Patriots’ Playoff Hopes Down to Miami

Whitney Dowds
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patriots vs. dolphins

For the second straight season, the Miami Dolphins (8-5) are in a position to ruin the playoff hopes of the New England Patriots (6-7) and this time it will come as no surprise. These teams are headed in opposite directions and Miami looks to avenge a week 1 road loss Foxborough. Following their loss to the LA Rams last Thursday and Baltimore’s win in Cleveland on Monday night, they have just a 2% chance of reaching the postseason. There’s a lot of areas this team needs to improve in and fast, but the issue is I don’t believe they have the personnel or depth to win this game, especially offensively. 

Before I talk about this week’s matchup, let’s jump back into the time machine and revisit Cam’s Patriots debut, in which he beat the Dolphins, 21-11, in the season opener. The big story out of that game was the rushing attack led by Cam, who rushed 15 times for 75 yards and 2 scores. It seemed like every run play that OC Josh McDaniels called worked and they won the time of possession battle by holding the ball for nine more minutes than Miami did. New England’s defense also picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick three times, including in the end zone on the final drive. This win gave me hope that this team had a more dynamic offense that can keep an undermanned front seven (due to opt outs and offseason moves) but circumstances changed quickly thanks to COVID-19, injuries and inconsistency. The Dolphins jumped at the opportunity to leapfrog New England in the AFC East and boy did they ever.

The game’s result will mostly fall on the shoulders of the Patriots’ offense. Cam Newton has had a rough season in the passing game throwing just 5 touchdown passes and throwing a very high volume of interceptions (10). A huge part of those struggles can be attributed to having to learn a new system, but some of those picks have me wondering what Cam was looking at. Injuries to WR Julian Edelman and RB Rex Burkhead have also derailed this passing attack. Both players were key contributors to this offense since coming to New England and replacing them with a combination of N’Keal Harry, Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers, has been underwhelming. Both Meyers and Byrd have stepped up in different spots this year but this whole receiving corps has been hot and cold all season. Against better defense, like Miami, this isn’t a great combination.

The rushing attack for the Patriots has been the clear strength of the offense and is clearly the Dolphins top priority to securing a win. New England ranks 9th in yards per carry with 4.5 and has averaged 147.5 yards per game, while Miami has struggled to stop the run this season, surrendering 4.6 YPC (25th) and 120.2 YPG (22nd). On paper that looks like a great way to attack this defense, but I believe the Dolphins will have an answer for it and force Newton to win the game with his arm. The Patriots are 0-3 when rushing for less than 100 yards as a team. The pressure falls on the O-Line to win their blocking assignments to open up lanes for the running game and more importantly keep Miami’s exotic blitzes from getting home. And after they struggled to move the ball last week against the Rams, my confidence in this offense being able to win games without a strong running game is almost zero. The tape is out on how to shut down this offense and Brian Flores will have his defense well prepared for this matchup and unfortunately being one dimensional against a playoff bound team is the perfect formula to lose.

The Patriots defense will need to create turnovers and potentially score on their own to keep this game close and give short fields to their struggling offense. This means getting in the face of rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa and making him uncomfortable in the pocket. Without pressure you’re giving his receivers time to get open down the field and allow Miami to keep drives alive. One thing to watch out for is the availability of the Dolphins top three targets: WR DeVante Parker (hamstring), WR Jakeem Grant (hamstring) and TE Mike Gesicki (shoulder) who all left their team’s loss to the Chiefs with injuries. This should make Dolphins fans nervous as they face a Patriots defense that is ranked seventh in scoring (21.5 PPG allowed) and eighth in passing defense (218.5 PYPG). They have snatched 15 interceptions this season and have an outstanding secondary that has the ability to shut down opposing passing games and fool rookie QB’s into foolish mistakes. Just ask Justin Herbert.

Unfortunately for Bill Belichick, no matter what defensive scheme he throws at Tua Tagovailoa, if he doesn’t get more consistency from his offense, they won’t have a chance. Watching what they did to the great Patrick Mahomes last week (3 interceptions and a passer rating of 91.6) makes me very nervous, because if they can do that to the defending champs (who have their full complement of weapons), I fear what they do to an offense that struggles to move the ball through the air. The Patriots have a negative-six turnover margin in their seven losses this season and unless they can prove their ability to beat one on one coverage, run the ball and protect Cam Newton, I don’t see that changing.

 

The Dolphins have shown great improvement in all phases this year after winning just five games last season. Remember when everyone said they were tanking and every trade they made was criticized last season? Well looks like Dolphins fans needed to trust the process, because Dolphins management made a great decision in hiring Brian Flores to be their head coach. Remember this team was an abysmal 23-25 under the leadership of Adam Gase (2016-2018) and it was clear they needed to rebuild. Flores had a clear plan and vision for this team and it only took two seasons for that plan to result in a potential playoff berth. This is a dangerous team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

The Patriots meanwhile will enter unfamiliar territory in the event they lose Sunday: a .500 or below record for only the second time under Bill Belichick. Key departures, opt outs and free agency all played a part in it and this just wasn’t their season. These last three games will be a chance for young players (especially their receivers) to audition to play on this team next year or to prove to other teams they are valuable and should get another chance elsewhere. Let’s make one thing crystal clear (again): this team will not go down without a fight. You have to earn every yard you get against their defense and you need to get pressure on Newton. Also, turning the ball over, allowing kicks to be blocked or allowing long punt returns to go the distance will keep this team in games. That’s dangerous because as we’ve seen this season, any team can win on any given Sunday. The Patriots have only lost three games by 10 or more points and are simply too well coached to lay down for anyone. And hey Pats Nation, at least we’re not the winless Jets. That’s something we can all be thankful for!

Patriots vs. Dolphins Prediction

Dolphins win 20-3.

Kickoff starts at 1 pm on Sunday on CBS from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. Leave your score predictions in the comment section below or the CruelFan Facebook page.

You’re also invited to join Ryan Collins, Josh Philo and I for the weekly Cruel Fan Sports Hour live on Facebook every Wednesday at 8:45 pm. Come hear our thoughts on the biggest sports topics of the week and our predictions of the week’s biggest matchups. You are also invited to join the Collins Sports Cards Facebook group, where you can buy, sell and trade your favorite sports cards. This a perfect holiday gift for any sports fans you know.

By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com

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