NFL Nation: AFC East

Dolphins vs. Jets preview

November, 28, 2014
11/28/14
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When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford TV: ESPN

The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets find themselves in familiar roles entering their Week 13 matchup on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

The last time these rivals met, the Jets were out of the playoff race in Week 17 of the 2013 season. The Dolphins needed a win to get into the postseason, but New York's 20-7 victory ruined Miami's season.

The Jets (2-9) are back in the spoiler role Monday and have a chance to put a major dent into Miami's fledgling playoff hopes. The Dolphins are 6-5 and must win this game to stay in contention in a deep AFC.

Who will prevail in this division matchup? ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker debate:

Cimini: James, Ryan Tannehill appears to have improved and matured this season. Are the Dolphins convinced he's their long-term answer at quarterback?

Walker: Including last week, Tannehill has five games with triple-digit passer ratings. This is a strong step in the right direction. First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has done a great job of pushing Tannehill to his limits since the spring. There have been some rocky moments, but the team is starting to see it pay off.

I've watched all 43 career starts for Tannehill, and this is as consistent as I've seen him over a long stretch. I don't expect him to become an elite quarterback who can single-handedly take over games. But Tannehill is at the point where he's becoming part of the solution, not the problem. Barring a complete meltdown in December, his improvements in Year 3 have earned him a fourth year as a starter. The Dolphins have bigger areas to address this offseason.

The Jets were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and embarrassed Monday against the Buffalo Bills. Do they have any fight left for Miami?

Cimini: You're right, James, they were embarrassed by the Bills, a team they used to handle easily. But that was back in 2009 and 2010, when the Jets had legitimate talent. Honestly, I don't know if they have anything left. For the most part, it's a team of proud professionals, but this kind of season can break your will. The roster is devoid of playmakers, so they can't find a spark anywhere. Once adversity hits, they crumble. This could be another Monday night debacle for them. The home crowd will turn on them quickly, and it could turn ugly. Correction: It will turn ugly.

It's tough to get a read on the Dolphins. They seem like an improved team, but they can't beat the big boys. What's your take?

Walker: I view them as right on the cusp of being a strong team, but they are still learning how to win. The Dolphins have the talent to play with just about anyone. The problem is they can't seem to win close games. Their six victories have come by an average margin of 19 points. All of their wins have been comfortable. Yet they tighten up in close games and are 0-3 in contests decided by four points or fewer. Those three losses came against likely playoff teams: the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. Beating teams of that caliber is the next step in the Dolphins' maturing process.

This appears to be the final days for Rex Ryan as Jets head coach. How is he handling it?

Cimini: I've covered a lot of embattled coaches in my day, and Ryan is coping better than any of them. In terms of dealing with the media, he's courteous and professional, showing the same sense of humor (and occasional bravado) that made him a household name during the good times. He was dealt a bad hand, especially at cornerback, but he's never said anything that could be interpreted as criticism of his general manager, John Idzik. On the field, Ryan has had better years, obviously. The Jets commit too many penalties and they haven't been able to solve two nagging problems: red zone offense and red zone defense. Ryan knows he's toast, but he's continued the brave front -- good for the 'ol job résumé, I suppose.

This is a virtual must-win game for the Dolphins. They can't possibly lose to the 2-9 Jets, can they?

Walker: Although it doesn’t seem likely, I've learned in recent years that you can never assume anything with the Dolphins in division games. Miami hasn’t swept New York since 2009. This is a strong trend favoring New York. Strangely enough, the road team in this rivalry is 4-0 the past two seasons. The Dolphins desperately need to continue that streak. If Miami can't sweep the lowly Jets in two December games, it doesn’t deserve to be in playoff contention.

Finally, Rich, where does this team go at quarterback after the season? Geno Smith and Michael Vick aren't the answer.

Cimini: There's no way to predict what they'll do at quarterback because there will be a new head coach and, possibly, a new general manager. They have to create hope at the position, whether it's through the draft (Marcus Mariota?), free agency or the trade market.

Geno Smith is back in the starting role this week, giving the front office one last evaluation period before the offseason. The organization's hope is that he learned from sitting on the bench and that he can take it to the field. We'll see. It's hard to imagine him playing well enough to convince the powers that be (or will be) that he should be the undisputed starter in 2015. Late-season performances can be misleading; the Jets got sucked in last year by Smith's encouraging finish. They should draft a quarterback and create a competition with Smith, if he earns that shot over the final five games.

