In the annual AFC East “Changing of the Guard Bowl”, the Miami Dolphins head to New England this week in an effort to end the Patriots six game winning streak. Including the playoffs, this will be the 100th meeting between the Dolphins and Patriots with Miami holding a 52-47 advantage over New England in the previous 99 meeting. This may serve the Dolphins’ faithful well who love living in the past but in more recent times, the Patriots have dominated this division matchup and have won 10 of the last 13 meetings.
For both teams, it’s seems the 2015 season is déjà vu all over again: The Dolphins, in an effort to close the division gap with the Patriots, spent money like it was burning a hole in Stephen Ross’ pocket only to get their usual disappointing results while the Patriots seem poised to win another division title by Thanksgiving.
However, with these division games, anything is possible 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: Luckily for Ryan Tannehill, his regression this year has been temporarily slowed thanks to the changes in the coaching staff and playing against less than stellar competition over the last couple of weeks. However, it’s up to Tannehill to prove that his issues were due to coaching and not his lack of football awareness on the field. For the Patriots, Tom Brady has been methodical this season and showed that he can elevate the play of his team even when facing formidable opponents.
Running Backs – Patriots: The Patriots running game has virtually disappeared this year but their running backs have contributed greatly in the passing game. Patriots’ running backs are still out-gaining their Dolphin counterparts in total yards from scrimmage even with their lack of running attempts.
Wide Receivers – Push: The Dolphins have a young group of receivers highlighted by Rishard Matthews. Miami’s wide receivers have put up some numbers through the first six games of the season but the Patriots receivers, though not as physically impressive, have been a steady group that seem to show up when it matters the most.
Tight Ends – Patriots: Umm….Do the Dolphins have any Tight Ends???
Offensive Line – Push: Though the Dolphins’ Offensive line has played better over the last two games, they have a long and storied history of getting their Quarterback crushed repeatedly. The Patriots Offensive line has struggled through injuries but has performed well enough for Tom Brady to deliver the football against some very good defensive fronts this season.
Defensive Front Seven – Patriots: Neither team distinguishes themselves when defending opponents’ running game but the Patriots have found themselves near the top of the league in quarterback sacks. Add in the clear advantage the Patriots have in their linebacker group gives them the slight edge in this comparison.
Secondary – Push: Both teams’ defensive backfields are allowing similar yardage through the air (New England: 248.3 and Miami 240.5) and also have 6 interceptions each. There is no clear cut advantage for either team in this area.
Special Teams – Patriots: Miami certainly has had more opportunities to punt the ball away and to return kickoffs after being scored on this year. However the Patriots edge out the Dolphins by having Stephen Gostkowski who is leading the NFL in scoring
Coaching – Patriots: Upon replacing Joe Philbin going into their bye week, Dan Carpenter put an emphasis on more physical practices which, by all appearances, has given life to the Dolphins. Though the last two Dolphins victories came at the expense of two teams that will probably pick in the top 10 in next April’s draft, Thursday game against the Bill Belichick led Patriots will be a different challenge so anxious Miami fans may want to wait before breaking out the parade floats.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Protect Tom Brady: Since taking over the Dolphins, Dan Campbell has made it clear that the message that he has sent his team is that they will not play dirty but will push that line to the limit. Having Ndamukong Suh, who is the dirtiest player in the league, along with cheap shot artist Oliver Vernon certainly should make Patriots fans nervous. Depending on how the game progresses, the Patriots may, in all likelihood, put the game in Tom Brady’s hands so protection needs to be a top priority.
2) Don’t forget the Running Game: The Patriots completely abandoned the run against the Jets last Sunday mainly because that was the strength of the Jets’ Defense. The Dolphins, however, rank 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. This should give the Patriots some opportunities to use LaGarrette Blount to help slow down Miami’s pass rush and keep the defense honest.
3) Expect the Unexpected: No coach has done a better job with preparing his team for Thursday games than Bill Belichick. However, the Dolphins at 3-3 are a desperate team with 4 out of the next 5 games on the road with three division games starting with New England. The Patriots should be prepared for Miami to resort to trickery at any given moment.
In what looked like an easy win for the Patriots a few weeks ago, the Dolphins have shown some life since moving on from the Philbin regime. The Dolphins do have a bit of an advantage going into this game because of the limited sample size of Head Coach Dan Carpenter’s tendencies. However, there is quite a bit of personnel familiarity between these two clubs so that should make this a pretty close contest.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 27 – Dolphins 24