New England Patriots: Miami Dolphins

NFL Nation: 4 Downs - AFC East

May, 7, 2014
May 7
2:01
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video
Did the AFC East's best keep on getting better?

The perennial division champion New England Patriots signed elite cornerback Darrelle Revis, which could offset significant free-agency gains by the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.

The Buffalo Bills are in good position to improve through this week's NFL draft. EJ Manuel, the Bills' top pick last season, returns as the starting quarterback and is one of three second-year players facing intense scrutiny in 2014.

Who finishes atop the AFC East in 2014 could depend largely on which team best handles the stretch run, as December features five inter-division matchups -- including three in a row for the Patriots to end the season.

The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East offseason and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which AFC East team has had the best offseason to date?



Rich Cimini: I'm all about the stars, which is why I'm picking the Patriots, who landed the best free agent of them all: Darrelle Revis. He's one of the top two cornerbacks in the league, a legitimate game-changer. His presence will allow Bill Belichick to play more press-man coverage, which will help their pass rush and create headaches for opponents. Once Brandon Browner serves his suspension, they'll have two physical corners. The Jets and Dolphins helped themselves in free agency, addressing need areas, but neither team acquired a player as good as Revis. The Patriots lost a terrific corner in Aqib Talib and actually upgraded. How often does that happen in free agency?

Mike Reiss: The Patriots get the nod here because they added the best overall player in cornerback Darrelle Revis and re-signed receiver Julian Edelman (the Jets had explored poaching him), but I don't think it's a large gap to the next club. I like what the Dolphins have done to start rebuilding their offensive line (Branden Albert, Shelley Smith) while also bringing in defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes and potentially getting some value with cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

Mike Rodak: Comparing gains and losses in free agency, the Patriots have fared the best. The season is never won in March, but the Patriots were able to upgrade even after losing cornerback Aqib Talib. Signing Darrelle Revis was the most significant free-agent move in the division, while Brandon Browner adds another quality player to the secondary. The Jets aren't too far behind. Eric Decker and Chris Johnson add firepower where the Jets have struggled in recent years -- at their skill positions. Neither player, though, is on the same level as Revis, which is why I give the Patriots the edge. Honorable mentions go to the Dolphins for signing Branden Albert and the Bills for signing Brandon Spikes.

James Walker: I like what the Jets have done this offseason. It has been offense, offense and more offense in free agency for New York. The Jets went out and signed wide receiver Eric Decker, former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson and veteran quarterback Michael Vick. All three have a chance to make an impact on New York's weakest side of the football. Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind and has that side taken care of. It's just a matter of New York scoring more points this year. If the Jets can add a receiving threat such as Marqise Lee or Brandin Cooks in the first round Thursday, look out for "Gang Green."


Second Down

Will an AFC East team select a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft?



Cimini: No one will pick a quarterback in the first two days of the draft. The most likely candidate is the Dolphins, who have a new offensive coordinator and might be looking to acquire some Ryan Tannehill insurance after two so-so seasons -- but it won't happen before the fourth round, not this year. Neither Geno Smith nor EJ Manuel is entrenched with the Jets and Bills, respectively, but their teams have too many other needs to start doubling down on quarterbacks. The Patriots made headlines by hosting Johnny Manziel on a pre-draft visit, but I'm not buying it. It's still too early to start looking for an heir to the Tom Brady throne.

Reiss: Yes. One of the things that has become clear in the build-up to the draft is that this is a good year for clubs looking for a developmental quarterback. ESPN's Mel Kiper said he has spoken with teams who have identified as many as 15-20 draftable quarterbacks this year, which is higher than the norm. NFL Network's Mike Mayock said he has 10 signal-callers with grades within the first three rounds, which is about double the norm. I think Buffalo (insurance for EJ Manuel) and New England (backup Ryan Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season) are the spots to look within the division.