An on-field feel for Tom Brady

November, 6, 2014
11/06/14
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wore a microphone during Sunday's victory over the Denver Broncos, and the NFL's official website has posted some highlights and on-field sound from Brady.

A few highlights:

Brady
 Weather conditions. It has been snowing earlier in the day, but by kickoff, things had cleared and it was cool and windy. "This is beautiful. What’s wrong with this weather?" Brady says in pre-game warmups. "I’d take this eight home games a year, right here.” When offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels came over, Brady says, "Feel great, rock and roll. Our kind of day. The wind’s not bad at all.”

Conversation with Edelman. After Brady ran into the end zone to congratulate Julian Edelman following his 84-yard punt return for a touchdown, the two sat next to each other on the bench. "Greatetst punt returner in NFL history right there," Brady says to Edelman, as the two later had a humorous conversation in which Edelman was asking about Brady's presence in the end zone. Brady's response: "Had to go see my guy."

Admiration for Manning. When Peyton Manning connected with tight end Julius Thomas for a touchdown, Brady simply tipped his cap. "Great throw," he said, admiring Manning's work.

Gronkowski's catch draws priceless reaction. Brady still seemed stunned about tight end Rob Gronkowski's one-handed catch, a reaction that was captured while officials reviewed the play to see if it was a touchdown.

McDaniels on the sideline. Brady's nimbleness with his feet was pointed out by McDaniels on the sideline, as he told Brady he was doing a nice job avoiding bad plays. That's been a hot topic of discussion the past few weeks.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Buffalo Bills in a game in London next season.

Even if the Bills don't score a victory on the field on Oct. 25, 2015 at Wembley Stadium, it will still be a win for Buffalo.

Why? With the Jaguars serving as the home team, the Bills won't relinquish a game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2015. The news couldn't be better for Bills fans who gave up one home Sunday so the Bills could play in Toronto every season from 2008 to 2013.

The Bills put their beleaguered Toronto series on hiatus earlier this year after dwindling attendance at the Rogers Centre and questions about whether playing a game north of the border sacrificed the Bills' home-field advantage.

Not surprisingly, that series is close to meeting a permanent end, Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

While the possibility of the Bills hosting a game in London at some point after 2015 remains on the table, this week's developments virtually ensure that the Bills will play eight home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium again next season.

Call that a win for Buffalo.

The Film Don’t Lie: Dolphins

November, 4, 2014
11/04/14
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A weekly look at what the Miami Dolphins must fix:

What can the Dolphins fix following a 37-0 shellacking of the San Diego Chargers?

The answer is simple: Not much.

This week's "Film Don’t Lie" session for the Dolphins feels like nitpicking. Miami (5-3) played as close to a perfect game as you can in the NFL -- and it came against a talented San Diego team (5-4). The Dolphins outgained the Chargers 441-178 in total yards and were terrific in all three phases.

But there is one small area of concern for Miami that's shown up in recent weeks. The Dolphins' kicking game hasn't been stellar. Miami second-year kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 45-yard attempt wide right at the end of the first half with a chance to go up 23-0. It was the fourth field goal attempt Sturgis has missed in eight games, and even a few of his made kicks haven't looked smooth.

In the grand scheme of Sunday's blowout, Sturgis' missed field goal didn't mean much. But there will be times this season when the Dolphins are locked in a close game and will need Sturgis to be reliable and accurate in key moments. If Miami is to stay in the playoff hunt in December, it cannot afford to have issues in the kicking game.

The Film Don't Lie: Jets

October, 28, 2014
10/28/14
11:00
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A weekly look at what the New York Jets must fix:

The Kansas City Chiefs have an anemic passing offense. Quarterback Alex Smith has a sprained throwing shoulder. On Sunday, their medicine will arrive:

The Jets' secondary.

The Jets allowed 84- and 61-yard pass plays in Sunday's 43-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills, bringing their season total to nine pass plays of 40-plus yards. Only the Houston Texans (10) and Atlanta Falcons (10) have allowed more.

