NFL Preview - Denver (3-9) at Arizona (3-9)
By Gerard Gallagher, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Two 3-9 teams in a non-conference game in December? Not exactly the best advertisement for the country's top professional sports league.
And the NFL wants two more games per season.
Despite its surface dreariness, however, there are some interesting storylines in this Sunday's game between the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals from University of Phoenix Stadium -- but they might not be enough to draw anyone in who isn't already a fan.
The Broncos fired head coach Josh McDaniels on Monday after the team's third straight loss, a 10-6 setback at Kansas City one day prior, handing things over to running backs coach Eric Studesville on an interim basis.
McDaniels, after beginning his career in Denver with a 6-0 start to the 2009 season, finished with an 11-17 mark -- the worst record in about four decades for any Broncos coach who lasted at least one season.
How do the Broncos react, with a rally or a whimper? Recent history in the NFL has seen teams rally around their new head coaches. Dallas and Minnesota have gone a combined 5-1 since Wade Phillips and Brad Childress were replaced.
Studesville expressed excitement in being handed the reins, and was optimistic about the team's chances down the stretch.
"We have a great group of players and coaches who are committed to finishing the season on a promising note and making our fans proud of this team," he said.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, don't have a starting quarterback as of this writing. That's not a joke -- head coach Ken Whisenhunt still hadn't decided as of Thursday afternoon who would be under center for Arizona on Sunday.
The candidates? A couple of guys named John Skelton and Richard Bartel. Or maybe usual starter Derek Anderson, who is sidelined with a concussion and hasn't been given the OK to play.
The Cardinals have dropped seven straight games and used three quarterbacks in a 19-6 loss to St. Louis last Sunday. Anderson was ineffective, going just 7-of-20, and was replaced by rookie Max Hall.
However, Hall went down with a shoulder injury and was replaced by the rookie Skelton, who seems to have the inside track to be the starter this week.
Bartel, who comes from the UFL, spent last week hunting and would be a surprising choice for starter, to say the least.
Yes, that's right: he was hunting. For wild hogs.
The Broncos lead the all-time series with the Cardinals, 7-0-1, winning seven straight since the series began with a 17-17 tie in St. Louis in 1973. Denver was a 37-20 road winner when the teams last met, back in 2002, to run its record in Arizona to 3-0 all-time.
The Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt and Studesville will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Denver has been a pass-first offense this season. Only four teams in the NFL -- including Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts and Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints -- have thrown more times than Kyle Orton and the Broncos. Only three -- the Colts, Saints and Philip Rivers' San Diego Chargers -- have passed for more yards. Orton is only the 10th-rated quarterback in the league, but it's hard to blame any of Denver's problems on him. He has passed for 3,487 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Which is all good news for the Broncos, because Arizona has the 25th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Better news? The Cardinals have the 30th-ranked rush defense in the league, an attractive stat for a Denver running game that has been a non-factor for most this season. In addition, no one in the NFL has given up more points than the Cardinals this year.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
It depends on WHO has the ball against Denver, we suppose, but there's nothing about the Cardinals' offense that inspires confidence. In fact, only the 1-11 Carolina Panthers have gained fewer yards per game than Arizona. That post- game outburst from Anderson two Monday nights ago? That's the frustration of a team that averages just 265.3 yards of offense and 16.7 points per game.
With only a week to prepare a new starting quarterback -- and even less time than that in the case of the hog-hunting Bartel -- it's hard to know exactly how the Cardinals will play, even against a Denver defense that bends almost as much as Arizona's. The Broncos have surrendered the third-most points in the NFL. Their passing defense is ranked 22nd and their rushing defense is 31st, second-worst in the league behind Buffalo.
Orton is always a good start, as is his favorite target, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who tops the NFL in receiving yards and is in the top five in touchdown catches. Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald is having a down year, and we're still not sure who will be throwing him the ball on Sunday.
But if you play, these are things you already knew, especially if you've made the playoffs.
Running back Knowshon Moreno has had four double-digit point weeks in a row for the Broncos, and there's no reason that should change against the porous Arizona run defense.
Forget who the teams play next week, who they played last week, etc. When you're this bad, the only game you play is the one in front of you, particularly if you're a team rallying around a new starting quarterback. Or one rallying around a new head coach. The team with the new coach should have an easier time than the one with the new quarterback.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Denver 24, Arizona 17
12/09 17:11:31 ET