There is no question about it, the New England Patriots will be a different team without star quarterback Tom Brady through the first four weeks of the season. Plus, Sunday night’s opening matchup versus the swarming defensive-minded Arizona Cardinals could be the toughest in the Bill Belichick era. Deflategate has been a story of its own the last few years even after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX two years ago. Consequently, commissioner Roger Goodell won the long exhausted battle that Brady did not want to fight anymore. As a result, third year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gets thrown into the mix. He will make his first NFL start on Sunday night. The moment could not be any brighter for the Eastern Illinois product to showcase his abilities in front of the world on primetime television. Just do not be optimistic in this one Patriots fans. “Jimmy G” is many seasons away from being in the same context as Tom Brady, so pump the breaks because I don’t find 4-0 realistic. 3-1 is possible, but not probable.
After a strong preseason game against the New Orleans Saints, Garoppolo did not play his best game down in Carolina and did not even start the final contest versus the New York Giants. Preseason is preseason, but you can usually get a taste of what to expect. In the two minute drill, Garoppolo looked impressive. On third down backed up in his own zone, he did not look that good. It is what it is and he is the best choice to lead this team. Just don’t expect Brady-like numbers because he is far from that. The good news is that he has ultimate playmakers to the left and the right. Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett lead the tight end pair who will do plenty of damage this season. Gronk alone hauled in 11 touchdowns last year and racked up 1,176 yards off 72 receptions. He is now a team captain for the first time in his career. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and newly acquired Chris Hogan will work the slot. Add James White to catch the short passes off in the flat with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield and you have yourself an offense. If those players stay healthy, and with Brady coming off his suspension in Week 5, this could be one of the best offenses in history.
I look to the defense as the savior through these first four games and even as the season progresses. Although they allowed 339 total yards per game last season, they return a very strong defensive core led by Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. Hightower was also named a team captain for the first time in his career. The acquisition of Eric Rowe on Tuesday helps improve a solid secondary led by Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler. Although the Patriots lost a workhorse in Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this past offseason, expect Chris Long to fill in just fine.
To the matter at hand, the Patriots head back to the University of Phoenix stadium for the first time since they were crowned Super Bowl champions. Sorry, but it will not go as well as some may think. I just do not trust Garoppolo in the toughest game without Brady. Trust me, I want to go New England’s way, but the Patriots will fall to 0-1. Garoppolo will have moments that will raise your eyebrows, but the front four of the Cardinals will be eager to crash the party early and often. Then factor in a powerful home field statistic where the Cardinals are 19-5 at home over the past three seasons and you got the clear favorite in this one. Just wait until the following week versus Miami and I’ll be a little more on the positive side Patriots fans. Overall, football is back and that brings a smile to my face.