This is so uncharacteristic of a Rex Ryan-coached defense. Once upon a time, a big play against the Jets was a rare feat. In 2009, when they owned the best defense in the NFL, the Jets surrendered only three such plays for the entire season. Alas, injuries and poor personnel decisions have forced Ryan to scramble at cornerback. He's also playing more zone coverage than ever before, resulting in miscommunication.

Sunday should be an interesting matchup because the Chiefs have no quick-strike ability -- no pass plays of 40-plus yards. In last week's win, Smith became the first quarterback since 2012 to win a game without attempting multiple passes of 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Let's take it a step further: The Chiefs are the only team without a receiving touchdown from a wide receiver.

That's about to change.

Darrelle Revis, Chandler Jones not at Patriots practice

October, 21, 2014
10/21/14
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive end Chandler Jones were not spotted at the start of practice on Tuesday.

 Jones, who has been dealing with a right shoulder injury, played in 84 of 87 defensive snaps for the Patriots in their win over the Jets on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Revis showed no signs of an injury during the win against his former team and talked with media after the game.

With an extra practice this week, it's possible the Patriots are giving Jones and Revis an additional day of rest.

Meanwhile, the club received a boost on the health front with the return of three players on the offensive line. Starting left guard Dan Connolly (concussion), rookie center Bryan Stork (concussion) and rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger) were participating in practice.

Fleming has missed the past three games, Stork the past two, and Connolly the win over the Jets.

Fleming seemed to have a larger black brace/cast on his right hand.

Also, core special-teamer and safety Nate Ebner (finger) returned to practice after missing the past three games. Ebner was wearing a black cast on his right hand that covered his thumb.

Practice squad wide receiver Josh Boyce was wearing a black practice jersey, signifying that he was a practice player of the week in the preparations for the win over the Jets.

Players were wearing sweats and shells.
Tags:

AFC East

Jerod Mayo undergoes knee surgery

October, 16, 2014
10/16/14
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New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo underwent surgery to repair his torn patellar tendon on Thursday morning, according to Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.

Mayo, who injured his knee while making a tackle on Buffalo Bills running back Anthony Dixon in the second quarter of the Patriots' 37-22 win on Sunday, was carted off the field. Mayo appeared to be making a routine tackle, but the combination of the awkward position of his knee and the force of Dixon’s strong run caused Mayo’s knee to bend abnormally, leading to the tear.

 

A torn patella tendon is considered to be a more serious injury than an ACL tear. The recovery period for Mayo is expected to be about six months.

This is the second torn patellar tendon injury of the past weekend as New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz suffered the same injury on Sunday night.

Mayo has not been placed on injured reserve, though that move seems imminent as six months would put Mayo out until at least April.

With this injury and surgery, Mayo will now have suffered season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Mayo tore his pectoral muscle last season in Week 6 and missed the remainder of the season.

The question now is whether Mayo will be able to return his high level of play in 2015.
Tags:

AFC East

The Film Don't Lie: Bills

October, 7, 2014
10/07/14
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A weekly look at what the Buffalo Bills must fix:

Early in his postgame news conference following Sunday's 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions, Bills coach Doug Marrone didn't mince his words about one area where his offense needed improvement.

"Our first downs were very, very poor," he said.

When the Bills return home to face the New England Patriots this weekend, they'll have to do better on first downs, specifically in the running game.

The Bills' 0.44 yards per carry on first down was the NFL's second-worst single-game performance this season, behind only the Oakland Raiders' minus-0.29 average in Week 1.

Of the Bills' nine first-down rushes in the game, six went to C.J. Spiller. One play gained 2 yards, four plays gained 1 yard and the other was a loss of 2 yards. Add in a failed end-around to Marquise Goodwin that lost 8 yards, and the Bills' rushing average on first downs was abysmal.

The story with Spiller is the same as it's been, and what I highlighted after Week 3. He isn't a player who is built to break tackles in a confined area, so he's better off being used in space.

On Monday, Marrone acknowledged that the Bills were trying to open up more opportunities for Spiller to break tackles in a less enclosed area.

"[The Lions have] a very difficult defense. They were the top defense in the league. It’s very difficult. You’ve got to hit in 100 miles per hour and go and break tackles," he said. "There’s not going to be a lot of free areas and getting him in space and things like that. We tried to do that with a couple of the screens and swinging the ball out to him.

