Deflategate is the forever-lingering rain cloud that follows the New England Patriots and their fans around.
For the second straight year, Tom Brady’s status for the first four weeks of the season is in question. The NFL’s appeal over Judge Richard Berman’s decision to vacate Brady’s four-game suspension went surprisingly well for the league. It’s unclear when we’ll find out if Brady’s suspension will be restored, but the Patriots can’t begin fully planning for 2016 until word comes down.
So, if Brady does have to sit, and Jimmy Garoppolo has to start, what kind of challenges will he face in the Patriots’ opening games?
Week 1 at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals ranked ninth in passing defense and eighth in passer rating against, and that was before they traded for ex-Patriots pass rusher Chandler Jones.
Garoppolo will be under siege from Jones, Calais Campbell and Markus Golden, and he has to throw at Patrick Peterson, Tyvon Branch and Tony Jefferson.
Cardinals star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suffered a torn ACL in December, which could put his status for Week 1 in question. If he plays, Garoppolo could be in trouble.
Week 2 vs. Miami Dolphins
This will be Garoppolo’s easiest test. The Dolphins ranked 21st in passing defense and 24th in passer rating against in 2015, and that was before replacing Olivier Vernon and Brent Grimes with Mario Williams and Byron Maxwell.
Week 3 vs. Houston Texans
J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork and company comes to town in Week 3. The Patriots have done a solid job of mitigating Watt in the past, but Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney also could go off for the Texans, who ranked fifth in sacks and ninth in passer rating against in 2016.
Week 4 vs. Buffalo Bills
The Bills’ defense is one of the best in the NFL on paper. But this isn’t paper football, and for one reason or another, the Bills underperformed in 2015 under Rex Ryan, when they had just 21 sacks and ranked 19th in total defense.
Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes are among the best players at their positions, but it won’t matter if Ryan can’t motivate the whole unit.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images
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