No one — not even New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick — knows what quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will do in his first-ever NFL start Sunday night.
It’s a less-than-ideal debut venue for the third-year quarterback — the former second-round pick out of Eastern Illinois will have to take on the Super Bowl-contending Arizona Cardinals on the road in prime time.
But what’s the worst that could happen? Garoppolo looks terrible and the Patriots lose? Ok, just find a way to hold on for the next three weeks and Tom Brady — one of the greatest quarterbacks ever — is back under center and that problem is solved.
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The first four weeks of the season won’t determine if the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl — they really just determine if Garoppolo will be the starting quarterback when Brady retires. If he isn’t, New England will find another quarterback. No big deal.
Now if the Cardinals — the team that is one of the favorites to win the NFC this season — loses to a backup quarterback in his first start, at home, in prime time, then they have a problem.
Everyone might be looking at the new QB wearing the silver helmet, but the Cardinals have more to lose in Week 1’s most intriguing matchup.
For a team that is getting 12-to-1 odds on winning the Super Bowl, the Cardinals sure do enter the season with a lot of questions: The offensive line is a concern with new center A.Q. Shipley and right tackle D.J. Humphries; no one knows what to expect from the defense, particularly Tyrann Mathieu, who tore his ACL last season and is expected to start Sunday despite not playing a snap of the preseason; and the Cardinals seem content to go all-in on the aging Carson Palmer at quarterback and the still generally unproven David Johnson as a workhorse back.
Every team has questions, and Arizona might go out and provide an answer to every single one of those questions in Week 1. That’s why the games are played.
But what if the offensive line looks disjointed against the Patriots’ strong pass rush? What if Palmer actually looks like he’s closer to 40 than 30? What happens if the Honey Badger doesn’t look the same, or Johnson looks over his head?
There will be 15 more games to play — nothing will be decided — but confidence is an important part of success.
Arizona’s last game was a blowout loss to the Panthers in the 2015 NFC Championship Game. They need to put up a strong performance early in the season to show that loss was a fluke and that they could be better than they were last year. It’s a long season, but if Arizona doesn’t beat the Patriots — especially without Brady playing — they’ll have to wait until Oct. 23 to play another title contender, the Seahawks.
That’s how long a narrative can linger, even in the hyper-conversational NFL. Week 1 isn’t supposed to matter — unless you have something you need to prove.
And Arizona — far more so than Jimmy G and the Patriots — has something it needs to prove Sunday.