"It’s just a matter of doing a better job all-around."

I'll agree with Marrone on that last part. However, a more specific solution would be to turn more to Fred Jackson on first down. The Bills already lean on Jackson in the passing game on later downs, but he's been their most consistent offensive player and would be a more reliable option on first down.

The Film Don’t Lie: Jets

September, 30, 2014
9/30/14
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A weekly look at what the New York Jets must fix:

The Jets are into the "Missiles of October" portion of their schedule, as they face Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in an 11-day span. Unfortunately for the Jets, they're hitting this stretch with a defense that doesn't scare quarterbacks.

Oh sure, the Jets' defensive front will gets its share of sacks, but when it comes to making game-changing plays -- forcing turnovers -- its useless. Rex Ryan's defense has produced zero interceptions in four games. The only other team with an oh-fer is the New Orleans Saints, whose defense is headed by Ryan's twin brother, Rob. Talk about keeping it all in the family.

It's pretty amazing when you think about it: Opposing quarterbacks have dropped back to pass a total of 150 times against the Jets, and not one of those throws has ended up in the wrong hands. On Sunday, they travel to the San Diego Chargers and will face the hottest quarterback in the league. Rivers has a league-best 114.5 passer rating and has completed 70 percent of his attempts.

How does Ryan fix the takeaway issue? It's tough because they're undermanned at cornerback. The anticipated return of former first-round pick Dee Milliner should help -- maybe. Ryan is a man-to-man coach, but maybe he can change it up by playing more zone. Maybe he can play more two-high-safety looks instead of the usual one. He has to do something, because the Jets' bad start could turn ugly over the next 11 days.

Joe Philbin fine with QB criticism

September, 25, 2014
9/25/14
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DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin is aware that many people -- including his own quarterback -- disagreed with his decision to not publicly endorse Ryan Tannehill this week. The Dolphins are starting Tannehill in Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. Yet, Philbin is dodging the topic publicly, which caused an unnecessary distraction for an already struggling team.

Tannehill
Plenty of people in South Florida, including former Dolphins greats Jason Taylor and Bob Griese, have voiced their displeasure with the way Philbin is handling his quarterbacks. In fact, it gets more and more difficult to find support for Philbin on this issue with each passing day.

Still, Philbin isn't concerned with critics and remains steadfast that he did the right thing.

"I think that's totally fair. I think everybody is entitled to their opinion," Philbin said of the backlash. "They certainly can feel free to express it, and just like you said, at the end of the day, I have to go to sleep and put my head on the pillow and do what I think is the right thing. I have no issues with any of that."

In other words, Philbin is not budging. He has turned down multiple opportunities to publicly support Tannehill. There is a good chance Philbin will continue to handle Tannehill this way, especially if the third-year quarterback continues to struggle in games.

Tannehill said he received clarity on the situation from Philbin behind the scenes. But it is curious that Philbin couldn't back Tannehill in front of the media.

How Philbin handles Tannehill going forward -- including Sunday's game in London against Oakland -- certainly is worth monitoring.

Sammy Watkins on 'nagging' rib injury

September, 18, 2014
9/18/14
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- On the field, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins showed few ill-effects of a preseason rib injury during Sunday's 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins.

Watkins
 On the sidelines during that game, however, Watkins was visited several times by team medical staff and at one point was hunched over near the bench area after returning from play.

Watkins was listed as a full participant during practice this week and says his condition is improving.

"I'm feeling pretty good. Just day by day, it gets better," he said. "I just have to keep working and keep getting stronger."

After catching three passes in the season opener, Watkins had eight receptions for 117 yards last Sunday. Watkins missed only three snaps (of 57 total) in Week 1 and nine snaps (of 59 total) in Week 2.

The third overall pick didn't offer a time frame on when he may be back to full strength.

"I don't know how long. It's just a nagging injury," he said. "It's something that you can play with. Hopefully it stops. Whenever it stops, I'll be fine. But right now I just have to play through it."

Ryan Tannehill preps for nemesis Bills

September, 11, 2014
9/11/14
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DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill owns career wins over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts and even Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.

Tannehill
But, surprisingly, the one team Tannehill has struggled most against throughout his NFL career is the Buffalo Bills. Tannehill is 1-3 against Buffalo, completing just 48 percent of his passes in those four games and averaging only 136.7 yards per contest.

