Week 2 brings us the annual “Closing the Gap Bowl” as the winless Miami Dolphins head to Foxboro to take on the first place New England Patriots. This will be the 99th regular season meeting of these old division rivals with the Dolphins holding a 52-46 advantage in the head to head match up. In more recent years, the teams have gone 3-3 against each other with home team winning in each of the last three seasons.
Both teams are coming off West Coast road games against NFC West opponents in Week 1. In typical fashion, the Dolphins imploded in their surprisingly close match up with the Seattle Seahawks while the Patriots executed a masterful game plan and upset the Arizona Cardinals out in the desert.
The stakes are high in this game….A Miami loss would drop them to 0-2 which gives them less than a 13% chance to make the playoffs while the Patriots are trying to keep the ship steady until the much anticipated Week 5 return of Tom Brady. As with all 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.
Quarterback – Push: Miami’s Ryan Tannehill is probably the most polarizing QB that the AFC East has seen over the last decade. His supporters are full of excuses for his lack of consistency and his detractors are unequivocally convinced of him being a 1st round QB bust. Bottom line is that Tannehill is going into his 5th year as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback and questions still linger if he will ever ‘take the next step’ and become a viable NFL Starter. For the Patriots, Jimmy Garoppolo was a two year project that made his first start in Week 1. Though fan expectations of Garoppolo have been unrealistically high since being selected in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he played well in his first start and seems to show signs of being a good fit into the Patriots offensive system.
Running Backs – Patriots: Neither team boasts a top flight running back on their roster but the Patriots scheme has utilized the running game just enough to keep defenses off guard and have emphasized the use of backs like James White to create mismatches in the passing game to keep the chains moving.
Wide Receivers – Patriots: The Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry has the opportunity to develop into a quality wide receiver someday. However, the rest of the Dolphins’ pass catchers, though physically talented, are unproven commodities. New England on the other hand may not have ‘prototypical’ NFL wide receivers but the group, led by Julian Edelman, has proven to be both versatile and have playmaking ability beyond their Dolphins counterparts.
Tight Ends – Patriots: Umm….Do the Dolphins even have any Tight Ends???
Offensive Line – Push: In Week 1, both the Patriots and Dolphins faced Top 5 defenses from 2015. New England’s offensive line, which was missing several starters, allowed 4 quarterback hits and 2 sacks while helping the team rush for over 100 yards. Miami’s offensive line, on the other hand, allowed 9 quarterback hits and 5 sacks while only mustering up 64 yards on the ground. The health of the Patriots line is the only thing that makes this matchup even between the two squads.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: The Dolphins have a solid defensive line featuring two of the biggest 100 Million Dollar free agent busts in the last 5 years in Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams. However their linebackers could the worst group in the division. New England has utilized their frugal dumpster diving free agent spending habits to build a deep defensive line with two of the better linebackers in the AFC East rounding out their front seven.
Secondary – Patriots: Miami’s Reshad Jones is one of the top Safeties in the AFC but the issues at corner have yet to be addressed with quality players. The Patriots defensive back field, led by Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler, played fairly well in Week 1 against one of the top wide receiver corps in the NFL.
Special Teams – Patriots: The Dolphins Offense has certainly given the Miami Special Teams unit plenty of opportunities to punt early in this season. However, if this game comes down to the kickers there may not be anyone as good as Stephen Gostkowski in the Conference.
Coaching – Patriots: Including interim coaches, Adam Gase is the fifth head coach of the Dolphins since Stephen Ross became majority owner in January of 2009. Gase has come to Miami with a lot of hype but his coaching accomplishments are minor and look even more miniscule compared to Bill Belichick’s.
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) Don’t buy into the Hype: Since beating the Cardinals in Week 1, the media hype machine has been working overtime with stories about Jimmy Garoppolo and how the Patriots are just fine without Tom Brady. New England certainly had an unbelievable team victory in the desert last week but it’s time to put that behind and focus on the task at hand.
2) Containing the Quarterback runs: One of the byproducts of the Dolphins’ Offensive Line play has been the propensity of Ryan Tannehill to run with the ball. Certainly passing the ball is not his strength but Tannehill has become an underrated running quarterback. The Patriots need to be aware of this and must stay disciplined on their defensive rush so not to open free lanes for Tannehill to run in. Not that the Patriots need to put a spy on Tannehill, but running coverages that have defenders turned away from the quarterback could lead to some Dolphins opportunities.
3) Utilize the Running Backs: How successful the Patriots are in deploying their running backs will be key to helping their young quarterback be successful. Whether it is to provide additional blocking, run the ball to keep the defensive line honest, or to catch quick pass plays to keep the chains moving, the running backs will be a key factor in slowing down Miami’s defensive line.
This Week 2 match up in the AFC East has become a very big game early in this season. For the Patriots, every game they can win before Week 5 helps them keep pace with the top teams in the AFC for playoff position later in the season. The stakes for Miami may be even greater with their upcoming schedule. With games against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo looming in the next several weeks, going 0-2 could very well help end their season by Halloween.
Since 2012, the Ryan Tannehill led Dolphins have lost every game in Foxboro by an average of 23.8 points. Though on paper it would be easy to say that the Patriots could easily run away with this game, this still is a division game where the teams are very familiar with each other so a much closer contest may be in order this time.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 26 – Dolphins 21