The New England Patriots will be on the road to begin their regular season, traveling to scorching hot and humid Miami to take on the Dolphins. Miami flirted with the playoffs before two late losses in 2013, and they're expected to scratch at that door once again in 2014. The Patriots have historically struggled in early season Miami games, and with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and head coach Joe Philbin entering make or break campaigns - expect quite the battle on opening day.
How They Rank (2013 Statistics Used):
Total Offense: 312.9 YPG (27th)
Rush Offense: 90.0 YPG (26th)
Pass Offense: 222.9 YPG (20th)
3rd Down Offense: 35% (23rd)
Points Per Game: 19.8 PPG (26th)
Total Defense: 359.4 YPG (21st)
Rush Defense: 145.8 YPG (31st)
Pass Defense: 217.1 (10th)
3rd Down Defense: 38% (17th)
Points Allowed/Game: 20.9 PPG (8th)
Turnover Ratio: -2 (T-19th)
Three Storylines to Watch:
Toughest divisional foe for the Patriots?: Although the Dolphins finished the 2013 regular season with an 8-8 record, they were arguably the second strongest team in the division last season. They upgraded their offensive line significantly with the additions of veteran Branden Albert at LT and rookie 1st round pick Ja'Wuan James at RT and they have other young players looked primed for breakout seasons. And let's not forget the upset win the Dolphins had over the Patriots late last season. Eventually, the Patriots are going to fall from their perch as division champions, and this week could be a good indicator if the Dolphins are ready to make that push.
Slowing Down Cameron Wake: After an outstanding 2012 regular season, Cameron Wake continued to excel in 2013. ProFootballFocus.com ranked Wake second in the entire NFL in pass rushing productivity last season, behind only Robert Quinn. The Patriots are considering moving right tackle Sebastian Vollmer inside to guard, which could leave Marcus Cannon in a match-up with the left end. That could spell problems for the Patriots, so look for much of the team's game planning to surround slowing Wake down as much as possible.
Bill Lazor, Ryan Tannehill, and the Up Tempo Offense: The Miami Dolphins have a new offensive coordinator in the form of Bill Lazor, and he's expected to bring a new, up-tempo system with him. The Dolphins are expecting big things out of Ryan Tannehill under Lazor, and they could have some creative packages waiting to surprise the Patriots on Sunday. For Tannehill, entering his third season with the team, this is make or break time.
For Dolphins coverage, head on over to The Phinsider. What are your early thoughts on the match-up?