Rodak: The Patriots are the most likely to select a quarterback in the first three rounds. Their backup since 2011, Ryan Mallett, enters the final season of his rookie contract and hasn't proved in limited playing time that he's capable of being a starter. Mallett was a third-round selection and that could be the sweet spot for the Patriots again, although I wouldn't put it past them to take a quarterback in the second round if one of the top signal-callers falls. The Bills might also pluck a quarterback off the board by Friday night. EJ Manuel, a first-round pick last year, is their starter but they could use an upgrade over Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel as their backup. If the right quarterback falls, Buffalo might pounce.

Walker: The third round seems like the best possibility; it's the safest round of the three for avoiding a quarterback controversy. The Bills would have the best case for drafting a quarterback fairly early. The team has said several times that it's behind 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel, but I don't see any reason for the Bills to avoid adding depth at the position behind Manuel in the middle of the draft. Backup quarterbacks Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel are not the answers. Manuel had injury issues last year, as well. It makes sense for the Bills to consider a capable backup.


Third Down


What stands out about the NFL schedule for each AFC East team?



Cimini: Prepare for the missiles of October. The Jets face Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a 12-day span, Weeks 5 to 7. Before that, they meet up with a few other top quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. The Jets' suspect pass defense, which allowed nearly 4,000 yards last season, will be seriously tested. This is the main reason they need to prioritize cornerback in the draft.

Reiss: The Patriots have a well-placed bye week and some of their biggest games around it. A Nov. 2 home game against the Broncos precedes the bye, then coming out of it is a Nov. 16 road game against the Colts. Fun, fun. If that's not the iron of the schedule, then back-to-back road games against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) probably qualifies. Also, with the season concluding with three straight division games, the AFC East could still be up for grabs late.

Rodak: I've harped on this point before, but the Bills might have the NFL's toughest December schedule. Who knows where they'll be by Thanksgiving -- they could be in the playoff hunt or fading -- but their final month is brutal. The Bills must travel to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos, return home to host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, make a cross-country trip to face the Raiders and then head back East to finish their regular season on the road against Brady and the Patriots. Ouch. Perhaps it's better that this four-game stretch comes at the end of the season rather than the beginning -- the Bills could be staring down an 0-4 start if it did -- but if they have any hope at the playoffs, they're going to need to win a couple of those games.

Walker: The Dolphins must bring their A-game on the road because they do not have back-to-back home games until the final two weeks. The Dolphins were a respectable 4-4 on the road last season, but it will be challenging for them to put together any significant winning streaks away from Sun Life Stadium. Miami's regular-season opener at home against the Patriots also stands out. We will find out immediately whether the Dolphins are a legitimate threat to New England in the AFC East.


Fourth Down


Which AFC East second-year player has the most to prove?



Cimini: My first inclination is to say Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who could lose his starting job to Michael Vick, but that's the Jets beat writer in me talking. The better answer is Bills quarterback EJ Manuel. Why him? Unlike Smith, Manuel was a first-round pick, which means greater expectations -- and those expectations were heightened when the Bills anointed him as The Guy. Smith has yet to receive that kind of endorsement from the Jets. The Bills have hitched their franchise to Manuel, who is coming off a mediocre-at-best rookie season in which he went 4-6 as the starter. He was hampered by injuries, but part of being a franchise quarterback is being on the field.

Reiss: Bills quarterback EJ Manuel would be my choice. He looked like a foundation-type player in the season opener against the Patriots last year, and had a few bright spots in ensuing weeks, but overall had an uneven first year in the NFL that was affected by injuries. The Bills surprised many by using a first-round draft choice to select him last year, and because of that Manuel gets the nod here over Jets quarterback Geno Smith, a second-round pick. It will be intriguing to see how things unfold with Smith now that the Jets have also signed Michael Vick, but I think the discovery process on Manuel in Year 2 -- is he really a franchise quarterback? -- trumps it.

Rodak: It has to be EJ Manuel. Geno Smith is a close second, but the Jets have Michael Vick to lean on. The Bills decided not to add an experienced backup quarterback this offseason, clearing the way for Manuel to be their unquestioned starter. Manuel needs to be more consistent. He showed flashes last season but also had some downright horrid games, including a four-interception afternoon against the Buccaneers. Manuel must also stay healthy. His three knee injuries last season limited him to 10 games and set back his development. Another injury this season will cloud the picture and keep the Bills from knowing exactly what they have. That could give him more leeway if he isn't progressing as quickly as the team would like, but it could also cause the Bills to look elsewhere.

