With starting quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2016 NFL season, the New England Patriots will have to turn to third-year backup Jimmy Garoppolo.
Coming into this season Garoppolo’s career stat line strongly resembles a Tom Brady first half, as he’s gone 20-31 for 188 yards and one touchdown in two seasons of action. That said, Garoppolo has gotten the benefit of learning from two of the best in Bill Belichick and Brady, so he’ll come into the season with a strong knowledge base.
Luckily for Garoppolo, he won’t have to do it alone, as he’s got the help of coach Belichick and a more than capable Patriots roster.
Belichick has shown the ability to successfully coach the Patriots with inexperienced quarterbacks, as shown in 2001 when he coached the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory with Tom Brady in his first season as the starter, and in 2008 when he helped Matt Cassel lead New England to an 11-5 record following Tom Brady’s season-ending injury in week one.
Since Belichick has proven that he can win with unproven quarterbacks, common sense would suggest that the Patriots should at least be able to tread water with Garoppolo at the helm.
Aside from Belichick, Garoppolo has a great roster on his side with, plenty of options to throw to, such as All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, proven receivers in Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, and newly acquired tight end Martellus Bennett. Although the running game has always been secondary for the Patriots, LeGarrette Blount has been reliable and Dion Lewis returning from injury should help as well. Pair those skill position players with an experienced offensive line and the Patriots should have a capable offense with Garopollo.
The Patriots’ defense should be the team strength, especially early on. New England finished ninth in defensive yards allowed last season and a similar result should be expected this year. Even with the loss of Chandler Jones, the defensive line should be sturdy with Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins should continue to lead the linebacking corps, while Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty anchor the secondary. The talented Patriots’ defense should give Garoppolo plenty of room for mistakes this season.
Ultimately, New England’s early season success will come down to how well they do in their first four games, and this season they benefit from a relatively easy early season schedule.
In week one the Patriots travel to the Grand Canyon State to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football. The Patriots will lose this game. In fact, there’s a good chance they would lose even if Tom Brady was eligible to play.
Arizona has an ungodly amount of weapons on offense, with David Johnson and Andre Ellington in the backfield, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd on the perimeter and Carson Palmer at quarterback.
With Garoppolo making his first start, facing a defensive front of Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones and Robert Nkemdiche probably wasn’t what he was hoping for. Trying to throw against Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu probably wasn’t either.
I doubt they’ll get blown out, but the Cardinals might be the best team in the league and playing them at home with a backup is no easy task.
However, after their trip to the desert, the Patriots play the next three weeks at home, starting off hosting the Miami Dolphins in week two.
Miami’s defense ranked 25th in defensive yards allowed, and lost Olivier Vernon to free agency, providing opportunities for the Garopollo and the Patriots to get a bounce back win. Additionally, the Patriots’ defense should be able to contain the Dolphins’ average offense.
Week three gets interesting as the Houston Texans travel up to Foxborough for a clash on Thursday Night Football. From top to bottom, Houston probably has a better roster than New England, and with JJ Watt lining up against Garoppolo, things could get tricky.
However, the Texans’ offense probably won’t be lighting the world on fire with Brock Osweiler, so the Patriots’ defense should be able to keep them from scoring too much.
But I think the biggest edge for the Patriots is that they will have Bill Belichick preparing on a short week whereas the Texans have Bill O’Brien preparing on a short week, advantage Patriots. In all, the Patriots squeak away a sloppy, low-scoring victory on Thursday Night.
The Patriots end their home stand by hosting the division rival Bills. Buffalo was an annoyance for the Patriots last season, and I expect the Bills to continue that trend by pulling out all the stops to try to beat a weakened Patriots squad.
Leading up to the game, I suspect Bill’s coach Rex Ryan to say something outlandish or guarantee a victory, while Bill Belichick will use the extra time after the Thursday game to prepare his team.
Moreover, this will be Garoppolo’s fourth start, giving him just enough experience to effectively manage the game while the defense contains Buffalo’s pedestrian offense, giving the Patriots another win.
So the Patriots will start off 3-1 with most of the credit going to Bill Belichick, the defense and a favorable schedule, but Jimmy Garoppolo will make enough plays to keep the offense afloat.
And if that’s bad enough for the rest of the AFC, an angry Tom Brady returns the next week at Cleveland… Good luck Browns.