Tannehill’s most recent outing against Buffalo was arguably his worst game. He was 10-of-27 passing for 82 yards in a 19-0 loss to the Bills in Week 16.

Tannehill will get to meet his personal nemesis when the Dolphins (1-0) travel to face the Bills (1-0) on Sunday. Tannehill knows he wasn’t his best in Week 1 against the Patriots but still put together a winning performance. He completed 18-of-32 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

“We left a lot of plays out there. I left a lot of plays out there, personally,” Tannehill admitted. “Location of throws, missing throws, [I] had a couple of dropped passes. Details like that where we left a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns out on the field. ... But you can’t leave that many plays on the field consistently and expect to win week-in and week-out. Definitely, we want to clean those details up this week.”


Tannehill will have to play better this week. Buffalo has found a way to batter Tannehill and force Miami's offense to be one-dimensional in the past. That was especially the case during last season's season sweep when the Bills' defense registered nine quarterback sacks on Tannehill in two games.

Those two contests helped convince Miami to do a major makeover of its offensive line via free agency and the draft. The Dolphins signed veteran left tackle Branden Albert to a $47 million contract, drafted rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James in the first round and added center Samson Satele and veteran guards Daryn Colledge and Shelley Smith in free agency.

Miami had five new starting offensive linemen in Week 1, and the unit thrived against New England. The Dolphins had impressive balance with 191 rushing yards and 169 passing yards, which caught the attention of Bills head coach Doug Marrone.

“As far as just a unit, in general, they’re working extremely well together and I think that’s the most impressive thing,” Marrone said in a conference call with the Miami media. “They’re knocking people off the ball.”

Both teams enter this game with momentum. That sets up this interesting matchup of surprise undefeated teams where the winner will be 2-0 and in first place in the AFC East.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, 63 percent of teams that start 2-0 since 1990 have gone on to make the playoffs. Whoever wins Sunday will be well-positioned to end a lengthy postseason drought. The Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, and the Bills have the NFL’s longest playoff drought dating back to the 1999 season.

“Very important just because we need to get this lead. We don’t need to be playing catch up,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “We’ve been there before. We need to see how it feels to play as the division leaders the whole time. We can do that. We have the team to do it. We just have to continue to put in the work every single week, every single day."

Bills' Sammy Watkins (ribs) probable

September, 5, 2014
9/05/14
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins is listed as probable on the team's injury report for their regular-season opener Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Watkins, who injured his ribs twice in the preseason, practiced fully this week. If he plays Sunday, Watkins could take some plays off.

 "Just about any other rib injury. Just the soreness of it. Nothing else can happen with the ribs," Watkins said Monday. "You just have to go out there and be strong and finish the game. If I need to take a breather, take two or three plays off from being hit, that's what I'm going to do."

Meanwhile, starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore is questionable after being limited in practice earlier this week.

Here is the Bills' full Friday injury report:

Doubtful:
TE Lee Smith (toe)
S Jonathan Meeks (neck)

Questionable:
RB Anthony Dixon (hamstring)
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)

Probable:
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
LB Randell Johnson (ankle)

Bills shy away from Goodwin as returner

September, 5, 2014
9/05/14
12:15
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills made a change to their special teams depth chart this week, replacing Marquise Goodwin with C.J. Spiller as their primary kick returner.

lastname
Goodwin
 Here's the question: Was the move more about Goodwin, who served in that role last year, or Spiller?

With a smaller sample size, Spiller had the edge in production this preseason. Goodwin fielded five kickoffs, two against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and three against the Detroit Lions, averaging 19.2 yards per return. Spiller, meanwhile, had one return for 42 yards.

There are also questions about Goodwin's durability. He's suffered several injuries since being drafted in the third round last season, something that Goodwin has attributed to his size and speed.

Still, coach Doug Marrone wants to limit Goodwin's chances of being hit.

"He’s had a lot of bumps and bruises, and we have really three guys [who] are pretty good and can probably start anywhere," Marrone said Thursday. "If we can take a lick off, we’ll take a lick off until Marquise gets better, and then we’ll make decision."

If Goodwin has a chance of injury on kickoffs, the coaching staff doesn't share the same concerns about Spiller, one of its more valuable offensive playmakers.

