Why We Watch: The heat is on for Brady-less Pats in Arizona

The Arizona Cardinals are favored by seven points over New England this Sunday, and look no farther than one idle quarterback for the reason why.

Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals

(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of Arizona Cardinals)

GAME OF THE WEEK

NEW ENGLAND @ ARIZONA, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Cards by 7.

The weather: Sunny, high of 103 (retractable roof).

The story: No Tom Brady, no Gronk, no chance, right? Look at the betting line. When's the last time you remember New England a 6-point dog to anyone? But this isn't about the Pats. It's about quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and what he does in his first NFL start – the first of a four-week audition. The good news: He has three home games after this; the bad: He's up against an opponent that is 20-5 (including the playoffs) at home the past three seasons and led the league in blitzes in 2015.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Cardinals are 9-1 in home openers since the University of Phoenix Stadium opened and won their last six straight there.

THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF–FRAMING

CINCINNATI @ N.Y. JETS, 1 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Bengals by 2-1/2

The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 87.

The story: The Jets believe they're ready for the playoffs. The Bengals believe they're ready for the Super Bowl. One problem: The Jets haven’t been to the playoffs in five years, and the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. Worse, they're 0-7 in the postseason under Marvin Lewis. The Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off a season where he threw a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes but went unsigned until this summer. Huh? "I'm a better player now," he says. This is his chance to prove it.

MIAMI @ SEATTLE, 1 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Seahawks by 10-1/2

The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 66.

The story: This could be an intriguing game, what with Adam Gase predicting big things for Ryan Tannehill and Mario Williams predicting big things for the Miami D. But this won't be about the game. It will be about the National Anthem, with the Seahawks promising to stand with arms interlocked in a show of pre-game unity. Once upon a time, we went to football games to see football.

N.Y. GIANTS @ DALLAS, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Giants by 1

The weather: Sunny, high of 89 (retractable roof)

The story: So Tony Romo is out indefinitely, and Dak Prescott is the Dallas starter. Great. This won't be about either. The guy to watch here is Ezekiel Elliott, who was a first-round draft pick in April and a first-round draft pick in every Fantasy-Football draft this month. Elliott says he wants to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record, and that’s terrific. But Dickerson isn't the concern in Big D; a defense that doesn’t force turnovers and an unproven quarterback are.

Hall-of-Fame worthy -- This is the ninth time the Cowboys opened the season against the Giants. They're 8-0 against New York in those contests.

Antonio Brown photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

(Antonio Brown photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)

MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

PITTSBURGH @ WASHINGTON, 7:10 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Steelers by 3

The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 84

The story: Let's see, Pittsburgh is missing Martavis Bryant and LeVeon Bell, and Ladarius Green, rookie Artie Burns and Bud Dupree are out. Yet the Steelers still are favored. Reason: They're knee deep in talent. Let's be honest here: Washington isn't the Steelers' concern as much as suspensions and injuries are. Nevertheless, they have Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, and good luck, Josh Norman. Kirk Cousins finished last season in a hurry, with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions his last three starts, but this just in: Don’t get in a tennis match with Roethlisberger. You can't win.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Cousins 117.0 passer rating at home led all quarterbacks last season.

L.A. RAMS @ SAN FRANCISCO, 10:20 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Rams by 2-1/2

The weather: Sunny, high of 74.

The story: After two decades, the San Francisco-L.A. rivalry is renewed, and hallelujah. The 49ers start Blaine Gabbert, and here's why that’s notable: Because he's the best quarterback on the field. Honest. But then … this isn’t necessarily about what happens on the field. Not now it isn’t. Reporters will be counting heads to see who joins Colin Kaepernick on one knee when the National Anthem is played. To quote Elvis Costello: "I used to be disgusted. Now I try to be amused."

OUR BEST BETS

Ron Borges -- Raiders (+2-1/2). I'll take the Raiders anywhere, regardless of point spreads.

Rick Gosselin --Chiefs (--6-1/2). Andy Reid has it up and running ... with the emphasis on running.

