A big AFC East Showdown is upon us as the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots travel south to the swamps of Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins in a big early season division showdown.
This will be the 108thmeeting between these franchises with the Dolphins holding the all-time series lead 55-52. Last year’s Week 14 matchup saw the Dolphins pull off a miracle with a 69-yard double lateral play in the final seconds to pull out an unlikely 34-33 victory over New England. While the Dolphins got their biggest play of the season on their way to another forgettable 7-9 season, the Patriots would finish the season raising the Lombardi trophy for the 6thtime in franchise history.
The Dolphins (0-1) enter Week 2’s game come off their worst regular season loss in franchise history at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. With 4 minutes left in the 1stQuarter, Miami was down 21-0 with the handful of fans that showed up to the stadium booing the home town team. The afternoon didn’t get much better as Dolphins would go on to lose 59-10 getting decisively beat in every phase of the football game. If nothing else, Week 1 solidified that the Dolphins franchise appears to be in in complete tank-mode.
The Patriots (1-0) opened their season by revealing their 6thSuper Bowl Banner in spectacular fashion. They wasted no time in celebration and quickly turned their attention to the field and dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers to the tune of 33-3. While one game certainly does not make a season, there is a lot of optimism around Patriots Place after Sunday.
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: At 42 years old, New England’s Tom Brady looked sharp in Week 1 and his inevitable physical decline seems to be progressing slower than rival NFL fans would like. For the Dolphins, Ryan Fitzpatrick is probably the best option at QB at this point, but they might as well head to Alabama to start sizing up a jersey for Tua Tagovailoa.
Running Backs – PATRIOTS: Led by Kenyon Drake (4 Carries for 12 Yards), the Dolphins running backs were virtually invisible producing 21 rushing yards in Week 1. Drake is certainly a good player and will probably fetch a decent draft pick when Miami eventually trades him. For New England, their versatile group of running backs contributed in both the running game (29 Attempts – 99 Yards) and in the passing game (15 Catches – 97 Yards).
Wide Receivers – PATRIOTS: New England’s Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, and Philip Dorsett all had solid debuts in Week 1 calming, momentarily, concerns about the Patriots’ pass catching group. Miami certainly has a tradeable asset in DeVante Parker but the overall group coupled with their QB doesn’t match up well against the Patriots squad.
Tight Ends – PUSH: Neither team produced any significant plays out of their tight end group in Week 1.
Offensive Line – PATRIOTS: While it’s true that the Patriots are struggling with some injuries on their Offensive Line, they out performed their Dolphins counterparts in both run blocking and pass protection to this point in the season.
Defensive Front Seven – PATRIOTS: It is early in the season…. but…. The Patriots currently have the 3rdranked rush defense in the NFL and the Dolphins have the 32ndranked rush defense. If the Dolphins’ pass rush gives Tom Brady the same amount of time that they gave Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, it could be a very long afternoon for the Miami Defense.
Secondary – PATRIOTS: There are some good tradeable assets in the Dolphins’ secondary led by Xavien Howard…. However, the Patriots are allowing fewer passing yards, lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks, and allowing a much lower passer rating than their Dolphins counterparts.
Special Teams – PATRIOTS: About the only area where the Dolphins are excelling this year is that their punter, Matt Haack, is top 5 in punting yards and is leading the league in net punting average. He could easily lock up a Pro Bowl spot by mid-October.
Coaching – PATRIOTS: Miami’s Brian Flores spent 14 years with the Patriots starting as a Scouting assistant and working his way all the way up to “Linebackers coach” before taking the Head Coaching position with the Dolphins. By all accounts he is a good coach, a good person, and very well respected by his peers and the players that have played for him. The hope is that when he took the Dolphins job that there were discussions of their intent to tank the season and rebuild the team from the ground up. If so, he should be commended because that is a monumental task where the odds of success are low. Seeing some consistent success on the field with determine if Flores was the right person for this task.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Betting Line: Patriots -19 ⇓HOLY CRAP!
Keys to a Patriots Victory:
1) Don’t Fall For The Trap: This is about the clearest definition of a trap game that there is. The Patriots enter this game as overwhelming favorites against a division opponent they have historically not played well against on the road who, by the way, has a coach that knows their personnel and schemes about as well as anyone. Not that New England has to radically revamp what they do, but they certainly need to have a different mindset and go into this game with the intent of delivering a knockout blow early.
2) Run the Ball, Run the Ball, and Run the Ball: While it’s easy for the Patriots to rely on the arm of Tom Brady to carry the day, New England is going against the worst run defense in the league. There is no reason why the Patriots shouldn’t try to run the ball 30 to 40 times this game.
3) Expect the Unexpected: With how inept the Dolphins franchise has been going back to the mid-90’s, this home game against the Patriots has been the only thing that the franchise can look forward to each year and has essentially become their Super Bowl. The Patriots need to be vigilant that Miami will be desperate and will try anything to get a win.
The Patriots enter this game being the biggest road favorites (19 points) since 2007 when the Patriots were 19 ½ point favorites against the Ravens. For those of you who don’t remember, that was the famous “Rex Ryan 4th Down Timeout” game that extended a Patriots drive that led to the winning score.
Anyway, since the 2013 season, the Patriots have been 1-5 against the Dolphins in Miami. While this Dolphins team may go down as one of the worst teams ever in the 100 years of the NFL, the Patriots are in a situation where they are facing a former assistant coach who knows their tendencies in a place they don’t play well.
Look for a surprisingly closer game than expected.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 27 – Dolphins 19