The final week of the NFL’s 2019 regular season is upon us, and it is a big one for the New England Patriots. While the reigning world champions have already secured their 11th consecutive AFC East title by beating the Buffalo Bills last week, they still need another victory this week in order to lock down a first-round bye in the playoffs. With that being said, let’s take a look at the team standing in their way. Let’s meet the Miami Dolphins.
Record: 4-11 (4th place AFC East)
Points scored: 25th (18.6 points/game)
Points against: 32nd (31.3 points/game)
Head coach: Brian Flores
Coordinators: Chad O’Shea (OC), Patrick Graham (DC)
Games so far
Week 1 vs Baltimore Ravens: L 59-10
Week 2 vs New England Patriots: L 43-0
Week 3 at Dallas Cowboys: L 31-6
Week 4 vs Los Angeles Chargers: L 30-10
Week 5: Bye
Week 6 vs Washington Redskins: 17-16
Week 7 at Buffalo Bills: L 31-21
Week 8 at Pittsburgh Steelers: L 24-17
Week 9 vs New York Jets: W 26-18
Week 10 at Indianapolis Colts: W 16-12
Week 11 vs Buffalo Bills: L 37-20
Week 12 at Cleveland Browns: L 41-24
Week 13 vs Philadelphia Eagles: W 37-31
Week 14 at New York Jets: L 22-21
Week 15 at New York Giants: L 36-20
Week 16 vs Cincinnati Bengals: W 38-35 (OT)
Miami opened the season in terrible fashion by losing the four games before its bye by an average score of 40.8 to 6.5 — despite playing at home three times. Coming out of the comparatively early break, however, the team finally started to play some competitive football: the Dolphins lost against Washington due to a missed two-point try that would have secured a victory, and also played stretches of solid football the next two weeks.
In Week 9, the team finally won its first game of the season when it beat the visiting Jets with a final score of 26-18. The victory kicked off an eight-week stretch during which Miami went 4-4, including a road win in Indianapolis and successful home games against the Eagles and Bengals.
Three storylines that describe the 2019 season
The bad defense: While Miami rebounded relatively well from its historically bad early-season start, the team’s defense still remains an area of concern. On the year, the unit surrendered 445 points — clearly the most in the NFL — for an average of 29.7 points per contest (the Dolphins also surrendered 25 points in the form of negative plays on offense and special teams). Head coach Brian Flores is building with the team with the future in mind, but for this week’s game one can say that the Dolphins are vulnerable on this side of the ball.
The future-building trades: Miami currently owns 13 draft picks next year, with three of them in the first round. A series of trades made this possible, with two in particular standing out because they resulted in the Dolphins getting two additional selections on day one:
- Minkah Fitzpatrick + 2020 fourth-round pick + 2021 seventh-round pick to Pittsburgh Steelers for 2020 first-round pick + 2020 fifth-round pick + 2021 sixth-round pick
- Laremy Tunsil + Kenny Stills + 2020 fourth-round pick + 2021 sixth-round pick to Houston Texans for Johnson Bademosi + Julie’n Davenport + 2020 first-round pick + 2021 first-round pick + 2021 second-round pick
On top of those trades, Miami also moved on from other contributors such as quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Kenyan Drake. Needless to say that the team will therefore have some considerable draft capital at its disposal the next two years, even though it was generated by moving some of the team’s best players off the team this season.
The quarterback carousel: The Dolphins opened the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center but decided to bench him during their 43-0 loss to the Patriots in Week 2. Offseason trade acquisition Josh Rosen replaced him during that game and went on to start Miami’s next three games as well — with mixed results. This led to Fitzpatrick re-entering the lineup in Week 7 and holding onto the starting job ever since.
Three players to know
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: Despite getting benched earlier during the season, Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven himself a serviceable if at times erratic passer in his first season in Miami. The offseason signing completed 283 of his 461 pass attempts for 3,209 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Fitzpatrick may not be among the league’s top quarterbacks — frankly, he never was — but he certainly brings plenty of experience to the table and knows how to attack defenses.
WR DeVante Parker: A solid but unspectacular wide receiver during his first four seasons in the NFL, DeVante Parker is in the middle of a breakout year in 2019: serving as Miami’s number one receiver, the former first-round draft pick has caught 64 passes for 1,065 yards and nine touchdowns — leading the team in each category by rather significant margins. Given his production so far this year, the Patriots will likely use number one cornerback Stephon Gilmore to go up against him on Sunday.
DT Christian Wilkins: As bad as Miami’s defense may have played this year, not everything was negative. Take defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who was selected 13th overall by the team in this year’s draft. Playing in 13 games so far during his rookie campaign, the Massachusetts-native ranks second on the team — trailing only edge defender Vince Biegel — with 30 quarterback pressures: he has registered a pair of sacks, two hits as well as 26 hurries. Furthermore, Wilkins has a touchdown reception on his résumé.
What to watch this week
Will the Dolphins be more competitive this week? The last time the Patriots played Miami, the team was outmatched for 60 minutes: New England won 43-0 and scored two defensive touchdowns along the way. Brian Flores’ team has improved significantly since that day, but it still is clearly at a disadvantage in terms of overall talent. New England should win the game, but it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins can make it more of a game this time around.