The New England Patriots have more intrigue than usual entering their daunting matchup against the Arizona Cardinals in the first Sunday Night Football game of the NFL season.
The Patriots, ahead of backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo making his first NFL start in place of suspended Tom Brady, are 6.5-point underdogs against the host Cardinals with a total of 45.5 points at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
The line has shifted since reports that All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), along with LT Nate Solder and RG Jonathan Cooper, did not travel on the Patriots’ flight to Arizona on Friday, although there is the possibility they have stayed back for treatment. New England has not been an underdog by this large a margin since Brady was out with a knee injury in 2008.
The Patriots are 3-4 straight up and 3-4 against the spread in their last seven games as a road underdog according to the OddsShark NFL Database. Garoppolo, a third-year NFLer, did not throw an interception in the preseason, but he might be hard-pressed to keep that up against a talented Arizona pass defense that includes All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson and FS Tyrann Mathieu.
If Gronkowski, who is officially listed as questionable, is unable to play, the next TE up for the Patriots is Martellus Bennett, a former starter with the Chicago Bears. The Patriots’ concerns on the offensive line also raise questions about whether they will be able to limit disruptions by Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones, whom New England traded away last season.
Arizona is 8-2 SU but only 2-8 ATS in its last 10 home games vs. AFC teams, and was also just 3-6 ATS last season at University of Phoenix Stadium. Quarterback Carson Palmer, RB David Johnson and veteran WR Larry Fitzgerald have their work cut out for them against what was a top-10 defense last season and has playmakers such as OLB Jamie Collins and CB Malcolm Butler.
Who will generate a pass rush for New England in the Sunday Night Football matchup remains in question, since Jones is gone and DE Rob Ninkovich is suspended for testing positive for a banned substance.
The Cardinals are 20-4 SU in Palmer’s last 24 starts, as well as 7-0 SU in their last seven September games. The total has gone over six of the last seven times that New England was listed as an underdog. The total has gone under in four of the last five Patriots-Cardinals games.