Clark Judge -- Cards (--7). No Brady, no Gronk, no chance.

Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles/John Geliebter
Aug 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-Philadelphia Eagles

THE WATCH LIST

Arizona LB Chandler Jones – He had 12-1/12 sacks last season to lead New England, the team he now faces.

Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz – Once upon a time he was going to sit and watch. Then the Eagles traded away Sam Bradford. Welcome to the NFL, Carson.

Robert Griffin III – Hes back as a starter … and as a team captain … vs. a familiar opponent – Philadelphia. Cue Philly's Michael Buffer: Lets get ready to … gruuummmmbbblllle!!!

Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor – The Ravens released him. Now he starts against them. Forget retribution. Taylor should be grateful for the chance to play elsewhere.

Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck – He showed up as limited in practice with a sore shoulder, but GM Ryan Grigson says he's fine. Now we find out.

Atlanta DE Dwight Freeney – He makes his debut with Falcons after leading Arizona with eight sacks last year. He ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks since 2002 with 119.5.

Baltimore WR Steve Smith – He's retired. No, he's not retired. He's retired. No, he's not retired. Smith, who returns after a season-ending injury, needs just 73 yards to pass Hall-of-Famer James Lofton in career totals.

Atlanta WR Mohamed Sanu -- While others may not stand for the National Anthem, Sanu chooses to honor 9/11 with a pair of red, white and blue shoes that feature ... uh-huh, the Stars and Stripes. Sanu grew up within 40 miles of New York City. Tennessee LB Avery Williamson did not, and he plans to wear the shoes, too. One problem: The NFL said it will fine him. You gotta be kidding. Guys who want to honor the fallen from 9/11, the NFL will discipline, yet guys who decline to stand for the Anthem ... dont get me started.

Washington CB Josh Norman -- He says he belongs in the top five cornerbacks ... ever. OK, so prove it. Shut down Antonio Brown, he of 136 catches last season.

San Francisco QB Blaine Gabbert -- Time to take the focus off the quarterback who has been sitting since the middle of last season, Anthem or no Anthem.

Philip Rivers photo courtesy L.A. Chargers
Philip Rivers photo courtesy L.A. Chargers

(Philip Rivers photo courtesy of San Diego Chargers)

THIS WEEKEND 'S HALL-OF-FAMOUS

San Diego QB Philip Rivers – He has 5,157 career yards passing vs. Kansas City, the most vs. any opponent.

Oakland WR Amari Cooper – He had five 100-yard games as a rookie, and look who his opponent is now. Uh-huh, one of the league's worst defenses.

N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning – He has a 100+ passer rating in three of his last six games in Dallas.

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger – He won nine of his last 11 Monday Night Football starts and is 3-0 vs. Washington.

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers – His 104.8 passer rating in September is the best among active quarterbacks.

HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY

The Cowboys .673 winning percentage (37-18-1) in season openers is the NFL's best ever.

Atlanta won its last eight home openers, the NFL's best record in that department.

Drew Brees has 3,883 yards passing in 14 season openers and needs 117 more to become the second quarterback to pass 4,000 in openers. Peyton Manning (4,736) is the other.

In 2015, 51.2 percent of games were decided by seven or fewer points, with 67 comeback victories by teams trailing in the fourth quarter.

In every season since the NFL adopted the 12-team format in 1990 at least four teams that missed the playoffs the preceding year qualified the following season.

Since 2008, the Denver Broncos are an NFL-best 20-8 in September. New England is second at 19-8.

Since 2008, New England has a +105 margin in the takeway/turnover department, best in the NFL. Green Bay is second at +88.

Green Bay three times has gone undefeated in September under Mike McCarthy, including 3-0 last year.

New England is just one of four teams that never played a regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Of course, the Patriots have been there before, going 1-1 in Super Bowls at the stadium.

Over the last two seasons, Philadelphia has the best interconference record (7-1) in the NFL.

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