The first Sunday Night Football game sees the Arizona Cardinals host the New England Patriots in what some are calling a possible Super Bowl preview (8.30pm ET, Sunday on NBC).
It’s incredibly early to be talking about the potential Lombardi trophy match-up but preseason betting odds exist for a reason. It’s the Patriots who are one of the Super Bowl favorites, at around 8/1 with the offshore sportsbooks, and the Cardinals are 10/1 chances, sitting right behind their NFC West opponents the Seattle Seahawks (8/1).
A lot can change in between now and February but right now, both of these teams are incredibly stacked and have the depth to carry them far. This first meeting likely won’t be the preview we’re expecting however, largely because Tom Brady is finally serving his four-game suspension from the Deflategate scandal of two seasons ago. Starting in his place is Jimmy Garoppolo (pictured), who will be making his first career NFL start against a tough and game Cardinals defense.
Winning in Spite of Jimmy Garropolo
I should preface this by saying that I am not taking anything away from the young QB. He has been with the Patriots for two years, learning behind Brady in much the same way Brady learned behind Drew Bledsoe and we all know how that worked out. That is not to say that Garropolo is going to be the next Brady. He did liken some comparisons to a young Tony Romo out of college, who has gone on to have a pretty solid career himself for being undrafted.
Garropolo will acquit himself fine in the four games he has, largely because New England’s schedule is far from difficult following that first week. However, it is that first week which will be the one to really test the rookie. So when I comment on the Patriots winning in spite of their young arm, what I simply mean is, can they win with Garropolo against Arizona? It is a defense which last year finished fifth in total yards allowed, sixth in rushing yards allowed and eighth in passing yards allowed.
Ordinarily, I would say they can because as important as the QB position is league-wide, the last time the Patriots were without Brady, Matt Cassel had a breakout season, leading New England to an impressive 11-5 record. Now to be fair, Brady did leave Cassel with no shortage of weapons including Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Marshall Faulk. Garropolo on the other hand will be relying on a less inspiring bunch led by Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin. It’s not exactly a who’s who of the NFL’s best. It doesn’t help either that Dion Lewis, who emerged as one of the best runningbacks in the league last year, has landed on the PUP and is expected to miss at least six weeks if not more.
However, there is one thing Garropolo will have that Cassel did not and it’s an imposing 6’6, 265 tight end who lines up as a wide receiver over 75 percent of the time he is on the field. Of course, I’m referencing the best tight end in the NFL, who last year caught 72 passes for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns, Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski was targeted 120 times by Brady last year. To put that in perspective, Edelman, the team’s top receiver, was targeted just 88. The man they call ‘Gronk’ is easily the best weapon the Patriots have and for a young QB, it’s a nice security blanket. However, the Cardinals know what Gronkowski brings to the table and their defense will no doubt try to limit him (notice I didn’t say stop because you can’t) as much as possible.
How good is Arizona’s Defense?
The Patriots and the Cardinals have not met on the gridiron since the 2012 season, when needless to say, both teams looked a little different. Arizona won that game 20-18 thanks to the rare missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. The team still allowed Brady’s offense to record over 300 yards through the air, including 75 of them for Gronkowski on nine targets and six receptions. He also scored the team’s lone receiving touchdown that game.
Just a handful of those players are still on the Arizona roster including Calais Campbell and a young Patrick Peterson. Adding to the strength of this defense since then includes guys like Tyrann Mathieu, DJ Swearinger, Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. The Cardinals acquired Jones from the Patriots this past offseason.
It will be up to this new group to close out the passing lanes and rattle Garropolo, a task made somewhat easier by the fact that the Patriots don’t exactly have the best offensive line in the NFL right now. If the Cardinals can manage this task, they likely will be the ones walking away with the victory in this game.
But what about New England’s defense? They have a strong defense and boast playmakers throughout. Their defense helped lead them to the Super Bowl two years ago and it is very much that same core which will take the field.
However, that same core will be faced with a challenge right up front as they take on the team of Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, an offensive juggernaut at all positions that led the league with 408.3 yards per game last year.
Our Preview’s New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals Betting Picks
Like all NFL games, this one is going to come down to the matchups and the way each team’s skill position players exploit them. Could Gronkowski have another big game against the Arizona D? Will Palmer continue his career resurgence from last season? Can the Patriots survive in an offense without their top QB and RB?
The top USA-friendly sportsbooks have the Cardinals as six-point favorites at home. I like those odds, especially since I think Arizona has the better shot at winning if only because they don’t have to face the full complement of New England’s offense. An active Brady and healthy Lewis likely would have been the difference maker in this one but since both won’t be on the field, that has influenced my betting picks for this preview
- Take the Cardinals -6.5pts to cover the spread @ -105 with Bovada and BetOnline sportsbooks. The same spread is -110 with 5Dimes.
- The total points in the game is set at 47 and I like the under, especially given that both teams will rely on their defenses in this one. So take the under 47pts @ -110 with Bovada. It is under 46.5pts for the same odds with BetOnline and 5Dimes.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.