Walker: It's easy to point to the quarterback position and say New York's Geno Smith and Buffalo's EJ Manuel have the most to prove. But neither player was drafted higher in 2013 than Miami's Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick. The Dolphins traded up nine spots to get Jordan last year, only to use him as a backup defensive end and special-teamer. It was head-scratching to figure out why such a dynamic talent couldn't find his way onto the field. Jordan's usage actually was one point of contention between Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and former general manager Jeff Ireland, who had a falling out last season. Was Jordan not ready for the NFL level? Was Miami's coaching staff holding him back? This is a big Year 2 to answer those questions.

Video: Patriots-Dolphins wrap-up

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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ESPN.com NFL Nation Dolphins reporter James Walker captures the atmosphere in the locker room after the team’s thrilling victory and how there is a feeling they can beat anyone, while ESPN.com NFL Nation Patriots reporter Mike Reiss relays the disappointment on the Patriots’ side as they let an opportunity to clinch the AFC East slip away.

NFLN says: 3-0 Super Bowl contenders?

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Smith, Cutler & BreesGetty ImagesAlex Smith, Jay Cutler and Drew Brees have led their teams to a 3-0 start.
The danger in getting excited about a 3-0 start is that pesky little thing known as "The Other Thirteen Games." Victories in the first three weeks can lead to a 15-1 season, as they did for the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Or they could mean a 2-11 finish and a fired coaching staff, as the Arizona Cardinals found out last year.

So let's keep our wits as we analyze the seven teams that have started this season 3-0. It has been four years since that many teams were still perfect after three weeks. The 2009 season offers another lesson in early conclusions: One of the seven (the New Orleans Saints) won the Super Bowl but two finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs altogether (the New York Giants and Denver Broncos).

So who is this year's version of the 2009 Saints? Are there any candidates to emulate the 2012 Cardinals? NFL Nation has some thoughts.

If there is anything to glean from the first three weeks of this season, it's the emergence of two early powerhouses. The Seattle Seahawks and the Broncos have outscored opponents by a combined 213-98, and their individual point differentials of 59 and 56, respectively, are by far the best in the NFL. (The next best is the Kansas City Chiefs at 37).

The Seahawks' path to Super Bowl XLVIII seems clear: Clinch home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field, where they have won 10 consecutive games, and book their ticket to New York. The Broncos, meanwhile, have scored the second-most points through three games in NFL history and only figure to improve as defensive stalwarts Von Miller (suspension) and Champ Bailey (injury) return to the lineup.

What about the rest?

Has Andy Reid built an instant Super Bowl contender in Kansas City, or will his Chiefs level off? Has Ryan Tannehill really developed into a championship-caliber quarterback for the Miami Dolphins?

Are the Chicago Bears for real after two fourth-quarterback comebacks followed by two defensive touchdowns in their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers? The New England Patriots are fortunate to be 3-0, right? And has Sean Payton restored the Saints' magic? Let's take the pulse of NFL Nation.

Which 3-0 teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

The Saints should definitely be considered as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, based on their offensive track record under coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. Not only did they win the Super Bowl in 2009, but their offense was even better in 2011, when they finished 13-3 and set the NFL record for yards gained in a season (7,474). I don't expect an exact repeat this year, but I think that's closer to the norm than last year's 7-9 season.

Especially with tight end Jimmy Graham healthy again and back to being one of the most difficult matchups in the league. Clearly, however, the Saints need to improve a run game that has been practically non-existent to keep defenses honest and keep Brees upright.

