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How the Patriots and Dolphins have changed since their week 4 meeting

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On Sunday, New England will meet Miami for the second time this season.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the New England Patriots will play their first rematch of the season when they travel to Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots have dominated the two teams’ first encounter in week four, winning with a final score of 38-7. However, a lot has happened since then: New England got into a rhythm and now looks like one of the AFC’s best team. Miami, meanwhile, has mightily struggled with consistency.

Let’s take a closer look at how the two squads have changed over the past two months.

The Patriots’ wide receiver group looks drastically improved...

In week four, the Patriots’ starting wide receiver trio consisted of Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson. Of the group, only Hogan still plays regular snaps on offense as the spots previously held by Dorsett and Patterson have been taken over by Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. Edelman missed week four due to a suspension, while Gordon was active for the first time as a Patriot but saw only limited action. All in all, it is no stretch to say that the group is a far better one at the top now than it was in late September.

...while the Dolphins’ was bitten hard by the injury bug

Miami’s wide receiver depth, meanwhile, has take a turn for the worse. While the top two options from week four — Danny Amendola and Kenny Stills are still with the team and consistently producing — their next two players are both on injured reserve: Albert Wilson was moved to the list in late October because of a hip issue, Jakeem Grant in late November due to an Achilles injury. In the meantime, DeVante Parker returned to serve as the Dolphins’ number three wide receiver.

Miami’s best cornerback might be out

There have been few bright spots for the Dolphins since they visited the Patriots two months ago. One might be the continued development of cornerback Xavien Howard: the third-year man has grown into Miami’s best defensive back and arguably player — one that leads the team with seven interceptions. Howard was also on the field in week four as he was the last time New England visited Florida (in week 14 of the 2017 season, when he registered two interceptions). However, it looks increasingly likely that the 25-year old will be out on Sunday because of a knee injury.

Dont’a Hightower, J.C. Jackson play bigger roles

Despite allowing just eight points against Miami in week four, New England’s defense started the season inconsistently. The group has grown significantly since then, though, and the increased usage and improved play of linebacker Dont’a Hightower might be a reason why. The on-field signal caller played just 26 of 49 snaps (53%) against the Dolphins the last time, and this number should be expected to look far higher this year. Likewise, cornerback J.C. Jackson might also see more snaps than he did in week four. The undrafted rookie played just 12 (24%) but has recently served as the team’s third corner.

The Dolphins’ center-quarterback exchange is not at 100%

When Miami visited Foxboro in late September, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and center Daniel Kilgore were both at full strength. Since then, however, both have suffered injuries. Tannehill missed five games after hurting his shoulder — Sunday’s game will be his third back from the injury — while Kilgore was placed on injured reserve with a torn triceps he suffered against the Patriots. He might be replaced in the lineup by Jake Brendel, who himself missed yesterday’s practice due to a calf injury.

New England’s backfield has more depth

The first Patriots-Dolphins game was the breakout for rookie running back Sony Michel. The first-round pick rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and has since taken over lead-back responsibilities for New England, showing significant growth as a player over the last two months — despite a knee injury costing him two games. The Patriots’ depth at the position has also improved since week four, as Rex Burkhead returned off injured reserve last week to complete New England’s potent backfield trio alongside Michel and James White.