Tom Brady will not be under center in a season opener for the first time since 2001 when the New England Patriots pay a visit to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night. Brady will be serving the first of a four-game suspension for his involvement in the “Deflategate” scandal, putting third-year quarterback Jimmy Garappolo in the spotlight for his first career start. The Patriots also learned Friday evening that they will be without TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) for this Week 1 game.
To underscore the act that Garappolo is trying to follow, albeit for four games, is the fact that New England is the only team in league history to win division titles in 12 of the past 13 seasons with Brady at the helm. “He has done a lot of little things to help me, whether it be on the field or off the field,” Garappolo said of Brady. “You spend so much time with the guy that you pick up little things that he does that you find helpful and you put it towards your own game.” While the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship Game last season, Arizona finished 13-3 and also came up one win short of the Super Bowl after losing to Carolina in the NFC title game. Quarterback Carson Palmer and all the key players on offense return on a team that led the NFL with 408.3 yards per game and bolstered its pass rush by acquiring Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones from New England in the offseason.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.
LINE HISTORY: Of all of the point spreads on the betting board for Week 1, this one has certainly been adjusted the most. When the lines were initially released, back in April, this game was a pick ’em as most people assumed the “deflategate” nonsense was in the rear-view mirror for the Patriots. Just days after the release of the opening Week 1 NFL lines, Tom Brady’s suspension was reinstated and the Cardinals were adjusted to six-point favorites. Over the course of the summer, the Cardinals’ line wavered anywhere between -5.5 and -6.5. The line finally seemed to settle in at -6 in the week leading up to the opening Sunday of the season but news of Rob Gronkowski not traveling to Arizona for the game due to a hamstring injury boosted the line even further to -7.
The total hit the board at 51 back in April but also suffered a major change after the Brady suspension news – adjusting to 47.5. The total held relatively steady all summer until the Gronk news this week. With no Tom Brady and no Rob Gronkowski playing on Sunday night, the books felt that 44.5 was a more appropriate total. Check out the complete line history here.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: New England (-3.5) – Arizona (-4) + home field (-3) = Cardinals -3.5
KEY INJURIES (for full injury report visit matchup page):
Patriots – WR D. Amendola (Probable Sunday, knee), WR C. Hogan (Questionable Sunday, shoulder), TE R. Gronkowski (Out Sunday, hamstring), T N. Solder (Out Sunday, hamstring), DE R. Ninkovich (Out Sunday, tricep and suspension), QB T. Brady (Out Sunday, suspension), RB D. Lewis (Out Sunday, knee), T S. Vollmer (Out Sunday, knee).
Cardinals – LB A. Okafor (Probable Sunday, bicep), DT F. Rucker (Probable Sunday, neck), WR J. Brown (Probable Sunday, concussion), WR L. Fitzgerald (Probable Sunday, knee), RB S. Taylor (Questionable Sunday, knee), CB J. Bethel (Questionable Sunday, foot), CB M. Jenkins (Out Sunday, knee), LB T. Okpalaugo (Out Sunday, hamstring).
WEATHER REPORT: There is a chance of a thunderstorm in the Phoenix area on Sunday evening – it’s a good thing that the Cardinals play in the domed University of Phoenix Stadium. No weather worries for this game.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “Pats take the field minus the services of their two best offensive weapons in QB Tom Brady (suspension) and TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), looking to win at least half of their first four games they will be forced to play without their Pro Bowl quarterback to start the season. Meanwhile the Cardinals, off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in 65 years, look to improve to 7-0 SU in home openers the past seven seasons. The bottom line is both coaches are the best in the league at winning big games and beating the spread. Great Sunday night opener to start the season.” – Covers Expert Marc Lawrence.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (2015: 12-4 SU, 7-7-2 ATS, 9-7 O/U): Garappolo has the league’s biggest matchup nightmare at his disposal in the person of Rob Gronkowski, who had 72 catches for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns last season to become the only tight end in league history to post double-digit TDs five teams. Julian Edelman had 61 receptions and seven TDs through nine games before suffering a broken foot last season and will be another safety valve for Garappolo, who may use sledgehammer running back LeGarrette Blount in an attempt to keep Arizona’s offense off the field. New England lost its best all-around defensive player last week when pass-rushing end Rob Ninkovich was suspended four games after testing positive for a banned substance.
ABOUT THE CARDINALS (2015: 13-3 SU, 9-7 ATS, 9-7 O/U): Palmer established franchise records for touchdowns (35), yards (4,671) and completion percentage (104.6) before unraveling in the conference championship game with six turnovers. His receiving corps of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and speedster John Brown return while second-year running back David Johnson opens the season as the starter after scoring 13 touchdowns as a rookie and playing superbly down the stretch when Chris Johnson suffered a broken leg. Playmaking safely Tyrann Mathieu is back after tearing an ACL in his knee late last season and Jones is expected to rectify the biggest weakness on defense after notching a career-high 12.5 sacks last season.
* Patriots are 1-6 ATS in their last 7 road games.
* Cardinals are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games in September.
* Under is 4-0 in Cardinals last 4 home games.
* Under is 4-1 in the last 5 meetings.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The public is supporting the home favorite Cardinals at a rate of 59 percent and the Under is picking up the majority of the totals wagers on Covers with 56 percent.