Meanwhile, the Saints' young defense has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this year under new coordinator Rob Ryan. I still expect a few growing pains before the season is over. But they don't need to be dominant for the Saints to succeed. And I think they can continue to come up big in some big moments. Players are clearly responding to Ryan's energetic approach and versatile schemes. And they have some bona fide talent to work with in every unit -- including emerging young pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. That was the biggest question mark heading into this season. If the defense can keep playing anywhere near this level, the Saints could run away with the NFC South title.

The undefeated Miami Dolphins are arguably the biggest surprise in the NFL.

But can the Dolphins be serious Super Bowl contenders? Let's temper those expectations. The Dolphins absolutely have playoff potential. This is a franchise that hasn't made the postseason since 2008. Ending that streak and having a winning season should be Miami's primary goals.

A 3-0 start is terrific, especially after beating the talented Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons in back-to-back weeks. But the Dolphins certainly have holes.

Depth is an issue in several areas and will be tested. Miami could be without several defensive starters -- defensive end Cameron Wake (knee), defensive tackle Paul Soliai (knee) and cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) -- against the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football." The Dolphins also face issues such as pass protection (14 sacks allowed) and having the 28th-ranked rushing attack.

In addition to the undefeated Saints, Miami has tough games against the defending champion Baltimore Ravens (2-1), New England Patriots (3-0) and Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) before the end of October. The Dolphins cannot rest on their early success. They must continue to improve.

The health and production of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the biggest key. However, the Dolphins have a lot to prove over the course of 16 games.

Miami has a perfect record, but it's far from perfect.

Judging strictly from the numbers, the Kansas City Chiefs are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They are No. 1 in the AFC in scoring defense, No. 2 in the conference in scoring differential and, most importantly, tied for first place with a 3-0 record.

But it's another number, one that will be impossible to sustain, that's feeding the Chiefs' success and threatens to reveal them as pretenders once it begins its inevitable correction.

The Chiefs are leading the league in turnover differential at plus-9. They are one of two NFL teams yet to commit a turnover. That's a statistic capable of making a good team look great as long as it lasts. The trouble is, it never does last, at least not at this rate. Once their turnover differential starts to balance out, here is the advantage the Chiefs will lose:

The Chiefs have started 10 possessions on their opponents' end of the field. Their opponents have started one in Kansas City's territory, and even that drive began at the Chiefs' 49.

Such consistently favorable field position can make life easy for a team, and credit to the Chiefs for enjoying the ride while it lasts.

It won't forever. When it ends, the Chiefs will have to make their own way.

Their defense looks capable of doing that, but their offense needs a boost. When it doesn't get one, the Chiefs will suddenly look mortal.

This 3-0 team is better than the Bears squad from 2012, which started 7-1, and is a legitimate Super Bowl contender for a variety of reasons. The Bears have already scored three defensive touchdowns, but the major difference is the club is getting contributions from both sides of the ball and special teams.

Chicago provided evidence of that with quarterback Jay Cutler engineering back-to-back, come-from-behind victories over Cincinnati and Minnesota to start the season, before coming through in the clutch on the road Sunday, bailing out a struggling defense to clinch a victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bears racked up nine defensive touchdowns last season, which tied for the second most in NFL history. But at this juncture last year, the unit had only one score, yet basically carried the entire team through its impressive first half.

Through the 7-1 start in 2012, skepticism existed because the Bears simply hadn't played good teams. This year, the combined record of the teams first three opponents is 2-7. But don't be fooled, this is a better Bears team.

Cutler is one of the main reasons for that. He's matured. He's accepted the coaching. He's putting in more time to sharpen his craft, while shedding the enigmatic gunslinger persona for a more controlled approach. His protection is better. The front office has surrounded him with more weapons and an offensive-minded coach in Marc Trestman, who is the architect of a system Cutler believes in.

If there has been one constant of Bill Belichick-coached Patriots teams since 2000, it's that they usually get better as the season progresses. Surely, there have been exceptions (2009 comes to mind), but there are no indications this year's team is headed down that path at this point.

The defense has exceeded expectations through three games, although a lingering question is how much of the unit's success is a result of playing weaker competition. Sunday night's game on the road, against the fast-starting Atlanta Falcons, should tell us more about the unit. And while the offense has struggled to find its groove, the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski should provide a boost and with Danny Amendola saying he envisions being 100 percent shortly, big-time reinforcements are on the way.

