The 2022 season hasn't gone to plan for either the New Orleans Saints or Arizona Cardinals so far but a win on Thursday night could be the playoff catalyst both franchises have been looking for.
Both sides currently sit at 2-4 and come into this encounter having lost in Week Six; the Saints suffered a tough defeat at home to the Cincinnati Bengals, while the Cardinals made it back-to-back losses with a 19-9 reverse in Seattle.
The defeat was Arizona's first of the season on the road and they now return to their State Farm Stadium home where they haven't won since last October, losing eight straight in front of their supporters.
Despite that dreadful home record, the Cardinals are 2.5-point favourites on the spread at 10/11 and on the money line to snap their home-game hoodoo as they get ready to welcome DeAndre Hopkins back into the fold.
It's hoped Hopkins could provide the spark Arizona's offence has been missing but they'll need more than just their top wide receiver to shine if they are to take down a dogged Saints side in a game neither team can afford to lose.
|What:||New Orleans Saints @ Arizona Cardinals|
|Where:||State Farm Stadium, Arizona|
|When:||01:15, Friday 21st October|
|How to watch:||Sky Sports NFL & bet365 live streaming|
|Odds:||NO Saints 6/5, ARZ Cardinals|
Hopkins was banned for the first six games of the season and his return couldn't come at a better time with the Card's top wide receiver so far this year, Marquise Brown, ruled out for at least a month with a serious foot injury suffered in the loss to the Seahawks.
Brown had been quarterback Kyler Murray's go-to guy, a role previously filled by Hopkins.
Hopkins has made Murray a better quarterback when he's been on the field with 2019 No.1 draft pick's completion percentage rising above 70 per cent in games involving 'Nuk'.
Hopkins' return is a boost for a quarterback badly in need of help after a below-par year.
Murray was handed a $230.5m contract extension in the off-season but has done little to earn it so far, posting the worst QB rating (46.6) and lowest yards per attempt (5.8) numbers of his career through six weeks of the season.
In an effort to boost his production, Murray has said he's going to start running the ball more, while wide receiver Robbie Anderson arrived this week in a trade with the Carolina Panthers to give him another deep threat. However, neither Murray's rushing skill, Anderson nor Hopkins are the silver bullet for an offence that has deep-rooted issues.
Injuries haven't helped the Cardinals' cause with a host of running backs and offensive lineman currently missing and an offence that hasn't cracked the 30-point in seven straight games is to have under 23.5 points.
If the offence can get its act together then the defence is playing well enough right now for the Cardinals to win games. Arizona have faced two of the league's highest-ranked offences the last two weeks - the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles - and held both to 20 points or fewer.
Arizona's defence has improved following a poor start with their heavy blitz approach giving teams problems. However, they may have to tweak their tactics when facing off against Saints quarterback Andy Dalton, who is ranked number one against blitzing defences this year.
Dalton looks set to start at quarterback, despite previous first-choice Jameis Winston being back in training, with the combination of the Red Rifle and Taysom Hill working well for the Saints offence.
Much like the Cardinals, New Orleans are dealing with a large number of injuries and are set to be missing their top two receivers, Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry.
However, unlike Arizona, the Saints are finding ways to move the ball and put up points with the players available to them, ranking fifth in average points per game (30.3) over the last three weeks.
If the Saints can maintain that level of offensive output then the Cardinals could have a tough time keeping up. However, New Orleans' defence has blown hot and cold this year and could prove the joker in the pack of the Week Seven curtain-raiser.
Only three teams have allowed more points per game on average than a Saints (26.3) defence that was talked about as the strength of this team heading into the year.
New Orleans had a top-three ranked defence last year and while they have shown glimpses of their old selves, they haven't produced on a consistent basis.
Which team can produce consistently is likely to be the deciding factor in a game between two sides desperate to stay relevant in the playoff race.
The Saints can be considered a bit more dependable in that regard, despite losing four of their last five, and they appeal far more at for the win than an Arizona side struggling to break out of its funk.
The Cardinals are 7-12 at home since 2020 and 0-4 on a short week under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who could be facing more calls to go if he can't find an answer to his offensive problems quickly.Safer Gambling Week (17-23 October) – Let’s talk about safer gambling. Click here for more information on independent resources. Gamble Responsibly.