The Saban Bowl.
Tua vs Mac.
Mac is led by Bill Belichick, who is notoriously buddy buddy with Nick Saban. Tua is led by Brian Flores, who is famously a Belichick disciple. The Patriots and Dolphins split the series last season, the Patriots won the season opener while the Phins won the 2nd meeting.
The Patriots open the season once again with Miami, this time starting the fanbase's favorite Mac Jones. The Patriots have many questions that are waiting to be answered this time around. Is Mac Jones really ready? Is Damien Harris going to be the guy? Were the offseason additions on offense enough? Will the defense rebound this season? There's plenty of question marks that follow the Patriots heading into this week 1 matchup, but there's no turning back now. Cam Newton is gone. Free agency is wiped out of any top tier talent. Sony Michel is gone. It's time for the young guns to step up.
Mac Jones won the starting job, despite Cam's claim that he didn't. Mac won the job, and Belichick and McDaniels will do what they need to to protect him. Will they just run screen plays to death? Probably. It's always in the script. The first play of the first drive will either be a handoff up the middle or a screen pass to James White. It seems to be the go to for McDaniels. The offseason brought about two of the top TE's available in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, both who should be able to thrive in the two TE system that showed such promise with Gronk and He Who Shall Remain Nameless. There should plenty of optimism going forward that the offense will look similar to what the Patriots looked like in Brady's early career, and glimpses of what it looked like in between then and now. So what about the defense? No Gilmore, but who's the game breaker on the Dolphins offense? Will Fuller is suspended. Jaylen Waddle is a rookie, has a rapport with Tua, and has game breaking speed. Is he that guy? It remains to be seen. Would Gilmore have been the guy to cover him? Probably not alone. JC Jackson takes over the role of the number 1 corner, which is a huge opportunity for him to prove his future contract status. Devin McCourty anchors the back of the secondary with 2nd year stud Kyle Dugger. Dont'a Hightower returns from hiatus to anchor the middle of the field alongside the returning Kyle Van Noy, young studs Chase Winovich and Josh Uche. Lawrence Guy returns to the point where an emphasis on stopping the run will be interesting to watch after last year's disappointing run defense. The offense should be improved. The defense should be improved. But will it?
To counter that of Mac Jones, Tua was handed the job midseason last year and performed just okay. Tua had great games against the Chiefs, Bengals, and Cardinals, but against New England finished with 145 yards passing in large part due to the run defense of the Patriots being torched. Without Fuller in the mix, the offense will look like much of the same for at least week 1 for Tua. Fuller and Waddle add speed and deep threat ability to the offense, and stopping two deep threats is much harder than one, but only one is available for the game against the Patriots. While it's fair to assume that Belichick will find a way to stop the Dolphins, Flores will have the Dolphins ready to go too. Last year Miami boasted one of the best defenses in forced turnovers. The roster connections and coaching connections will make this an interesting battle until death do us part.
Overall, this game should be relatively close. It's not the first time Belichick had to gameplan for Tua, it's not the first time Flores has had to gameplan for Belichick. But it is the first time Flores has had to do it for Mac Jones. This game will be contingent on Mac Jones. If Mac Jones is able to pick apart the defenses like he did in college, it should go the Patriots way. If Flores' aggressive defense style can disrupt the rookie QB, and the Patriots can't get the run game going, the Patriots could be in for a very long, very closely contested day.
This is the definition of a swing game if there was one.
Mike Reiss (ESPN): Pats 24, Dolphins 17
Louis-Jacques (ESPN): Dolphins 20, Patriots 16
Emmanuel Acho (ESPN): Patriots
Matt Bowen (ESPN): Patriots
Mike Clay (ESPN): Patriots
Dominique Foxworth (ESPN): Dolphins
Rob Ninkovich (ESPN): Patriots
Laura Rutledge (ESPN): Patriots
Kevin Seifert (ESPN): Patriots
Seth Wickersham (ESPN): Patriots
Damien Woody (ESPN): Patriots
Verdict: Patriots 28, Dolphins 17