In a rematch of a their week 4 match up, the New England Patriots travel south to the swamps of Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins. This will be the 107th meeting between these franchises with the Dolphins holding the all-time series lead 54-52. In week 4, the Dolphins entered the game with a unlikely and surprising 3-0 record looking to finally come through on the annual ‘changing of the guard’ narrative only to be upended 38-7 by a shorthanded Patriots team proving once again there is a HUGE gap between these franchises.
The Dolphins (6-6) sputter into this matchup having lost 6 of their last 9 games and struggling woefully both offensively and defensively. While a small handful of sad devoted fans still hold on to the slightest of playoff hopes, this team looks more like the sub .500 squad from last year than the 2016 Dolphins that somehow backed their way into the playoffs.
The Patriots (9-3), enter his game in their rightful 1st place spot in the AFC East having won 8 of their last 9 games including a huge Week 13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. While certainly this New England squad isn’t quite the offensive juggernaut everyone has become accustom to, they seem to be finding ways to be productive on both sides of the ball and have somehow managed to field a defense that is top 10 in the NFL in points allowed.
A critical division contest awaits in South Florida so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – PATRIOTS: While it’s true that New England’s Tom Brady is having a down statistical year, his mastery of the offense seems to put the Patriots in a position to win more often than not. For the Dolphins, however, perennial rookie Ryan Tannehill seems to be more injury prone than ever and even when he is able to play performs at a mediocre level at best.
Running Backs – PATRIOTS: New England’s running back group is now as healthy as they have been all season long and, as a group, have produced 500 more yards from scrimmage and 10 more touchdowns that their Miami counterparts.
Wide Receivers – PUSH: Even though Miami’s wide receivers may be physically more gifted than the group of wide outs that New England is fielding, surprisingly the Patriots wide receivers have gained more yards and are equal in the touchdown production to the Dolphins’ group.
Tight Ends – PATRIOTS: Age and wear has certainly taken its toll on New England’s Rob Gronkowski. However, even with the limited action he has had this year he is still singlehandedly outperforming the Dolphins entire tight end squad in every major statistical category.
Offensive Line – PATRIOTS: To this point in the season, Miami’s offensive line has surrendered almost twice as many sacks than New England’s line all while managing to have the 24th ranked running game in the NFL.
Defensive Front Seven – PATRIOTS: Both teams are near the bottom of the league when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback – Miami and New England rank 29th and 30th, respectively, in that category. However, the Patriots front seven had done a much better in stopping the run and have the best run stopping defense in the division…..The Dolphins? They rank 30th in the league in stopping the run.
Secondary – PUSH: As bad as the Patriots pass defense has been, from a statistical standpoint, the Dolphins are equally as bad and, in some cases, worse in some areas.
Special Teams – PUSH: From both a returning and kicking standpoint, both teams have been relatively equal though Miami’s punter gets a lot more opportunities to see the field.
Coaching – PATRIOTS: Whether he chose to or if he was forced to, Adam Gase hitched his wagon to a perennial 8-8 quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. What has this led to you might ask? How about this: After 44 Regular season games as Dolphins Head Coach, Adam Gase’s record is 22-22 headed into Sunday’s matchup. While Gase may have been a hot commodity several years ago, he’s clearly over his head and worse, has a front office that really lacks any direction or focus. Unless the Dolphins make an unlikely appearance in the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine that a head coaching change isn’t a possibility in Miami this off season.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Betting Line: Patriots -7
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Defensive Discipline: With the lack of consistent pass rush, the Patriots front seven need to stay disciplined in their rush lanes to keep Ryan Tannehill in the pocket and not let him run around to extend plays.
2) Run the Ball, Run the Ball, and Run the Ball: The Patriots now have three healthy and productive running backs and are going against the 30th ranked rushing defense in the NFL. There is no reason why New England shouldn’t try to run the ball 40+ times on Sunday.
3) Expect the Unexpected: For the Dolphins, each game from here on out is like a playoff game. A loss on Sunday will, by all accounts, all but eliminate them from the playoffs. New England needs to be prepared that Miami will be playing desperately and may have to resort to trickery in order to win this game.
On paper, this is probably the most lob-sided match up for the Patriots this season. However, the great equalizer is that New England, for some inexplicable reason, has struggled against the Dolphins when playing in Miami. If the Patriots intend to hold on to their 2nd seed in the AFC Playoff and win their 10th straight AFC East Division title, they will need to beat inferior bottom-feeding franchises like this regardless of playing location or environment.
Look for a surprising close game where a key turnover late in the game determines the outcome.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 26 – Dolphins 23