Patriots: Week 1 preview and prediction

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Patriots vs Dolphins: September 12th, 2021. 4:25 PM

Line: Patriots -3; O/U 43

Football is in the air.

We’ve had some fantastic college games and a thrilling start to the NFL season already. That will continue this Sunday with a killer slate of games including your New England Patriots against the Miami Dolphins.

Below I break down the matchups on all sides of the ball.

New England offense vs Miami Defense

All eyes will be on Mac Jones when the Patriots open up their season on Sunday in Foxboro. Rightfully so, as Jones just had debatably the best college season ever for a QB and was very impressive in the preseason.

The Dolphins come into this season with high hopes, just barely missing the playoffs last year. Head coach Brian Flores is a Belichick disciple and has coached some great defenses in Miami the past few seasons. They’ll look to build on that momentum and break into the postseason this year.

Passing game matchup

The preseason is over and the bright lights will be on Jones against Miami. He’ll be throwing to a receiving corps that is improved for New England, but they are nowhere close to the talent advantage he enjoyed at wide receiver at Alabama. The secondary in Miami is immensely talented with ball hawking corners like Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, so look for them to try to bait Jones into making early mistakes. Watch for Josh McDaniels to start Mac Jones off with some easy screens and RPO’s to build his confidence and set up some deep shots.

Advantage: Miami

Running game matchup

The Patriots run game will be the engine that powers them through this game. They will rely heavily on Damien Harris and their monstrous offensive line to set up easy throws for Jones. The wild card could be Rhamondre Stevenson, the exciting rookie from Oklahoma. If he gets some carries, he could be a wrecking ball that Miami won’t see coming. I think New England has a clear advantage here against a talented but youthful Miami front 7. If the run game can power long sustained drives, it will make life significantly easier for the entire team. 

Advantage: New England

Miami offense vs New England defense

Miami’s offense is loaded with weapons on the outside and they have some of the fastest receivers in the league in Will Fuller IV, Jaylen Waddle and Jakeem Grant. The questions pop up with who is going to be blocking for their inexperienced quarterback and running backs.

New England’s defense is loaded this year. I am extremely excited to watch them going into this season with additions like Christian Barmore, Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy returning from Miami. Star cornerback Stephon Gilmore will be out for the first five weeks of the year at least, so time will tell how that affects them on the back end.

Passing game matchup

The Dolphins offensive success will be on the shoulders of second year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and their young offensive line. Last year, Tua showed flashes of the playmaker we saw at Alabama in some games and looked uncomfortable and jittery in others. I believe Tua is a good quarterback who is in a tough situation. His starting offensive line this year is comprised of Austin Jackson, Solomon Kindley, Michael Deiter, Robert Hunt and Jesse Davis. Recognize many of those names? You’re lucky if you don’t.

Gilmore will be out for this New England secondary so they will be leaning on guys like JC Jackson, Jalen Mills and Joejuan Johnson to fill the void. I think Belichick plays more zone than usual to cover up Gilmore’s absence in week 1. I also think the Patriot’s pass rush is an enormous mismatch for the Dolphins line, which will force Tagovailoa into uncomfortable situations where he will make mistakes and give the ball away.

Advantage: New England

Running game matchup

This is a much closer matchup than the passing game. The Patriots defense ranked toward the bottom of the league in rushing yards per game last year. I don’t expect that to be the case this year with Dont’a Hightower returning and the additions of solid run defenders like Davon Goodchaux and Matt Judon.

The Dolphins offensive line is better in the running game than the passing game, but that isn’t saying much. They have reliable backs in Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed who will all be getting carries. I think Bill Belichick makes it a priority early in the game to stop the run, forcing the Dolphins to move the ball through the air and pass block for Tua. I’ll back Belichick against a less than stellar offensive line.

Advantage: New England

The Patriots have an edge in this game overall, but I do think it’ll be one that comes down to the wire. The Dolphins have a TON of talent on both sides of the ball and can make explosive plays on offense in the blink of an eye. I am and have been a huge believer in Mac Jones since before he got drafted, but he is still a rookie quarterback. There will be growing pains and this game with Miami’s talented corners will be no exception. 

That being said, I’ll back Bill here in the season opener with time to prepare for a young QB. He is all in on Mac Jones and will rely heavily on the run game to keep the offense moving. The difference maker here to me is the Patriots defensive front against a struggling and uninspiring Miami offensive line. If they get to Tua early and often, it will be a long flight back to Miami for the Dolphins.

Prediction: Patriots 24 Dolphins 20