The New England Patriots’ trip to Los Angeles started well, but ended in disaster. Falling to 6-7 thanks to a 24-3 loss against the Rams, Bill Belichick’s team needs a victory this week in order to keep its slim playoff hopes alive for at least another week. Standing in their way, however, is a Miami Dolphins team that has played some quality football this season and has proven itself as a serious contender in the AFC wild card race.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.
Record: 8-5 (2nd place AFC East)
Points scored: 15th (25.4/game)
Points against: 2nd (18.8/game)
Head coach: Brian Flores
Coordinators: Chan Gailey (offense), Josh Boyer (defense), Danny Crossman (special teams)
Led by long-time New England assistant coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins have developed into a quality team whose rankings reflect that. While Chan Gailey’s offense has had its ups and downs, the defense led by Flores and fellow ex-Patriot Josh Boyer has been one of the stingiest in the entire league and a key reason why Miami sits at 8-5 heading into this week’s game.
Season so far
Week 1 at New England Patriots: L 21-11
Week 2 vs Buffalo Bills: L 31-28
Week 3 at Jacksonville Jaguars: W 31-13
Week 4 vs Seattle Seahawks: L 31-23
Week 5 at San Francisco 49ers: W 43-17
Week 6 vs New York Jets: W 24-0
Week 7: Bye
Week 8 vs Los Angeles Rams: W 28-17
Week 9 at Arizona Cardinals: W 34-31
Week 10 vs Los Angeles Chargers: W 29-21
Week 11 at Denver Broncos: L 20-13
Week 12 at New York Jets: W 20-3
Week 13 vs Cincinnati Bengals: W 19-7
Week 14 vs Kansas City Chiefs: L 33-27
The Dolphins started slowly by going 1-3 over the first four weeks of the season. However, Flores’ team quickly turned the ship around by winning five in a row — including the final three after a switch from veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald to first-round rookie Tua Tagovailoa. While the new QB had his ups and downs and was benched in favor of Fitzgerald in Week 11, for example, Miami continued to play winning football and position itself well in the race for a playoff berth.
The Patriots and Dolphins have met 110 times so far, with three of the meetings taking place in the postseason:
- Patriots wins: 54 (2 playoff wins)
- Dolphins wins: 56 (1 playoff win)
Rivals since the 1960s, the Patriots and Dolphins have played some memorable games over the years — from the “Squish the Fish” AFC Championship Game in 1985, to the “Miami Miracle” during the 2018 regular season. The most recent meeting may not fall into the same category, but it was still a noteworthy one from New England’s perspective: the first game with Cam Newton as the team’s starting quarterback was won 21-11 behind an impressive running game and efficient passing offense.
Projected starting lineups
QB Tua Tagovailoa*; RB DeAndre Washington; WR DeVante Parker, WR Jakeem Grant; TE Mike Gesicki, TE Durham Smythe; LT Austin Jackson*, LG Solomon Kindley*, C Ted Karras, RG Jesse Davis, RT Robert Hunt*
Miami’s offense faces some questions heading into this week, not just because of the fact that four rookies are projected to start. Will running backs Myles Gaskin and Matt Breida return off the Coronavirus reserve list? Will the injured DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant and Mike Gesicki be ready? And how will Tagovailoa respond to some potential changes around him? If fully healthy, however, the Dolphins are able to get plenty of talent onto the field to support their young quarterback.
DE Christian Wilkins, NT Raekwon Davis*, DE Zach Sieler; OLB Shaq Lawson, ILB Elandon Roberts, ILB Jerome Baker, OLB Kyle Van Noy; CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Jones; SS Eric Rowe, FS Bobby McCain
Compared to its offense, the Miami defense is a pretty experienced unit. Led by ex-Patriot Kyle Van Noy and the NFL’s interceptions leader, Xavien Howard, the unit has played some impressive football all year long — including a four-takeaway performance against the Chiefs last Sunday. Van Noy, however, missed that game with a hip injury and his status heading into this week’s contest against his former team remains up in the air.
K Jason Sanders, P Matt Haack, LS Blake Ferguson*; KR/PR Jakeem Grant
The Dolphins’ kicking game operation is one of the NFL’s best, with kicker Jason Sanders having been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in both October and November. Jakeem Grant, meanwhile, will also be a player to watch if good to go: he has proven himself a viable option as the team’s number two receiver and as both a kickoff and a punt returner.
Three things to watch
1. How will New England slow down Tua? In Week 13, the Patriots defense got the better of Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers. Will this week’s game against another first-year quarterback be more of the same? It all depends on New England’s battle plan, and whether or not the defense can make life hard for him through the use of pre-snap disguises and strong fundamentals versus the pass and run.
2. Stephon Gilmore vs DeVante Parker: While Parker’s status is unknown given a hamstring injury, his battle with Gilmore should be fun to watch if he is good to go. They are among the best players in the league their respective positions have to offer, after all, and have had some memorable battles over the last few seasons. Gilmore is currently playing his best football, so the Patriots will likely trust him on an island again — just like they did in Week 1 when he allowed four catches on seven targets for 42 yards and an interception
3. Will N’Keal Harry continue trending up? The Patriots’ former first-round draft pick is in the middle of another quiet campaign, but he had some good moments the last two games. Using his size effectively on jump balls to out-muscle defenders, New England has found a way to get Harry going a bit. Against a talented secondary, the team will need more of that to get its struggling passing offense going again.