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Patriots vs. Cardinals prediction: Back Arizona as a slim home underdog

In a Monday Night Football battle of last-place teams, bet on Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ offense to deliver

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray heads into Monday night's home game against the New England Patriots with nearly 2,800 yards of total offense, 14 touchdown passes, three rushing TDs and seven interceptions. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray heads into Monday night's home game against the New England Patriots with nearly 2,800 yards of total offense, 14 touchdown passes, three rushing TDs and seven interceptions. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)Read moreChristian Petersen / Getty Images

A year ago, the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals entered the second weekend of December with a combined record of 19-6 straight-up and 18-7 against the spread.

Although both teams wound up stumbling to the finish line, both easily qualified for the playoffs.

This year? The two squads are nearly out of contention in their respective divisions and fighting for their postseason lives. Which makes Monday night’s Patriots vs. Cardinals clash in the desert highly intriguing, as it’s a virtual must-win — especially for the home team.

It also makes it difficult to handicap. Even the oddsmakers have essentially thrown up their hands, making New England the slightest of favorites.

Although we agree this contest is more or less a tossup, we believe there’s decent value on the rested home underdog. Here’s our Patriots vs. Cardinals prediction for Monday Night Football.

Note: Odds updated as of 2 a.m. on Dec. 12.

Patriots vs. Cardinals Prediction: Pick

  1. Cardinals +1.5 (at Caesars Sportsbook)

Patriots vs. Cardinals Prediction: Analysis

Looking for a stone-cold lock in this matchup? Barring a tie, one of these teams is going to walk out of State Farm Stadium with its first three-game losing skid of the season.

New England (6-6, 6-5-1 ATS) has followed three straight wins with a pair of losses to the Vikings (33-26 road) and Bills (24-10 home). Meanwhile, Arizona (4-8, 6-6 ATS) went into its bye with a heartbreaking, last-second 25-24 home loss to the Chargers. That was preceded by a 38-10 defeat to San Francisco in Mexico City.

» READ MORE: Jalen Hurts becomes betting favorite to win NFL MVP after dominant Giants win

In fact, the Cardinals come into this one having dropped four of five and five of seven. They’re also 1-5 SU/2-4 ATS at home.

Still, we’re siding with Arizona. Because we simply trust its offense more than we do New England’s.

The Cardinals have scored at least 21 points in five of their last six games, including 24 or more four times. Only the 49ers, who have the NFL’s No. 1 defense and faced Arizona backup quarterback Colt McCoy, have held the Cardinals down since mid-October.

Speaking of defense: Arizona’s has been nonexistent recently. Since holding the Raiders, Rams, Panthers, Eagles and Seahawks to an average of 19.6 points from Weeks 2-6, that D has been torched for 29.8 points per game in the last six.

Take out a 27-17 win over the Rams on Nov. 13, and that average goes up to 32.4, with the Niners (38), Seahawks (31), Vikings (34) and Saints (34) all crossing 30 points.

Well, three of those squads (San Francisco, Seattle and Minnesota) rank in the top 13 in the NFL in scoring offense. And the Chargers rank 14th.

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Throw in games against the Chiefs, Raiders and Eagles, and eight of Arizona’s 12 opponents (including Seattle twice) rank in the top half of the league in scoring. All average at least 22.7 points per outing.

The Patriots? They sit 20th at 20.4 ppg. And even that number is misleading, because three of New England’s biggest offensive performances came in defeats (37-26 vs. Baltimore; 27-24 at Green Bay; 33-26 at Minnesota).

With quarterback Mac Jones struggling mightily in his sophomore NFL season, the Patriots have been limited to 17 points or fewer five times. And coach Bill Belichick openly admitted this week that his offense — which is 24th in total yards at 318.9 yards per game — is what it is at this point. He cautioned fans not to expect any big philosophical changes.

That’s discouraging.

Also discouraging: The performance of Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray.

In his first season since signing a monster contract extension, Murray’s quarterback rating (87.1) is a mere tick better than Jones’ rating (87.0). Murray’s uneven play under center is the reason the Cardinals’ offense ranks between 16th and 21st in every major category. (That includes 20th in total yardage at 334.8 per contest).

That said, Murray’s 14 TD passes (in 10 games) are double what Jones has (seven in nine games). And, of course, Murray’s mobility makes him a threat on every play.

That last part is important because, on the whole, New England’s defense has been outstanding this season — except when it faces dual-threat quarterbacks.

In three games against mobile QBs — Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields and Josh Allen — the Patriots have allowed 37, 33 and 24 points. They lost all three by 9, 19 and 14 points, respectively.

Jackson had 325 yards of offense (218 passing, 107 rushing) and five total touchdowns; Fields had 261 yards (179 passing, 82 rushing) and two TDs; and Allen last week had 243 yards (223 passing, 20 rushing) and two TDs.

If Murray and his teammates can protect the football — and if Arizona defense can be opportunistic against a pedestrian Patriots offense — the well-rested Cardinals should take care of business in this one.

While it’s tempting to bet Arizona on the moneyline, we’ll play it safe and snag the points at Caesars Sportsbook.

Patriots vs. Cardinals odds (via Caesars Sportsbook)

  1. Point spread: Patriots (-1.5) @ Cardinals (+1.5)

  2. Moneyline: Patriots (-125) @ Cardinals (+105)

  3. Total: 43.5 points

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

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