1. Tight End Game - The Patriots feature two of the most exciting young tight ends in the game; Rob Gronkowski has been the best tight end in the league this season, while Aaron Hernandez has emerged as essentially the Patriots #2 wide receiver next to Wes Welker. The Patriots tight ends must dominate the Dolphins who are both weak in the slot and up the seam.
The Dolphins will be in a unique position as their tight end Anthony Fasano has been declared "out." The next guys are are Jeron Mastrud and, a friendly name, Will Yeatman. Neither has extensive experience as a receiver on the field, so it's more likely that the Dolphins will compensate for the loss of Fasano by flexing fullback Charles Clay to receiver, or by using more two running back sets with Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush both on the field.
If the Patriots can use Gronkowski and Hernandez while the Dolphins miss out on Fasano, the Patriots could have a great advantage.
2. Use the Sideline - The Dolphins run a fairly traditional offense. Brandon Marshall will be on the right and will square off against Devin McCourty. Brian Hartline will be on the left against Kyle Arrington. Davone Bess will be in the slot position (typically on the left) against Nate Jones or Julian Edelman. Whoever will be replacing Anthony Fasano will take the field as an additional weapon. Reggie Bush or Daniel Thomas will be the running back in the back field.
With Fasano out of the game, the Dolphins might not have a deep receiving game down the middle of the field. As a result, the Patriots will have to bracket the receivers and force them to the sidelines. Linebackers in the middle of the field will add congestion (especially if the Patriots operate out of the 3-4) and if the safeties take the deep seams, then receivers will be pinned. Receivers have had success against the Patriots cornerbacks because they've been able to cut into the middle of the field and pick up additional yards after the catch.
In order to step up as a secondary, the Patriots cornerbacks will need to use the sidelines as an additional defensive unit. If the safeties play the seams, then the receivers will be unable to cut towards the middle of the deep zone. If the Patriots play 3-4, then the linebackers will cover the middle zones. That leaves the cornerbacks responsible for the deep sideline zones as they press the receiver and squeeze them with the sideline, forcing Moore to make a perfect pass.
3. Checkdown - The Dolphins love to check down the ball because of how elusive Reggie Bush is in open space. The Patriots will designate a spy to cover Bush (most likely Dane Fletcher or Tracy White) as Brandon Spikes (and his hopeful return) and Jerod Mayo stake out the middle of the field. How well the Patriots defend the Dolphins' checkdowns will have a great impact on how well they defend the Dolphins on 3rd down and in the open field.
4. Turnovers - The Patriots have forced a turnover in all but one game this season (round 1 vs the Jets), and have forced 14 turnovers during their 6 game winning streak. The Dolphins have forced 12 turnovers during the same 6 game span of time. Both teams enjoy taking advantage of turnovers, so the key will be for the Patriots to not turn the ball over and to capitalize when they force a turnover. Simple enough.
The Dolphins have turned the ball over 2 or more times in 7 of their 14 games. They are 2-5 in those games. The Patriots have turned the ball over 12 times this season- however, they have turned the ball over 4 times in a game three times (and they are 1-2 in those games). The Patriots are 4-0 in games where they only turn the ball over once.
Basically, if the Patriots turn the ball over 1 or fewer times and the Dolphins turn the ball over 2 or more times, then the Patriots will most likely be in the driver's seat for the game.
5. 60 Minutes - This will remain on the list until the Patriots put together a full 60 minute game.