So if you're judging on the present picture, it's understandable that one would say this team isn't a Super Bowl contender. In a game against the Denver Broncos, right now, you would have to pick the Broncos. But this is about projecting what the Patriots could be, and at this point, there's no reason to think they won't evolve as past Belichick teams have. Many of those clubs have been Super Bowl contenders. 

Brady's history in South Florida

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
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Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesTom Brady vs. the Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have proven to be one of the toughest foes for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Aided in part by being a divisional rival that ensures two meetings per season, Miami has handed Brady an opponent-high six losses in his career and he boasts a mere 4-5 record at Sun Life Stadium.

Brady and the Patriots open their 2011 campaign on the road against the Dolphins on Monday Night Football (ESPN, 7 p.m.)

"It’s always a tough place to play," said Brady. "We’ve had our struggles down there [and] we’ve had some great wins, but we play them at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year, and it always seems to be a tough place to play. It’s a division rival. They put a lot into the game, we put a lot into the game, and it’s going to be fun -- a fun way to start the year."

Fun isn't a word Brady should attach to taking his talents to South Beach. Here's a glimpse at his career performance on the road versus the Dolphins (losses in bold):

TOM BRADY CAREER GAME LOG IN MIAMI
Oct. 4, 2010 - W, 41-14 - 19 of 24, 153 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 107.1 QB rating
Dec. 6, 2009 - L, 22-21 - 19 of 29, 352 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 101.5 QB rating
Oct. 21, 2007 - W, 49-28 - 21 of 25, 354 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 158.3 QB rating
Dec. 10, 2006 - L, 21-0 - 12 of 25, 78 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 55.1 QB rating
Nov. 13, 2005 - W, 23-16 - 21 of 36, 275 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 77.9 QB rating
Dec. 20, 2004 - L, 29-28 - 18 of 29, 171 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT, 73.3 QB rating
Oct. 19, 2003 - W, 19-13 - 24 of 34, 283 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 115.2 QB rating
Oct. 6, 2002 - L, 26-13 - 17 of 31, 240 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 74.7 QB rating
Oct. 7, 2001 - L, 30-10 - 12 of 24, 86 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 58.7 QB rating

Overall, Brady is 163 of 257 passing for 1,992 yards with 18 touchdowns, 10 interception, and a quarterback rating of 94.4 in those nine career games in Miami. But hone in on the five losses and Brady was a mere 78 of 138 passing for 927 yards with 7 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 69.9.

Needless to say, Brady's record streak of 335 regular-season pass attempts without an interception will face a stiff test in Week 1. He produced 11 straight starts without a pick to close out the 2010 campaign, but the Dolphins have averaged better than an interception per game against him in Miami. Keeping Brady upright will go a long ways towards aiding that cause for New England as he's been sacked 19 times in nine career games in Miami. Jason Taylor, who's back with the Dolphins this season, boasts seven of those sacks against Brady.

View from Miami: Fins talk Patriots

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis and head coach Tony Sparano held conference calls with the New England media Wednesday. Here's a handful of noteworthy soundbites on the Patriots:

Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesMiami coach Tony Sparano at work.
1. Hall of Fame for Ocho?: Asked to assess Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, Davis put the 11th-year wide receiver in Canton despite a quiet preseason. “Chad, he’s still a good receiver... he’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s the kind of guy he is," said Davis. "I’m pretty sure New England will want to get him the ball as much as possible." Added Sparano: "Well, obviously you don’t see a whole lot of him throughout the preseason, but I would envision they would use him in some part of a rotation there, probably try to get him in a few different spots. I’m sure it's part of the learning curve, just getting him in different positions to get him the ball."

