Sunday, September 11, 2016, 8.30pm ET, University of Phoenix Stadium
New England Patriots: WWWL
Arizona Cardinals: LLLW
New England Patriots: (+210 with Bovada.lv)
Arizona Cardinals: (-250 with Bovada.lv)
New England Patriots: +6 (-111 with Bovada.lv)
Arizona Cardinals: -6 (-111 with Bovada.lv)
The nationally televised Sunday night contest between the New England Patriots and the Arizona Cardinals is our opening game of the week this season, and there is plenty of intrigue around how this one will pan out.
This will be the first time the Patriots have ever visited the University of Phoenix Stadium to play the Cardinals, but Bill Belichick’s men have played two Super Bowls at the venue.
The big question for New England will be who starts in the place of suspended superstar Tom Brady.
Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looks the likely candidate, but he has failed to make an impact in the pre-season.
If he does get the start for the Pats, Garoppolo is set to become just the fifth quarterback in the last 30 years to make his first regular-season start in a season-opening night game.
The youngster will find himself among esteemed company if he does get the nod from Bellichick.
Aaron Rodgers, with Philip Rivers, David Carr and Brian Griese were the previous five men to do it.
Garoppolo said the criticism of his pre-season did not bother him heading into the regular season.
“No, as the quarterback, that’s your first job,” he said.
“You don’t want to turn the ball over. If you (don’t) do that, you give your team a good chance of winning.
“They’re right about that, but there’s so much more that goes into it, on the field, off the field, in the locker room, all that stuff.
“It’s a never-ending job as a starting quarterback and I’m looking forward to it.”
The young quarterback is keen to show the footballing world he has what it takes to fill the shoes of a future hall of famer, but he will face stiff opposition from one of the most fearsome defenders in all of football.
Waiting on the defensive end for Garoppolo is Arizona defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who said he is “licking (his) chops” in anticipation of facing Brady’s apprentice.
“You get a rookie quarterback, pretty much, it’s always exciting when you get a guy like that for his first game because he’s going to be nervous.
“He’s probably going to be sitting there holding the ball a little longer or trying to get rid of it quick, throwing bad balls.
“As a vet, we definitely pride ourselves on welcoming (inexperienced quarterbacks) the right way.”
NFL match preview
Big things are expected from both sides this season given the calibre of their rosters, but both teams had contrasting pre-seasons heading into Sunday night.
The Patriots went through undefeated until their final match of the pre-season when they lost to the Giants while the Cardinals did the opposite, dropping three straight matches before overcoming the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in their final hit out.
Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said despite the lopsided pre-season record the Cardinals are well placed coming into the season opener.
“I’m extremely confident,” Arians said.
“We’ve had a great camp. We’ve had moments offensively and defensively that show what we’re capable of and I think we’ll be more than ready next Sunday night.”
Pre-season form is seldom something the experts go off, so we cannot read too much into the dominant performance by the Pats.
What we can account for is the unavailability of Tom Brady, who will leave a massive hole in the offense.
Two of the Patriots best attacking threats are Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman – both of whom feed off Brady’s precision passing – are both exceptional players, but they may struggle if Garoppolo fails to find his range early in the piece.
Can the Patriots generate enough offense in the absence of Brady? We do not think so.
The Arizona Cardinals at home is the safest bet in the opening week of the NFL season and we are expecting them to cover the spread and register a comfortable victory.
Match prediction: Arizona Cardinals -6 points (-111 at Bovada.lv)