Patriots vs Dolphins Preview: Is This the Changing of the Guard in the AFC East?

This week in Foxborough, MA we will see a highly anticipated early season match-up between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. Now historically, these games haven’t meant much. The Patriots typically dominate the AFC Least (as many like to call it), and have won their division 15 out of the past 17 years including an almost unprecedented 9 times in a row since 2009.  But who was the last team other than the Patriots to win this division you might ask? The 2008 Miami Dolphins, coached by Tony Sparano (RIP) and led by comeback player of the year, QB Chad Pennington. Those Miami Dolphins had the greatest single season turn around in NFL history, finishing 11-5 after a 2007 Season where they finished a pitiful 1-15.

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Now if we can return back from our little trip down memory lane, let’s discuss why this year’s game is a little different from any MIA vs. NE game that we can remember for the past decade. The Dolphins coming in at 3-0 have looked like a team poised and ready to finally return back to an AFC East title and possibly return them to contender status in the wide open AFC. The normally dominant Patriots on the other hand…ehh, they’re not looking great. After a 1-2 start and a dismal performance against the woeful Detroit Lions on Sunday night, a game where we saw them get dominated from start to finish, surely Tom Brady started to question whether he should have just retired so he’d have more time to make smoochies with his son and his smoking hot model wife. But in all seriousness, it has many a fan across the league asking the almost yearly question of, “Is this it? Is the dynasty over?” Given the Patriots’ performances the past two weeks, it certainly looks more possible than ever. For Miami fans, they would love nothing more. The Patriots have been that bully on the playground that makes you eat dirt and gives you a wedgie, and if you threaten to go to the teacher/league office to complain of their bullying/cheating, they will make sure to whoop that ass extra special next time around. Are the Dolphins the little kid ready to stand up to their AFC East bully? The Patriots have never seemed more vulnerable in the Brady and Belichick era. Let’s explore deeper how each team has looked so far this season, what they need to do to win, and predict who will come out victorious come Sunday.

 

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While the Miami Dolphins are coming in riding high at 3-0 so far this season, they will need to repeat some of those same performances that have gotten them that record in order to beat the Patriots in New England. For starters, their 7th year QB Ryan Tannehill needs to continue to play smart and limit his turnovers. There’s no greater recipe for an ass kicking in Foxborough than to turn the ball over early and let the crowd get into it. For years now there have been the questions about whether Tannehill is the right guy for this Dolphins team, and if he could truly compete against the other premier quarterbacks in the league. Every year now, we hear how this will be the year when he takes that “next step” into QB stardom. Many Dolphins fans will tell you it would have already happened if he hadn’t missed last season with a knee injury, and will also be quick to point out he has gone 10-1 in his past 11 starts dating back to 2016. So far this year, besides a few horrendous mistakes during a Week 2 win over the New York Jets, he has looked like that guy who has taken that ever so sought after “next step.” He is completing 73% of his passes, has thrown 7 TD to just 2 INT and boasts the 4th highest QB rating in the league at 121.8, just slightly behind a guy Fin’s fans might remember in Drew Brees. The guy that should have been a Dolphin and just broke the record for most completions in a career. Anyways, if the Fins are going to beat the Patriots in Foxborough for the first time in a decade then Tannehill is going to need to step up in a big way. His style fits what we have seen work so far this season against a New England defense that has more holes in it than those traumatic memories of Nana’s old night-gown. Simply put, he is primed to shred this Pats team apart this weekend, it’s just a matter of which Tannehill will show up to do the job.

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In terms of the play makers the Dolphins have the only word that comes to mind is speed, something they will need to use in abundance against a Patriots defense that has looked terribly slow thus far. With weapons like Kenny Stills, Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson, they have the ability to blow the roof off the place at any moment and will undoubtedly try to do so this week. And while Miami’s running game hasn’t been spectacular to start the year, a Patriots defense that just afforded the Detroit Lions their first 100 yard rusher in 5 seasons might be just the cure.

On the defensive side of the ball nastiness is the word. A unit led by psychopathic LB Kiko Alonso will undoubtedly try to decapitate Tom Brady this weekend. Alonso has already recorded a combined 34 tackles this season and consistently plays with a chip-on-the shoulder-type nastiness that you wouldn’t expect from a guy that was born in a town where Boujee Brady himself now lives, Newton, MA (a town with one of the highest per capita incomes in the country). And while they will be unable to have a constantly fresh and changing D-line without defensive ends Andre Branch and William Hayes on Sunday, it will lead to more snaps for Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Wake, as you might remember, has voiced his displeasure of the league overly protecting Brady in the past. Just last year he tried this Karate Kid-style move in the middle of a Week 12 game in New England. While I don’t believe Wake to be a dirty player, I do believe he fucking hates Tom Brady. Him and his boys will be bringing the noise all day long and will need to do so in order to get Brady off his mark early.

