By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Lost in the circus of the last week is that the Patriots actually have a real football game to play on Sunday. Well, kind of a real football game.
New England hits the road for their first divisional matchup of the season, paying a visit to the lowly Miami Dolphins. Brian Flores is off to a bumpy start in his first season as a head coach, with the Dolphins clearly focused on things other than winning. A 59-10 drubbing at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens on opening weekend illustrates as much.
The Dolphins are tanking, and they’re tanking hard. The players they haven’t traded away don’t want to be in Miami. The one thing the Dolphins don’t want to do this season is win. People are taking notice, giving the Patriots a fat 19-point spread this weekend.
Going to Miami is usually a nightmare for the Patriots. They’ve lost two straight in south Florida and are 1-5 in their last six visits. They’re 16-38 all-time in Miami.
That trend will not continue on Sunday. The only way the Patriots drop their third straight in Miami is if they forget the game is in Miami and show up to Gillette. Even then, the Dolphins would still probably hand them a W.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Pats take on the Dolphins:
The AB Show
The one guarantee when the Patriots signed Antonio Brown was that the drama would follow him. The drama has certainly followed him.
Brown’s off-field issue is a serious one, one that has fans split whether or not he should be in a Patriots uniform at all — let alone on Sunday. The Patriots are going to let the NFL make the first move, and that won’t come until next week at the earliest. That’s when the league will chat with Brown’s former trainer, who in a civil suit filed earlier this week, has accused the receiver of sexually assaulting her on three occasions in 2017 and 2018. Until then, Brown is cleared to play.
Brown has denied all the charges, and he practiced with the team all week. From everything Bill Belichick said on Friday, it sounds like Brown is going to play on Sunday. Brown had a bag packed for Miami on Friday, and if makes the trip, there’s a good chance he’ll play. That won’t be official until 90 minutes before kickoff when New England’s inactives come out (right when Patriots GameDay hits the air on WBZ-TV).
And if Brown plays against this Dolphins secondary, he’s probably going to put up some big numbers, whether he’s grasped the playbook or not. But with all that has gone on, the Patriots may decide it’s best to shelf Brown until the NFL interviews his accuser. It protects them a bit just in case the NFL decides to throw him on the commissioner’s exempt list next week after they chat with his accuser.
The Patriots can frame it under the guise that Brown was inactive because he just wasn’t ready to jump into the offense. When they signed Josh Gordon in Week 2 last season, Gordon didn’t play until Week 4. The Patriots could follow a similar path with Brown, though it seems unlikely after hearing Belichick on Friday.
If Brown plays, he’s probably going to go nuts against a terrible Miami defense. But the Patriots may want to avoid any Brown headlines until more is known about his legal issue.
Brady Will Finally Feast In Miami
Tom Brady is only 7-10 in his career in Miami, which by Tom Brady standards, is horrendous. How dare he.
Early in his career, Miami was actually a legit threat. They had a great defense with players who could pick Brady off or send him into the ground, and they did both quite a bit. These Dolphins, however, may have been told not to play any defense this season.
These Dolphins just let Lamar Jackson throw five touchdowns on 20 passes. These Dolphins just let Jackson put up a perfect passer rating. What the heck is Tom Brady going to do against them?
The one caveat is that Brian Flores is pretty familiar with Tom Brady, and he’s in charge of that Miami defense. He probably won’t go all Pittsburgh and play the exact same defense over and over in hopes that Brady has forgotten to play football. And Flores does have some good players in the secondary, led by the talented Xavien Howard, who has given Brady some trouble.
But Brady has too many targets in Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, James White, potentially his new All Pro receiver, and anyone else who gets open, and Miami won’t be able to cover all of them. It’s never safe to bet on a big day from Brady in the Magic City, but this weekend is as safe as that bet will ever get.
Patriots Run Game Will Show Up
The Patriots run game didn’t do much last Sunday, but they didn’t have to do much last Sunday. And in the event Tom Brady gets Dolphin’d again this weekend, the New England run game will be able to pick up the slack.
Last week against the Ravens, the Dolphins gave up 265 rushing yards on 46 carries. That is an average of 5.8 yards per carry. That’s madness. Expect more than 14 yards on 15 carries out of Sony Michel this weekend.
The New England Pass-Rush
Ben Roethlisberger got the ball out quick last Sunday, which didn’t give the New England defense much time to get after the QB. It should be much different this weekend against Ryan Fitzpatrick and a rebuilt Miami offensive line. Baltimore sacked Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen three times last weekend, and got an additional nine other hits on the quarterbacks last Sunday.
Michael Bennett could be in for a big afternoon to start, and if it gets ugly, Belichick may unleash Chase Winovich on the world.
Keeping Opponents Out Of The End Zone
Going back to the Super Bowl (since it fits this argument), the Patriots have kept their opponents out of the end zone for eight straight quarters. It’s not unrealistic that this streak continues well into Sunday’s contest.
And it would be quite the feat if the Patriots hold the Dolphins without a touchdown in the first half. It would mark the first time since 1982 that the franchise didn’t allow a touchdown in 10 straight quarters.
Tune in to Patriots-Dolphins on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for 1 p.m., and stick around for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter — all on WBZ-TV!