ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!??!?!?
After a long and arduous off season filled with false hope, meaningless rhetoric, and the Dolphins’ annual Off Season Championship parade, we are finally at the start of a new NFL Season where hopes and dreams are crushed on a weekly basis. In the blazing heat of the American southwestern desert, the New England Patriots travel to Phoenix to take on the Arizona Cardinals. This should be dubbed the “Brides Maids Bowl” because both teams lost their respective conference championship games last season.
Since 1970, the Patriots and Cardinals have met only 13 times with Arizona holding the series lead 7-6. The Patriots have won 5 of the last 6 contests dating back to 1993 but the Cardinals did win the last meeting in 2012 beating the Patriots in Foxboro 20-18.
Though both teams fell one game short reaching the Super Bowl last year, the new season has renewed hope for both franchises and this could be a potential Super Bowl preview….So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams are broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Cardinals: For the first time since the 2001, a quarterback not named “Tom Brady” opens the season for the Patriots. Though Jimmy Garoppolo has all the tools to be a serviceable quarterback, the Patriots face a very seasoned Carson Palmer who is coming off the best statistical year of his career. Though Palmer has never beaten the Patriots in his previous 4 attempts, he certainly does get the edge in this comparison based on his body of work.
Running Backs – Cardinals: Arizona featured the 8th best rushing attack in the NFL in 2015 utilizing the duo of Chris Johnson and David Johnson. Though the overall talent level between the two teams’ running back groups are not all that different, the Cardinals get the edge in this category based on their production alone.
Wide Receivers – Cardinals: The Patriots have a formidable group of wide receiver group that works well in their system but Arizona probably has one of the top receiver groups in the NFL anchored by the ageless Larry Fitzgerald.
Tight Ends – Patriots: The duo of Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett may be the best TE duo to line up in the NFL since 2012 (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez)
Offensive Line – Push: Both teams had offensive line issues that were exposed in their respective conference championship games. Though both teams invested draft picks to help bolster these units, it too early to tell if either team has done enough to improve over last season.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: Surprisingly with all the attention that the Cardinals defense gets, they have struggled to sack opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis. Arizona has attempted to remedy this situation by trading for the Patriots’ Chandler Jones but there is a reason why New England was so willing to let Jones go beyond what he is able to do on the field. For the Patriots, they have built a formidable and deep front seven – which includes the likes of Donte Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard, and Malcom Brown – that have been stout against the run and nearly led the NFL in sacks in 2015.
Secondary – Push: Both teams feature two solid contributors in the defensive secondary: Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu for the Cardinals and Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty for the Patriots. However both teams have question marks in the other two secondary positions.
Special Teams – Patriots: A Special Teams unit featuring Stephen Gostkowski is tough to match up with but the addition of Cyrus Jones to handle punt return duties may an underrated move made by the Patriots.
Coaching – Patriots: With a gaudy 43-17 record, Bruce Arians has established himself as one of the better coaches in the NFL over the last several seasons. It’s hard to believe that Arians spent 24 years as an NFL assistant before landing his first head coaching job. On the other sideline, Bill Belichick has proven that he is arguably one of the best football coaching minds in NFL history and there no doubt that he will have his team prepared to play.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Establish a Running Game: The biggest help that the Patriots can provide Jimmy Garoppolo is to muster up some sort of a running game. The Patriots were near the bottom of the league for rushing attempts but near the top of the league in Yards per Attempt. They need to show more commitment to the run if they intend to shorten the game and keep the ball away from Arizona’s offense.
2) Find and Cover Larry Fitzgerald: Lost in all the amazing catches that anoint average receivers as the next greatest thing, Larry Fitzgerald continues to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Though Arizona is loaded with weapons all over the field, Fitzgerald can easily take over a game after lying dormant for three quarters (Hey Green Bay…I’m talking about you). The Patriots need to be very aware where Fitzgerald is lining up every play and ensure they don’t get lulled into a false sense of security.
3) Pressure, Pressure, Pressure: In the mid 2000’s, Carson Palmer’s name was starting to be mentioned with the likes of “Brady” and “Manning”. Unfortunately, injuries and being associated with the Bengals’ organization derailed Palmer’s ascension to the NFL Elite. Palmer has salvaged his career in Arizona and has helped establish the Cardinals as a contender. However it is also very clear that defensive pressure makes Palmer make HORRIBLE decisions with the football as seen in the NFC Championship Game last year. The Patriots need to generate some heat on Palmer and force him into a few mistakes that he will inevitably make.
It’s very rare when a team has the offensive edge over the Patriots but Tom Brady’s suspension has completely changed what New England would normally do offensively against Arizona. Though no coach in the NFL is better prepared to handle the loss of personnel, Bill Belichick has his work cut out for him trying to help a young QB making his first start on the road against the Cardinals.
Look for the Patriots to pound the ball and use the short passing game in an effort to keep the ball away from Arizona. Defensively, the Patriots need to generate some creative pass rush to make Carson Palmer throw into tight windows and try to capitalize on some mistakes.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 20 – Cardinals 17