Philadelphia linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive lineman Darius Philon. On offense, wideout Larry Fitzgerald will return for his 16th season and J.R. Sweezy — the fifth-worst guard in 2018, per the game charters at Pro Football Focus — will look to replace left guard Mike Iupati, who allowed no sacks in six games played after Week 4. And of course there is quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

Per the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Murray graded highly on open passes thrown at least 10 yards down the field, accuracy under pressure and his percentage of “perfect” throws — throws that are in-stride or placed away from the leverage of the defense — when targeting single coverage. His ability to run with the football was also tantamount to his selection at No. 1 overall, giving the Cardinals faithful optimism heading into the regular season.

Still, this should be another rebuilding year for Arizona. The weekly preseason point spreads released by CG Technology in May had the Cardinals getting points in all games scheduled from Week 1 to Week 16 and in Week 17 they face the Los Angeles Rams, who could easily be double-digit favorites at home if they play their starters. If we convert these point spreads to win rates, there is a 48 percent chance Arizona wins just four or five games in 2019. Five wins is a key number: many sports books, including the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, have Arizona’s over/under win total set at five.

Think a 4-12 or 5-11 record is bad? Arizona also has a zero percent chance to win the NFC West. When I ran the same win-loss simulations for all the teams in the division — Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Cardinals — Arizona was the only one that didn’t win the division at least once in a thousand simulated seasons. I thought it was a bug, so I ran the simulations again and the result was confirmed: a 0.0 percent chance at the division crown in 2019.

A zero percent chance is rare. The Oakland Raiders have a 0.6 percent chance to win the AFC West in 2019 despite two of the best teams in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, residing in that division. The Miami Dolphins have a 0.3 percent to win the AFC East, even though the NFL’s reigning champion New England Patriots dominate that part of the conference. But while even those gaps in talent are bridgeable, the Cardinals can be written off completely before the first snap of 2019. Incidentally, Arizona is given 30-1 odds to win the NFC West, which implies a 3 percent chance at success. As enticing as those odds are, it isn’t worth the risk.

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