"What’s the risk? I look at it as how many guys have been injured returning the football compared to how many guys have been injured with the ball being handed off to them," Marrone said Wednesday. "I don’t look at it as a risk as maybe some people would, but I can understand how maybe some people could see that because of the distance and the way some people are running down the field, I understand that."

Patriots vs. Dolphins preview

September, 5, 2014
9/05/14
12:00
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Tom Brady, and Ryan Tannehill USA TODAY SportsTom Brady and Ryan Tannehill will square off in a Week 1 AFC East matchup.
The New England Patriots have been the dominant team in the AFC East for more than a decade. With future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick leading the way, New England has won 10 the past 11 division titles.

The only other team to win the AFC East in that span was the Miami Dolphins in 2008. This year's Dolphins team is trying to accomplish that same feat with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and coach Joe Philbin entering an important third season together.

Only one of these teams can set the tone for the division when Miami hosts New England on Sunday in Week 1 at Sun Life Stadium. Dolphins reporter James Walker and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss break down the matchup:

James Walker: Mike, welcome back to the regular season. It should be another fun year in the AFC East. I want to start with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee), who is returning in Week 1. This is a huge issue for the Dolphins, whose linebackers were exposed last year trying to defend the pass. Gronkowski did not get any game action this preseason; how much of an impact can he have in this game?

Mike Reiss: Great to be back, James. Gronkowski acknowledged that he won't play every snap, but assuming he does suit up, I would expect a workload of about 20-30 snaps, depending on how many total plays the offense ultimately runs. The first place to look is the red zone: The Patriots were close to a 70 percent efficiency rate with Gronk last year and dipped to about a 40 percent efficiency rate without him. So when the space gets tight on the field, that's when Gronkowski is often at his best. Meanwhile, one thing I think Patriots followers will be interested to hear about is how Miami's new offensive approach might present some challenges for the Patriots' defense.

Walker: The Dolphins will have a much different look offensively compared to what the Patriots faced last season. First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has brought a smart, no-nonsense approach, which is what the Dolphins needed. The route combinations, motions and increased tempo all make sense for Miami's personnel. I think Belichick did a smart thing to hold joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles this summer because Lazor, who was Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach, has brought many of the same concepts to Miami. Expect Miami's offense to try to push the pace against New England's defense in the sweltering South Florida heat.

What do you expect from the healthy return of Vince Wilfork and the addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis?

Reiss: Wilfork's return has exceeded my expectations. When he suffered a torn Achilles last Sept. 29 and missed the rest of the season, I thought it could be a career-ender for a player at that size (6-foot-2, 325 pounds). It's a credit to him that he not only dropped weight but also returned to his previous high level of play; I think his work in the preseason was better than what we saw from him early last season. As for Revis, I don't think it's a stretch to say that his presence has a chance to transform a defense that ranked 26th in the NFL last season on third down. Expect tight man coverage and physical play at the line of scrimmage.

When I look at Miami's defense, it all starts on the line, and I see an advantage for them in this game against a Patriots offensive line in transition. What should we be looking out for defensively from the Dolphins?

Walker: Miami's defensive line could be its deepest and most talented in years -- and it's had good units in recent seasons. One of Miami's biggest strengths is that it can pressure with four rushers. Defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon and tackles Jared Odrick, Randy Starks and Earl Mitchell are tough to handle. I think the blitz packages have looked better as a result. The Dolphins know they're in trouble if they allow Brady to sit in the pocket and pick them apart. Their best chance to beat New England is to keep bodies on and around Brady.

Finally, Mike, the Dolphins are hoping for 90-degree weather, which has been consistent in Miami throughout the summer. Are you buying that the weather could hamper the Patriots?

Reiss: There is no simulating the heat, but I will say, the Patriots got some nice hot, humid days this week to work. They also had joint practices with Washington in Richmond, Virginia, in early August, and that was steamy. One of those days, after a three-hour afternoon practice in full pads, Belichick had the players running sprints. Conditioning was a big focus for Belichick in camp, I'm sure in part with this game in mind. In the end, I don't think weather will decide this game. Performance will. And I'll be watching the line of scrimmage closely to see if the Patriots can handle that Miami defensive front.

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