***Before we get into the week one preview, New England did make a trade this week that needs to be mentioned. Originally, the Patriots sent OG Josh Kline and a conditional 2018 fourth round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for CB/S Eric Rowe. Per Adam Schefter, that was later amended to just the conditional fourth round pick (which could potentially turn into a third round pick). I was more than happy with the first trade, considering Josh Kline is not the most effective offensive lineman. However, the most important thing to note is the value that the Patriots must have on Rowe. Bill Belichick cherishes his third and fourth round picks, and to give up one of those for another player indicates that they believe he will be able to step right into a significant role (a la Martellus Bennett or Barkevious Mingo). Rowe is a second year player out of Utah, drafted 47th overall by the Eagles last year. In his rookie season he started five out of the sixteen games that he played in, and accumulated one interception and 24 tackles. The Patriots most likely value him because of his size and hybrid nature. At 6’1 ft and 204 lbs, Rowe is a larger body who can play stronger on the outside as a cornerback, or line up as a safety. That is something Bill Belichick will thoroughly enjoy.
Now, on to Arizona.
If it was not week one of the NFL season, I think this could have turned out to be one of the best games of the season. Alas, week one games do not always highlight the best from every team, as they need to get up to full game speed and shake the rust off. This is the Super Bowl matchup that most people hoped for during Championship weekend last year; that unfortunately did not work out for either team.
The Cardinals were stacked in 2015, having one of the best offenses, and defenses in the league. They ended the season 13-3, with the second best record in the NFC. Had it not been for the loss of Tyrann Mathieu late last season, and the utter collapse of Carson Palmer in the NFC Championship game, the Cardinals had a serious chance to win Super Bowl 50. They certainly had the talent to do it, and this year is no different.
The defensive side of the ball for Arizona is intimidating to say the least. Calais Campbell. Patrick Peterson. Tyrann Mathieu. New additions Chandler Jones and Robert Nkemdiche. Each one of those players has the ability to change the course of a game.
The key problem that I see the Patriots facing will be the pressure that Bruce Arians puts on Jimmy Garopollo. Arians knows that Jimmy is a young quarterback who is still learning how for read defenses in real time. He will most likely disguise looks, and change things up drastically to throw Jimmy G off his game. The Patriots revolving offensive line also plays right into Arians hands, as the talent and experience present in the Cardinals front seven will enable them to cause serious disruptions in New England’s backfield.
From an offensive standpoint, the Patriots will most likely test the running game. Bill Belichick won’t bring Jimmy G out in week one and have him throw it 50 times like Tom Brady would. They will try to churn out yards on the ground with LeGarrette Blount, and potentially some dump of screens to James White (however I don’t think this is a good idea because the Cardinals will be smart enough to sniff those out). In the passing game, the Patriots will most likely stick to routes in the middle of the field. With the defensive backs that Arizona has, having Jimmy try to make long throws to the sidelines could prove disastrous. Overall I think the offense will struggle, as this is the first time all of the starters will be together under Jimmy G.
The Cardinals offense is almost as star-studded as their defense, with Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and David Johnson. They have the players to make short, intermediate, and deep throws, as well as a collection of talented backs. It will be a tough first test for the Patriots defense.
The Cardinals will most likely try to spread out from the get go and test their receivers against the Patriots third and fourth cornerbacks. That’s where they will have the biggest advantage. The speed of John Brown and J.J. Nelson may be able to outmatch Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman. The Patriots front seven should be dominant, even during Rob Ninkovich’s absence. They will be able to hold even a talented back like David Johnson to minimal rushing yards.
The key players for the Patriots in this game will be Devin McCourty and Jaime Collins. McCourty will have to keep the secondary disciplined, and make sure they are not getting burned deep. Collins will have to deal with David Johnson, as a receiving and a running threat. That will consist of tight coverage on routes from the backfield, and acute screen detection. Chris Long will also play a key role in screen protection; he did a great job of it during all four of the Patriots preseason games.
This game will be a defensive showdown, as I think both have the potential to be the best in the league. The game will most likely be low scoring, and will come down to turnovers, and which offense can capitalize on what their defense gives them. Because of that, I am giving the edge to the Cardinals. Their experience will allow them to be better prepared for a game that will be close in the fourth quarter. I don’t see Jimmy G being ready yet to finish off a tight game against a first class opponent.
Prediction: 20-13 Arizona
Until next time- B$