1. How does the offense look with Jimmy Garoppolo? Will it have the same pace or will Belichick slow the game down and try to limit possessions?
This is a dangerous situation for the Patriots because the offense has not looked great with Jimmy Garoppolo, which would seem to imply a slowed down offensive tempo, but the only times Garoppolo looked comfortable this preseason was in the hurry up. Garoppolo is a rhythm passer that needs to get into a groove; once he's in that groove, he can face anything the defense throws his direction. His problem is finding that groove.
Garoppolo struggles against the blitz, which the Cardinals are happy to send his direction, which causes him to scramble and make bad throws when he perceives an open window. Of course, Garoppolo hasn't seen extensive time with tight end Rob Gronkowski or wide receiver Julian Edelman, the top two targets on offense, so perhaps his questionable production was the result of a questionable supporting cast and he'll improve with the duo back in the lineup.
2. Defensively, the pass rush of the Patriots is completely different, but the Arizona Cardinals have had some tough play in pass pro, do you see the Patriots being able to cause problems?
Absolutely. While Chandler Jones is no longer with the Patriots, the team has invested plenty into the defensive front seven to believe they will continue to succeed. Jabaal Sheard was arguably better than Jones last season and will have an increased role, while the additions of veteran Chris Long and sophomore Trey Flower solidify the edge defender rotation.
The Patriots also love rushing their linebackers and Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are two of the most efficient blitzers in the league. New England has added Shea McClellin and Barkevious Mingo to the mix and both caught my eye as players that can really disrupt a play (stop laughing!).
In short, the Patriots are running a 2-5 defense this year, with Malcom Brown and Alan Branch as the starting defensive tackles. There are three stand-up linebackers in Hightower, Collins, and McClellin, and then two players with roles similar to 3-4 outside linebackers in Sheard and Long. All five of these linebackers have backgrounds as pass rushers and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will send a combination of two of these players at the quarterback to create some confusion, while not sacrificing the number of players in coverage. It's been effective.
3. Who is the X-Factor for the Pats to start the season?
Wide receiver Chris Hogan has my attention for a couple reasons. One, I think the defense is going to be fine and the performance of any one player probably won't cause the unit to rise or fall any considerable amount. Two, the entire Patriots offensive line would be my X Factor on offense, but I think that's a cop out and wanted to give one single player.
Hogan is the only really healthy target in this Patriots offense, which is to say that Julian Edelman (broken foot), Danny Amendola (knee), Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), and Dion Lewis (knee) will not be fully healthy. The first three players listed might play, but they're seemingly not at 100%.
Hogan, on the other hand, has looked excellent this preseason after crossing over from the division rival Bills. He's been the top receiving option and he's looked like he'll fit right into the offense. He's going to have to pick up a lot of the slack while the other offensive players shake off the rust from their injuries. It's a lot to ask of a new player, but Hogan looks like he might be able to do it.
4. Belichick has had five months to prep, yet the line is -6, is Vegas out of their mind?
The Patriots have been 6-points-or-greater underdogs just 5 times since they won the Super Bowl against the Rams: once in 2003, once in 2006, twice in 2008 with Matt Cassel, and once in the 2009 season finale. The Patriots covered the spread in four of those games, and they have covered in 12 of the 16 games where the Bill Belichick-led Patriots were 6-points-or-greater underdogs.
So perhaps the oddsmakers undercut the Patriots a bit. I think the 6-points is trying to entice those that think the Cardinals can beat the Patriots by a touchdown, especially when the Cardinals failed to cover in six of their final seven games as a 6-points-or-greater favorite in 2015. I think all signs point to the Patriots covering, even if the Cardinals still win.