Even if you don’t believe the Dolphin’s hype quite yet, you cannot deny the fact that Head Coach Adam Gase has completely changed the culture of a franchise that has been yearning to produce a real contender for the past few decades. Has he made some questionable personnel changes that the fans might not agree with? Sure. But he certainly had a picture in mind of how he wanted this team to look moving forward when he signed on. He has kept and brought in the right veteran players, specifically ones that are able and willing to mentor some of the young and talented studs on this roster and keep them focused on the ultimate team goal. And (more importantly) he will help steer this locker room away from the days where it ran rampant with poor attitudes and dysfunction. With that culture looking to be in the past (bye Jarvis), it leaves Adam Gase to coach some goddamn football and that is exactly what he has done so far this season. This weekend he will face the greatest test of any team looking to emerge from the depths of the AFC East in Patriots coach Bill Belichick. But if Adam Gase has proven anything to us so far, it’s that he is up for the challenge

 

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What do the Patriots need to do better to win this weekend? Simply put, everything. To put it in perspective, if at any point over the past 18 years you told a Patriots fan that a 3-0 Miami Dolphins team was coming to town and they should be worried, you would have gotten laughed out of the room and gotten a typical Masshole response something along the likes of “get tha fahhhhk outttta here“. But this time around, while the response may be the same, even their most die-hard fans can’t deny there is the lingering thought of “oh shit, what if this is really it?” The good news for Patriots fans? This game is at home at Gillette Stadium, a place the Patriots have gone an incredible 129-24 over the course of Brady’s career.

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On offense the Patriots have to find someone who can get separation and make plays besides Gronk. While you can say Josh Gordon will be that fix, there is no telling at least at this point that he will actually touch the field. And if he does will he even become a factor on Sunday? I’ve said before that if Josh Gordon is your saving grace, than this team is truly more fucked than we thought (see the 2013-17 Cleveland Browns). Regardless, the Patriots must find ways to move the ball and score against a Dolphins defense that currently ranks 6th in points allowed so far this season. Having the GOAT QB doesn’t help very much if you don’t surround him with any talent. As we learned in the Super Bowl, he cannot throw and catch the ball.

Sony Michel has not been the weapon many thought he would be so far, they will need to show up this week and prove his worthiness of that 1st round pick the Patriots used on him. With Rex Burkhead being out, it would lead me to believe he could be due for an even bigger workload along with pass catching back James White. A thought that doesn’t put any ease to the minds of Patriots fans. So far Michel has looked like a poor man’s Dion Lewis, another guy GM Bill Belichick didn’t think was worth paying to keep around. With all this being said, if Sony can bring an extra spark of life to this Patriots team somehow, it would be a huge boost to an offense that has looked more like a PT Cruiser than the TB12 Edition Ashton Martin we are used to. I see them giving the ball to Michel early and often this Sunday, partly because they need him to get going, and partly because Bill wants to prove he doesn’t always miss on offensive talent in the draft.

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The Defensive side of the ball is a whole other story. They have looked horribly slow and seemed unable to tackle for the past two weeks. To top it all off, the Lions ran the ball down their throats all game long last weekend which is something we rarely see against a Patriots team. We’ve seen backs have other good games against the Patriots, but never the between the tackles, 5 yards at a time, good ol’ pounding the Lions gave them. Losing possibly their best defensive player so far in Ja’Whaun Bentley won’t help them and they will need Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung to come back strong, as they are expected to return to the field after missing last week. Bill Belichick will need to pull the rabbit out of the “hood” one more time if he looks to turn this defense around this week, a magic trick that may get exposed due to the lack of talent he has been able to gather on that side of the ball going on 4 years now.

Overall the Patriots should be thanking the scheduling gods that they are gifted this much-needed home game this week. I personally don’t think things would bode well for them if they have to play their 2nd game in 3 weeks in the Florida heat and in what would no doubtedly be a ruckus Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Prediction:

Pats are favored -7 at home, strictly because of their absurd home record over the years, a fact which Vegas knows will be tough for the Fins’ to overcome. I don’t think the Patriots cover but they do win in a tight game at home. You can’t say the King has been slayed until you actually do it. 

Final Score: Patriots – 27 Dolphins – 23

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Photo Credit: SB Nation
Stadiums of Pro Football
New York Post
Boston Sports Extra
CBS Sports 
Nanigans
Rant Sports
Sports Illustrated 

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