2. Edds a victim of numbers in Miami: The Patriots scooped second-year linebacker A.J. Edds off waivers Tuesday after he was released by the Dolphins. Sparano said the team simply didn't have room to keep him around: "Just ended up being numbers, really," said Sparano. "He's a very smart player. We had 10 linebackers on the team and A.J. obviously missed a lot of time last year with the ACL [injury]. That was really was it." Pressed on his long-snapping abilities, Sparano added: "He has a good amount of long-snapping experience. He was a really solid backup long snapper and we actually had him do some of it in a preseason game this year."

3. Haynesworth a handful: Having coached against Albert Haynesworth numerous times in his career, Sparano knows what the defensive lineman brings to the table in New England. "He’s a great player, an active player," said Sparano. "Another big, physical guy in there with Vince [Wilfork] and that group they have there. He can give you pass-rush ability, but more importantly, he’s really active -- he's been around the ball in a lot of games. I've had several opportunities to play against Albert and he’s been a handful."

4. Daboll benefits from time in New England: Miami first-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has three Super Bowl rings from his time in New England. Daboll, who joined the Patriots as a defensive assistant in 2000, worked with the wide receivers from 2002-2006. Said Sparano: "He's done a great job, we couldn't ask for anything more. He's done a super job and he's well prepared. You can see Brian’s time with coach [Bill] Belichick and the Patriots there has served him well. Of course, he was on defensive side of the ball there, but that helps any young coordinator coming into our league, having experience on that side of the ball and seeing it from that end. Brian’s done a great job and has lot of enthusiasm, and it rubs off on our players."

Patriots' staff sizes up Fins

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
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AP Photo/Charles KrupaCameron Wake puts pressure on Tom Brady.
The Patriots were off Tuesday, but coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, and director of player personnel Nick Caserio held conference calls with the media, which included plenty of chatter on New England's Week 1 opponent: The Miami Dolphins.

"It's always tough to go on the road, in this division, and play down there at this time of year," said Belichick. "It looks like Miami has played well in their preseason games. They have a lot of weapons on offense, they’re a big physical defensive team that has good speed and athleticism with their linebackers and defensive backs. [They are] much improved in the kicking game from where they were last year. It will be a big challenge for us. We have a lot of work to do to get ready for a team that has quite a bit of volume with their scheme. Offensively and defensively, they do a lot of different things that you have to prepare for and that will be challenging as well."

Much of the chatter surrounded facing the unknown in the first week of the season, particularly given the changes Miami made (most notably a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll and the offseason addition of running back Reggie Bush).

"We can go back and look at all the things they did last year and some of those may apply," said Belichick. "With Coach [Tony] Sparano -- and I’m sure he had a lot of input into things -- but with [offensive coordinator] Brian Daboll there now, he has some new ideas. How much they’ll retain from last year, how much they’ll put in new, how many new things they have with a player like Reggie that they haven’t shown -- that’s a big question mark, too. No question, from a preparation standpoint there are a lot of possibilities and we know they won’t be able to do all of them -- we just don’t which ones they’ll do or which ones they’ll feature. From a game plan standpoint, that’s difficult. You kind of have to be careful, if you have too many things for something they don’t even do then you wind up wasting a lot of time on that. If you have not enough for something they do a lot of, you could be caught short. That could be a problem too. It’s definitely from a preparation stand-point, it’s a little bit of a guessing game going into this opening game. We just haven’t seen them run their best stuff under gotta-have-it conditions yet."

(Read full post)

Video: Pats-Dolphins AccuScore report

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
4:13
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Watch the video above for the Countdown Daily AccuScore report for Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game.

* Overall, the Patriots won about 70 percent of 10,000 AccuScore simulations of Sunday’s game against the Dolphins by an average score of about 25-18.

* Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne is projected to struggle (an average quarterback rating of 69 in the simulations), but if he does have a good game (2 touchdown passes) and Miami running backs average at least 4 yards per carry, the Dolphins become slight favorites, winning 52 percent of simulations that meet that criteria

* Click here to simulate the game yourself, choosing your own scenarios, individual performances, weather and more.

Henne impressed by Brady's INT mark

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As a young quarterback, the Dolphins’ Chad Henne was impressed with the record the Patriots’ Tom Brady set last week.

