The New England Patriots’ up-and-down season continued in Week 11 with a 27-20 defeat against the Houston Texans. Now at 4-6, the team is entering live-or-die territory when it comes to its playoff hopes — and the first game to increase the odds of making the tournament comes against an unfamiliar opponent: the Arizona Cardinals will visit Gillette Stadium for the first matchup between the two clubs in four years.
Let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.
Record: 6-4 (3rd place NFC West)
Points scored: 7th (28.7/game)
Points against: 13th (23.8/game)
Head coach: Kliff Kingsbury
Coordinators: Tom Clements (passing game), Vance Joseph (defense), Jeff Rodgers (special teams)
The Cardinals are led by a familiar face: Kliff Kingsbury entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2003, but never actually appeared in a game for the club after spending his rookie year on injured reserve and being released the following season. Since then, the 41-year-old has made his way into coaching and he is now in his second season with the Cardinals. After finishing 5-10-1 last year, his team has already surpassed that win total.
Season so far
Week 1 at San Francisco 49ers: W 24-20
Week 2 vs Washington Football Team: W 30-15
Week 3 vs Detroit Lions: L 26-23
Week 4 at Carolina Panthers: L 31-21
Week 5 at New York Jets: W 30-10
Week 6 at Dallas Cowboys: W 38-10
Week 7 vs Seattle Seahawks: W 37-34 (OT)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9 vs Miami Dolphins: L 34-31
Week 10 vs Buffalo Bills: W 32-30
Week 11 at Seattle Seahawks: L 28-21
The Cardinals’ season so far has been a wild ride. A two-game win streak to open the year was followed by a two-game losing streak and another three-gam win streak — including an overtime victory against the Seahawks. Coming out of its Week 8 bye, however, the team has lost two of three games. The lone victory in between was a memorable one, though: Arizona beat the Bills on a Hail Mary touchdown pass from Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins.
The Patriots and Cardinals have met 14 times so far, with none of the meetings coming in the playoffs so far:
- Patriots wins: 7 wins
- Cardinals wins: 7 wins
New England struggled early on against the Cardinals, losing six of the first seven games between the two organizations. Since then, however, the team has bounced back by winning six of the last seven — including a memorable opening game meeting in Arizona in 2016: with Tom Brady suspended, Jimmy Garoppolo led the Patriots to a 23-21 victory that came down to a game-clinching missed field goal attempt by the home team.
That ending was similar to the one four years earlier, when the Cardinals won 20-18 at Gillette Stadium thanks to a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal try in the final seconds.
Projected starting lineups
QB Kyler Murray; RB Kenyan Drake; WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Christian Kirk; TE Maxx Williams; LT D.J. Humphries, LG Justin Pugh, C Mason Cole, RG J.R. Sweezy, RT Kelvin Beachum
Led by former first overall draft pick Kyler Murray in his second year in the league, the Cardinals have fielded one of the most productive offenses in football. For as impressive as Murray has been, his supporting cast also played a notable role in his second-year jump — most prominently DeAndre Hopkins who was added via trade from the Texans during the offseason. Arizona’s number one receiver, Hopkins has caught 72 passes for 912 yards and four touchdowns.
DE Josh Mauro, NT Angelo Blackson, DE Trevon Coley; OLB Haason Reddick, ILB De’Vondre Campbell, ILB Jordan Hicks, OLB Markus Golden; CB Patrick Peterson, CB Dre Kirkpatrick; S Budda Baker, S Chris Banjo
Even though the Cardinals are missing some of their core defenders — Chandler Jones and Corey Peters are on injured reserve, Deionte Thompson is on the Coronavirus list — they still have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball even with first-round rookie Isaiah Simmons as more of a role player. The biggest name, however, is Patrick Peterson: one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, he is leading a secondary that has registered eight interceptions so far this year.
K Zane Gonzalez, P Andy Lee, LS Aaron Brewer; KR Chase Edmonds, PR Christian Kirk
Arizona’s special teams unit is one of the best in the NFL, even with place kicker Zane Gonzalez having a sub 80-percent success rate on field goals this season. The team also fields a tremendous coverage unit as well as some potent returners in Chase Edmonds and Christian Kirk.
Three things to watch
1. Can New England’s defense bounce back? The Patriots’ defense struggled mightily against Houston in Week 11, with quarterback Deshaun Watson having no trouble moving the ball through the air. Going against a similarly impressive QB this week in Kyler Murray, and one of the NFL’s best wide receiver trios, New England needs to bounce back quickly in order to find success on this side of the ball again.
2. How will the Patriots use their running backs? With Rex Burkhead’s season over and Sony Michel set to return after his stint on injured reserve, the Patriots will need to redefine their running back usage outside of receiving back James White. Will Michel and Damien Harris split early-down reps? And does rookie J.J. Taylor fit into the equation? The Cardinals will find out on Sunday.
3. Will Cam Newton continue to efficiently lead the offense? After some bad performances coming off the Reserve/Covid-19 list, Cam Newton has bounced back nicely over the last three-and-a-half games. He will remain a focal point of the Patriots’ offense simply due to the position he plays, but the question is whether or not he can continue his recent development and get better in some of the areas that he is still struggling with.