The first Sunday night game of the season will take place in Arizona with the Cardinals taking on the New England Patriots. Both teams won their divisions last year but Arizona is getting a key defensive player back while the Patriots will begin the year without Tom Brady. Pro Bowl safety Tyron Mathieu is back with Arizona after recovering from a season ending ACL injury last December. Brady will miss the first 4 games for New England as he was suspended for his role in the Deflategate scandal.
The Cardinals finished first in the NFC West last year due to their strengths on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Carson Palmer had the best season of his career at 36 years old by throwing for over 4,600 yards and 35 touchdowns while throwing only 11 interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald is back for another year after totaling 109 receptions for 1,215 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. He joins receiver John Brown who also had over 1,000 receiving yards on only 65 receptions. David Johnson led a balanced running game with 8 touchdowns while Chris Johnson led the team with 814 yards. Their Defense ranked fifth in the league in total yards allowed and sixth in the league in rushing yards allowed. Tyrone Mathieu led the team with 5 interceptions despite not playing the full year and he joins Dwight Freeney who led the team with 8 sacks.
The loss of Tom Brady is significant for the Patriots because they have to now resort to Jimmy Garappolo who will be making his first career start. New England could also be without Pro Bowl Tight End Rob Gronkowski who is nursing a hamstring injury and his status for this game is still up in the air. The Patriots did pick up Tight End Martellus Bennett in the off-season to play along side Gronkowski. If Gronkowski doesn’t get the clearance to play, Bennett would be a solid replacement for the Patriots. He has racked up over 2,100 receiving yards to go along with 14 touchdowns the past 3 seasons with the Bears. Receiver Julian Edelman’s broken foot is healed giving Garappolo another target. Defensively, they are led by Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jamie Collins.
The last time these two teams met was a 20 to 18 Cardinal victory at Foxboro in week 2 of the 2012 season. With the uncertainty of Gronkowski and Tom Brady suspended, the Patriots are 6.5 point underdogs in this game. Including the playoffs New England went 8-8-2 against the spread last year while the Cardinals went 9-9. Jimmy Garappolo has only completed 20 of his 31 career passing attempts for a total of 188 yards. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is one of the best in the league and will have his team prepared and ready to play ready despite missing two superstar quality players. Arizona is healthy and has the benefit of home field advantage.
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