Brady has thrown 319 consecutive passes without being intercepted, on Sunday breaking the old mark of 308, established by Bernie Kosar.

“That’s definitely a remarkable accomplishment,” said Henne, 25, a third-year pro who quarterbacked the Michigan Wolverines, as did Brady.

“He’s protecting the ball, making smart decisions. That’s hard to do in this league where there are so many good players [on defense]. Tom is in charge at all times. That’s a good thing for us young quarterbacks to see and learn how to protect the ball,” said Henne, whose Dolphins (7-8) will visit Gillette Stadium for the regular-season finale against the Patriots (13-2).

Video: An opportunity to rest Brady

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
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In the NFL Live video above, Trey Wingo, Tim Hasselbeck and Tedy Bruschi talk about whether the Patriots should rest players in their meaningless Week 17 game against the Dolphins on Sunday.

Speaking from experience having been in this situation before, Bruschi said he thinks Belichick will play most of his starters. The one exception he would make? Tom Brady.

“Tom Brady has missed the past handful of Wednesdays because of a foot injury. How serious is that foot injury? Does he need a little more rest? If he does, I wouldn’t play him a snap in this game,” Bruschi says.

Hasselbeck agreed with Bruschi on Brady and thinks the rest of the starters should play. With such a young team, argue both Hasselbeck and Bruschi, the experience would be more important than the rest.

Hasselbeck also sees this as an opportunity to showcase backup quarterback Brian Hoyer for a potential trade down the line.

Video: Reiss updates on Pats vs. Dolphins

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
6:13
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Mike Reiss talks on ESPN's SportsCenter about how the Patriots' defense matches up against the Dolphins' offense, and especially Brandon Marshall, as New England prepares to face Miami on Monday night.

ESPN Patriots-Dolphins prediction roundup

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
10:33
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A roundup of how ESPN’s analysts see Monday night’s Patriots-Dolphins game (8:30 p.m. ET) playing out:

* ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss: Dolphins 27, Patriots 24. The Patriots have shown flashes that they can be great, but they've yet to put it all together, especially on the road. They certainly have it in them, but until they prove they can band together on the road and play a strong second half, questions will remain.

* ESPNBoston.com’s Tedy Bruschi: Patriots 24, Dolphins 14: It's Monday night, national television, all of America watching. This is a game that the New England Patriots are going to make a statement. I think the defense is going to come out and play well. Even though they beat the Bills and they're all saying the right things, they still feel like they have something to prove. This is a game when we will finally stop talking about the defense playing poorly and not rising up in big games, such as the playoff loss to Baltimore and last year's Monday night game in New Orleans. The Patriots will win a tough hard-fought game.

* Hank Goldberg: Hammerin' Hank goes back and forth on his pick for Monday night's game. He gives a "slight nod" to Miami and thinks it's going to be a high-scoring game.

* Countdown Daily: Watch Mark Schlereth and Herm Edwards make their predictions in this video.

* ESPN experts: Only two of the seven experts pick the Patriots to beat the Dolphins.

* Sunday Countdown: Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter and Tom Jackson pick the Patriots to beat the Dolphins. Mike Ditka picked Miami.

* Madden simulation: Patriots 27, Dolphins 13. With the game tied at 10, Tom Brady went crazy on the Dolphins' D; he threw for 366 yards overall and two touchdowns (both on the second half) to lead the Patriots to a 27-13 win. Brady's main target in the game was Wes Welker as the speedy receiver caught 7 passes for 143 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown.

* AccuScore simulation: Patriots 23.8, Dolphins 23.4 (on average). You can simulate the game yourself here (Insider).

* Make your Week 4 picks with our Pigskin Pick’Em contest.

* What's your prediction for Patriots-Dolphins? Leave it in the comments section of this blog post.

AccuScore projects a tight game

September, 30, 2010
9/30/10
2:45
PM ET


AccuScore simulations of Monday night’s Patriots-Dolphins game uncover the following trends:

* If AccuScore’s game simulations are any indications, Monday night’s game should be a close one. In 10,000 simulations of the game, each team won about 50 percent of the time. In those simulations, the Patriots averaged 23.8 points per game while the Dolphins averaged 23.4.

