The Patriots already faced a challenge in their September season opener in the desert against the Cardinals. It potentially got more difficult with Monday’s news that the US Court of Appeals has reinstated Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
If that ruling stands, it’s likely that Jimmy Garoppolo, the team’s second-round pick in 2014 and Brady’s understudy the past two seasons, will be the starting quarterback in Arizona and on the subsequent three-game homestand.
Brady’s first game back is Sunday, Oct. 9 against the Browns in Cleveland, a scheduled 1 p.m. start on CBS.
Though there was a school of thought that the Patriots might use Garoppolo as trade bait to recoup the first-round pick they were docked as part of the Deflategate sanctions, that is no longer a viable option.
Garoppolo has never started an NFL game but has completed 20 of 31 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown in parts of 11 career games. He could be making start No. 1 under the bright lights of “Sunday Night Football’’ before a national television audience.
Garoppolo may lack game experience, but he is highly thought of by his teammates and the coaching staff and often is praised by Bill Belichick for his work on the scout team. He’s an underrated athlete who has the ability to give the New England defense several looks — from traditional dropback passer to scrambler — as it prepares for that week’s opponent.
The Patriots do not have a third-string quarterback, but that could change quickly with a free agent signing or this weekend’s draft. With 11 picks in their pocket, they can afford to spend a late-round selection on an arm.
Among the free agent possibilities are former Patriot Brian Hoyer, who knows the system, and Ryan Lindley, who was with the team in camp last summer and played the majority of the final exhibition game against the Giants. He was released during the final preseason cuts.
Hoyer, recently jettisoned by the Texans, may balk at a return to Foxborough only because he likely still considers himself a starter.
Following the tough road opener — the Cardinals are again expected to be one of the NFC’s top teams — the Patriots will face the Dolphins, Texans, and Bills at Gillette Stadium. Those teams combined to go 23-25 in 2015.
It’s a far better scenario than what New England would have faced last season. After a home opener with the Steelers, the Patriots traveled to Buffalo, hosted Jacksonville, and traveled to Dallas.
The Patriots also had their bye week in Week 3 last season. This season, the break comes in Week 9.
The Patriots went 4-1 against those teams in 2015, sweeping the Bills, splitting with the Dolphins (each team winning at home), and beating the Texans in Houston.
The Dolphins overhauled their coaching staff in the offseason, bringing in Adam Gase as head coach.
Additionally, pass rusher Mario Williams was signed after being released by the Bills. Miami did take two hits, with defensive end Olivier Vernon (Giants) and running back Lamar Miller (Texans) signing elsewhere.
The Texans will come to town with a revamped Bill O’Brien offense featuring new quarterback Brock Osweiler and Miller.
Miami and Houston both feature excellent pass rushers — Williams and Cameron Wake for the Dolphins and J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney for the Texans.
The Bills, who are snug against the salary cap, haven’t made any significant changes to last year’s team.