2016 NFL Week 1 Preview: Cardinals vs. Patriots
The Patriots will be making their first visit back to University of Phoenix Stadium since they last held up the Lombardi Trophy, and Pats fans definitely have a love/hate relationship with this stadium. On one hand, they can see Browner's jam at the line of scrimmage followed by Butler's miraculous interception. On the other, they see 'All Lives Matter' activist (and former Patriots Safety) Rodney Harrison failing to put those steroids to any type of use and allowing David Tyree to pin a football to his helmet with his fingertips. But knowing Belichick, he will stress to his team to not even think about either of those games because the most important game is the next one. Besides, they will be without the Super Bowl MVP that won them that game in the first place.
New England comes into Week 1 as the largest underdog they've been in recent memory, and with good reason. The Cardinals, although aging at some key skill positions, remain a formidable opponent and a popular Super Bowl pick for the NFC. In fact, this was almost SB50's matchup last year, as both teams advanced to their respective Conference Championships. The Cardinals pose significant threats in all 3 phases of the game (I'm starting to sound like Belichick), headlined by David Johnson on offense (and Special Teams) and the LSU duo of Patrick Peterson and the Honey Badger on defense. Bruce Arians, the AP Coach of the Year in 2015 who is highly respected by Bill, is known for his diverse attacks on offense and his blitz heavy defense.
If you've even watched one single game the Patriots have ever played, you know that Belichick's main focus is to take away what the other team does particularly well. In this case, look for him to do everything in his power to stop David Johnson at all costs. The 2nd year pro out of Northern Iowa is a dual threat running back with home run potential every time he touches the ball. Arians will look to establish a running game early and often to set up Palmer's play action passes, and Arizona has no shortage of deep threats. New England's secondary will have its hands full with the likes of Michael Floyd, John Brown, and future hall of famer Larry Fitzgerald. Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan will be able to hold their own on the outside, with Butler occasionally shadowing 1 of those 3, but the key will be the Nickel back. Whether it's rookie Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, or newly acquired Eric Rowe, Palmer is more likely to go to his 3rd option with Butler and Ryan being two of the better CB's in the league as far as ball skills are concerned. So that 3rd cornerback is crucial, and if you don't believe me just check the game against Green Bay in 2014. Matt Patricia's defense, which thrives off turnovers, will have its opportunities against a 36-year-old Carson Palmer that just threw 4 interceptions and lost 2 fumbles in his last meaningful game.
On the other side of the ball, my guess is Josh McDaniels uses as much deception as possible to gain some easy yards. The Cardinals' 3-4 defense is stout and has studs at all three levels. Something tells me we aren’t going to see too many rushing yards against Calais Campbell and company, especially with what figures to be 8 men in the box at all times against a young QB making his first start. Belichick knows Chandler Jones' game inside and out, but you can bet the extra motivation against his former team will result in him showing up on the stat sheet in some way. Bill will probably advise Jimmy to steer clear of throwing towards Patrick Peterson, so expect Rookie CB Brandon Williams to get his fair share of looks. Jules will be moved around a ton, will likely get some jet sweeps, and will play the bulk of his game inside the numbers. Jimmy has been relying heavily on his two 6'6" Tight Ends in training camp and preseason, so expect Gronk and Marty B to get a ton of targets up the seams. The Honey Badger is arguably the best in the league at his position, but at the end of the day #87 is #87. Last time I checked, 6'6" 265lbs > 5'9" 186lbs. I expect to see a lot of James White/DJ Foster wheel routes, Gronk/Marty seam routes, and Jules/Amendola working the middle of the field.
The Pats will likely need to make a play in Special Teams to win this game. Hightower and Collins will do a solid job of keeping David Johnson remotely in check, and Devin McCourty will play so deep in the secondary he won't even be on your TV screen. But this game comes down to the fact that Palmer will just simply be able to put more points on the board than Jimmy in what figures to be a starting debut with the difficulty on Madden. Me personally, I'm just happy to see my guys back on the field, we're not really going to take shape until late October/early November. I wouldn't be surprised if we won this game, but in the likely event that we don't I'm going to be inebriated to the point that I won't care.
Prediction: Arizona by 4, don't ask me the score because I'm terrible with those.