* Miami quarterback Chad Henne projects to have a passer rating of 84 and Brandon Marshall projects to have 7 catches.

* In simulations, when running backs Ronnie Brown and Rickey Williams each have 50 or more rushing yards, the Dolphins win 77 percent of the time. When the duo has less than 100 yards combined, that number drops to 34 percent.

You can simulate the game yourself here (Insider).

Where Pats rank in key NFL categories

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
10:41
AM ET
A look at where the Patriots rank in key statistical categories through 13 weeks of the NFL season, with the biggest drop on third-down defense as the Dolphins were 10 of 19 on Sunday:

Points scored
5th (27.3 per game)
Last week: 4th (27.9 per game)

Points allowed
7th (18.6 per game)
Last week: 7th (18.3 per game)

Third down offense
7th (72 of 163, 44.2 percent)
Last week: 7th (68 of 153, 44.4 percent)

Third down defense
19th (opponents are 60 of 151, 39.7 percent)
Last week: 15th (50 of 132, 37.9 percent)

Turnover differential
Tied-4th (Plus-9, 24 takeaways, 15 giveaways)
Last week: 3rd (Plus-10, 23 takeaways, 13 giveaways)

Red zone offense (based on TD percentage)
24th (24 of 51, 47.1 percent)
Last week: 22nd (23 of 48, 47.9 percent)

Red zone defense (based on TD percentage)
27th (17 of 28, 60.7 percent)
Last week: 27th (15 of 24, 62.5 percent)

Postgame sound bites from Miami

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
5:47
PM ET
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Sound bites from both teams’ locker rooms after the Patriots’ 22-21 loss to the Dolphins:

1. Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas summed up the thoughts among Patriots players: “We started off the game very good but we’re just not finishing. We are not finishing games very well. That will always come back to haunt you.”

2. Bill Belichick wasn’t second-guessing himself on going for it on fourth-and-1 late in the second quarter. “I thought we could make it,” he said, noting he was also considering the field position (Miami's 6-yard line) and situation in the game (14-7 lead with 2 minutes left in the half).

3. Tom Brady on if the team is underachieving: “I think we’ve played pretty inconsistent. We have some good drives and then we have some bad drives. Everyone is trying to put their finger on it and really figure it out. It’s frustrating for all of us.”

4. Receiver Sam Aiken said his 81-yard touchdown catch -- the best of his seven-year NFL career -- was bittersweet because of the final result. "It could have been picked off. He was in position. Basically, it was just a jump ball and I went up and grabbed it."

5. Miami rookie cornerback Vontae Davis said he anticipated that Brady would try a fade to Randy Moss in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Davis picked off the pass to keep it a 21-19 game. “Our backs were against the wall, and I figured Moss/Brady, they were going to try to go up top. I knew I had to go up and attack it,” he said.

6. Dolphins players repeated a familiar theme: This was a statement game for second-year quarterback Chad Henne. “He matured and kept everybody up, like a leader,” receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said.

7. Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said the Miami defense overcame a big hurdle, as the Dolphins blanked the Patriots in the final quarter. They entered the game having given up a league-high 134 fourth-quarter points. “It was time for us to be a real defense,” he said.

Thoughts entering the fourth quarter

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
3:23
PM ET
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A few quick-hit thoughts entering the fourth quarter of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Dolphins:

1. The Dolphins have allowed 134 points in the fourth quarter this season, which was a big topic of discussion this week in Miami. That is easily an NFL high.

2. Sam Aiken's 81-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was remarkable as Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith had tight coverage. It is Aiken's career long. Aiken has served as the team's No. 3 receiver today, a role that he has done a nice job with in recent weeks.

3. Pass defense remains an issue. Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite's struggles continue. His long pass interference penalty set up a Dolphins field goal.

4. Chris Hanson's punt at the end of the quarter was his best of the season.

5. Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor, who left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, returned.

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