Todd: Ladies and Gentlemen, here are your 2018 New England Patriots!

Or maybe 2019?  2020?

There is going to be a time in the not-too-distant future when we, as Pats fans, are going to spend our fall Sundays watching the local football team with someone other than Tom Brady taking snaps from center.  Thanks to an alleged equipment infraction eighteen months ago that needs no further rehashing, we are about to get a sneak preview of what that era will look like.

For anyone who watched last night’s SB50 rematch between the Broncos and Panthers, Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian—a former seventh round draft pick who had never taken an NFL snap until last night—set the bar for what we should realistically expect to see from Jimmy Garoppolo over the next four weeks, especially in light of Garoppolo’s inconsistent play during the preseason.

If there are differences in trying to compare Garoppolo with Siemian, it’s that the Broncos—as they showed last night—can take some of the pressure off their young QB thanks to a top-ranked defense and a better-than-average offensive line and rushing attack.

The Mile High city is where last season’s Patriots fell short of a fifth Lombardi trophy because the offensive line was an absolute sieve following a slew of injuries and shoddy play that forced then-O-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo to start a different quintet every week.

Nearly eight months later, two of the starting linemen from that AFC Championship game (Bryan Stork, Josh Kline) have been released after attempted trades led to failed physicals and subsequent returns, one (Sebastian Vollmer) will miss at least the first six weeks on IR/PUP and the only returning starter (RT Marcus Cannon) is someone better suited to the bench.

But on the bright side, 68-year old Dante Scarnecchia has come out of retirement to coach the offensive line!  Uh, you’ll forgive me if I’m not convinced a change in coaches is the answer to what ails these guys.  All I know is this group needs to collectively play better so that the Pats can either have some sort of running game and/or give Jimmy Garoppolo enough pass protection to find an open receiver downfield.

Between the O-line, the running backs, the quarterback and the banged-up pass catchers (Gronkowski, Edelman and Amendola), the offense we can expect to see from the Pats coming out of the gate is loaded with question marks.  But on the other side of the ball, the Pats’ defense appears to be as good as the 2003-2004 teams that won back-to-back Super Bowls.  From the front seven to the secondary, the starters are in their primes of their careers, are in relative good health and even have some solid depth behind them.

Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower are as a good a pair of linebackers as there are around the league while Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty anchor a secondary that harkens back to the days of Ty Law and Rodney Harrison.  And who doesn’t love them some Barkevious Mingo?  Let’s just hope he’s more than simply a member of my all-time best names in sports.

So my outlook for the season is a 2-2 start under Garoppolo, followed by a 10-2 finish to the regular from Brady (which will be especially impressive because he’ll be playing with that Alan Branch-sized chip on his shoulder) and then hopefully a seventh Super Bowl appearance for Tom, who would get the chance to become the first QB to win a championship ring for his thumb!

As for a Pats-Cards Week 1 preview, could another pivotal moment in the recent history of the Patriots franchise take place on a Sunday night in Glendale, AZ?  First they were denied NFL immortality, then improbably won a fourth Lombardi in one of the all-time great Super Bowl finishes.  Now they return to the desert for Jimmy Garoppolo’s first NFL start and what will be a glimpse of life after TB12.

No outcome of this game would shock me, but I think Arizona’s defense is going to do a decent job confusing Garoppolo, and watch out for what is sure to be a revved-up Chandler Jones who would like to do nothing better than get a little revenge on his ex-mates.  Cardinals 24, Patriots 20.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the Red Sox, as tonight they begin what I’m calling the ‘AL East Playoffs’, consisting of 23 games over 24 days in a round-robin format, with the possibility of one extra game beyond that to determine the division.

The bats and starting pitching have generally done their part (although it would be nice to see a few more late-inning clutch hits), but the Boston bullpen—much like the Patriots’ offensive line—has been a hot mess that could ruin what’s been a very enjoyable season for baseball fans all across New England.  Wouldn’t it be fun to watch the David Ortiz Farewell Tour add some dates in late October?

Mike: Finally the Patriots have come baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaccccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkk......


to Foxboro.

Sorry, was just channeling the legendary Rock there for a moment...

And just like the Rock, the Patriots will be laying the Smack Down on the rest of the NFL this season.

I'm not going to go as far as picking a 16-0 season, because I think they are going to have some trouble with Tom Brady out for the first four games. But I think they will be able to get through those first four games with at worse, a 2-2 record.

And then Brady comes back, and watch out.

This has all the earmarks of a revenge tour, as once again, they can play the "us against the league" card, and I think a healthy and rested Brady will be able to lead the offense to huge numbers this season, and combine that with what is looking to be a strong defense, I think we're going to have the most awkward trophy presentation in Super Bowl history in February as Roger Goodell has to hand the trophy to Bob Kraft once again.

But for this week, be prepared for some tough times. The Cardinals are one of the top teams in the NFC, and playing in Phoenix in a prime time game with a huge home crowd, I think they are going to outlast the Patriots. Cardinals win 21-17.

One last thing, if the times are getting tough this season, the Patriots can always "Hulk Up" and take this inspiration from the legendary Hulk Hogan (the video is actually from 2014, but it still works...).

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