The Patriots go into Sunday with a 5-2 record as they host the 3-4 Dolphins. At the very least, fans will get a chance to move on from that ugly Jets loss. But the Dolphins won’t be any easier. Here are three keys to watch out for.
1. Rush defense
For all the talk surrounding the Patriots’ sketchy offense and banged up secondary, let’s not forget how rough the rush defense has been this season. How bad, you ask? There’s only one team worse than the Patriots when it comes to rush yards allowed per game – the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Patriots are giving up 127.1 yards per game. They’re giving up an average of 4.0 yards per carry – good for 20th in the NFL. The problem is that both tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are out, with Wilfork done for the year. Players like Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are doing a commendable job filling in, but they can only do so much. If Miami’s Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas run over the Pats on Sunday, they’ll be big problems as the ‘Fins only average 78.0 yards per game on the ground.
2. Oh Danny Boy
Week 8 sounds like a great time to have both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola on the field for the Patriots. Gronk is a sure bet to play (barring an injury in practice Friday), and Amendola has been limited in practice all week. Tom Brady threw to Gronkowski a staggering 17 times last Sunday, with Gronk catching roughly half the balls, but the offense as a whole didn’t look great. With Amendola as another option, Brady may finally start to look like the Brady of old, and not just an old Brady. So many marquee players are going down around the NFL, so it’s nice to have a couple of Pro Bowl-caliber players coming back for the Pats.
3. A surprisingly big game
Before the start of the season, the AFC as a whole looked like NFC Jr.. But many NFC teams have stumbled out of the gate, while AFC teams like Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati have played well. In the AFC East, the Jets have been a surprise, having won four games already – more than some thought they’d win all year. And the Dolphins and Bills are 3-4, just two games behind New England. If the Pats still “own” the AFC East, it certainly doesn’t feel like it right now. Sunday will make for a nice statement game in either direction. A win by the Dolphins – which would be two losses to division opponents in a row for the Pats – would signal a division race. But a big Patriots win might just restore order and hush the critics … key word: might.