November 19, 2015 - Joe Mason
The One NFC Team That Could Take Down the Patriots in the Super Bowl
The Patriots almost lost to the New York Giants last week – but they didn’t. Instead, the Patriots are undefeated and look for all the world like they’re ready to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Among the AFC teams, only the Bengals look truly capable of standing in their way – and there are matchup concerns there, as the Bengals play a similar offensive-minded brand of football but have been unable to put up the same point differentials as the Patriots have. The Patriots seem destined to make the Super Bowl again, and if they do so, there’s reason to believe that they’ll triumph. That said, the New York Giants showed that there was a way to stay competitive with the Patriots: you just have to pick on their secondary and pit a strong pass rush and secondary against their offense. Can any playoff-bound NFC teams manage to do that? Yes: the Arizona Cardinals can. Beating the Butler The New England Patriots have few weaknesses, but their secondary is one of them. The New England Patriots let CB Darrelle Revis walk in the offseason, replacing him with Super Bowl star Malcolm Butler. Butler is a solid player, but he’s no superstar, and it shows: the Patriots are 22nd of 32 teams in pass defense. They’ve played only a couple of strong passing teams (the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts), so matchups haven’t been the issue. The likes of the Bills, Jaguars, Cowboys (who started their backup quarterback), Jets, Dolphins, and Redskins have been the ones pushing the Pats down the list, so this is a matter of real concern. Enter the Cardinals, who lead the league in total offense and are fourth in the league in pass offense. The Cardinals have gotten it done against tough defenses like Seattle’s and St. Louis’, and they should be more than capable of making life miserable for the Patriots defense. Malcolm Butler would have to line up against Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ legendary and seemingly ageless receiver. That’s a tough matchup, and it favors the Cardinals. Stopping the Pass The other key to beating the Patriots is perhaps the more important of the two, and that’s defending the pass. The Patriots have scored practically at will against their opposition, but they looked more than a little thrown off when they had to deal with the New York Giants’ game plan. Pressuring Brady can lead to results if it’s paired with strong secondary play, and the Cardinals have what it takes to use that formula. They’re the third-best defense in the league (trailing only Denver, a team that seems lost on offense, and Seattle, a team that will likely miss the playoffs). They’re sixth best in pass defense. They’re likely to be the best defense in the NFC playoff picture, and that could serve them well in the postseason. Putting it All Together There are other teams in both conferences that can match one or the other part of this formula. Pittsburgh could use Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown to light up the Patriots’ secondary, but they can’t defend well enough to stop Brady. Denver could do wonders against the Patriots’ passing attack, but Peyton Manning is injured and the Broncos can’t seem to score. The Packers, among other NFC teams, feature strong passing games but mediocre defenses. The Panthers have a good pass rush, but Cam Newton may not be the quarterback that can pick apart the Patriots’ secondary. Only the Arizona Cardinals have both parts of this crucial formula, and it seems clear that they’re the best matchup for the Patriots. If the Super Bowl comes down to a showdown between the Cards and Pats, it will be a matchup to remember – and one that will favor Arizona.