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Arizona Cardinals vs. New England Patriots preview

The Arizona Cardinals have a tall task ahead of them Sunday when they face the potent Bill Belichick-led Patriots on the road for New England’s home opener at Foxborough.

With the Patriots scary good offense and much-improved defense, the Cardinals are, not surprisingly, deemed big underdogs in what appears to be a lopsided match-up.
The Patriots, favored by 13.5 points, are on a streak — having won the last five meetings against the Cardinals.

Quarterbacks:

The Cardinals once again find themselves embroiled in a quarterback controversy. Although this time it is John Skelton’s right ankle sprain that’s re-opened the door for Kevin Kolb to prove himself. Kolb cashed in on a big pay day a year ago and now needs to find a way to earn that check.

Kolb is expected to get the start for Ken Whisenhunt Sunday, and possibly for the foreseeable future, depending on how quickly Skelton heals and if Kolb is able to impress.

Despite Kolb losing the starting job to Skelton, he led the team to an exhilarating victory after entering the game against the Seahawks in the fourth quarter and going 6-for-8 for 66 yards with a winning touchdown pass to Andre Roberts.

While there’s never a dull moment on the quarterback front in the Valley of the Sun, the Patriots are rock solid at the position with one of the best in the game, Tom Brady, firmly entrenched at the helm. With three Super Bowl rings and multiple MVP awards, Brady is surely looking to avenge last season, which ended with a surprising Super Bowl loss.

Brady has only faced the Cardinals once in his career, missing the most recent match-up between the two teams back in 2008.

In Week 1, Brady went 23-of-31 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for the win in Memphis against the Titans.

Offense:

Brady is fortunate to be leading one of the NFL’s most feared offenses. The Cardinals defense faces the inevitable responsibility of defending two of the game’s elite tight ends in former University of Arizona alum Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Another battle that should be fascinating to watch is between two of the NFL’s best wide receivers — Arizona’s
Larry Fitzgerald and New England’s Wes Walker. Both franchise receivers were in the top four in the league for receiving yards in 2011.

Neither wideout had huge numbers in their respective team’s openers. Fitzgerald had four catches for 63 yards, while Welker had just three receptions for 14 yards. Both teams are expected to target their franchise receivers much more often in Sunday’s match-up.

With Kolb leading the Cardinals offense in Week 2, expect Fitzgerald to see significant action. The Patriots are well aware of how dangerous Fitz can be, even in hostile territory. He caught a 78-yard touchdown pass for Arizona in New England in 2008.

Plus, Fitzgerald is expected to become the youngest player to reach 700 career receptions; he’s just three shy. Belichick was quoted this week heaping the praise on Fitz, saying he may end up being the best ever.

As for Welker, Brady is likely to target him early and often against a potent Cardinals pass rush.

In terms of the running game, the Cardinals backs failed to impress in Week 1, rushing for only 43 yards on 20 carries.

The Patriots, on the other hand, watched Stevan Ridley rush for a career-best 125 yards and one touchdown last week. The Cardinals ability to contain the Patriots running game undoubtedly starts with Ridley.

Defense:

The Cardinals acclaimed defense is getting praise from their Week 2 nemesis in the press this week. The Patriots have expressed their concern with facing a physical and strong defensive line, led by Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell.

Ray Horton’s troops have shown they will play hard for the duration the game, can withstand poor officiating, and don’t get easily rattled by the competition. The defense will need to focus on getting sustained pressure on Brady and containing Ridley, Gronkowski and Welker.

The Patriots 31st ranked defense took a lot of heat last season, but the team has bolstered that area in spades this offseason.

Rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones played a pivotal role in the Pats season-opening win and have solidified the Patriots’ rush defense. Belichick has earned a reputation as a defensive guru, and most observers expect that he will soon restore luster to his team’s defensive corps.

Outlook:

It looks to be a cloudy forecast in Foxborough for the Cardinals. Despite bringing an impressive defense East, the Cardinals will be no match for a stacked Bill Belichick coached squad, which has been dubbed by many as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Cardinals 14