By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots had a 12-game winning streak against AFC East opponents snapped thanks to a 30-27 overtime loss to the New York Jets in Week Seven. The Patriots will get a chance to start a new streak when the Miami Dolphins come to Gillette Stadium Sunday for Week Eight.
The Dolphins come into this game with a 3-3 record. They started off the 2013 season hot, winning their first three games of the season, but now they are struggling through a three-game losing streak. Last week, they suffered a 23-21 loss at home to the Buffalo Bills.
Miami’s rivalry with New England dates back to 1966, when the Dolphins were established as an AFL expansion team. The Dolphins lead the all-time regular season series 49-43, but they trail the all-time playoff series 1-2. The Patriots swept the series last season, winning 23-16 in New England and 28-0 at Miami.
Dolphins on Offense
Early on, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback in leading the Dolphins to a 3-0 start, but he has looked quite vulnerable during the team’s current three-game losing streak. This isn’t entirely his fault, as his offensive line has allowed him to be sacked 26 times, which is more than once per quarter. Still, his current passer rating of 83.1 is better than Tom Brady’s 75.3.
One thing Tannehill does very well is spread the ball around to his receivers. His top four targets, wide receivers Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace and tight end Charles Clay, all have between 24 and 31 catches this season, and all of them have scored at least one touchdown. Miami’s leading rusher is Lamar Miller, who has gained a mere 254 yards this season, but he’s averaging a decent 4.3 yards per carry.
Dolphins On Defense
Miami’s defense is ranked only 25th in the league against the pass, but they have pretty good hands; six different players have accounted for the team’s seven interceptions this season. Safety Reshad Jones is responsible for Miami’s lone pick-six on a 25-yard return against the Baltimore Ravens. Against the run, the Dolphins are giving up only 3.8 yards per rush, which is tied for 10th best in the league.
The Dolphins don’t have much of a pass rush; their 17 sacks rank 20th in the league. Defensive end Olivier Vernon, a Miami native who played at the University of Miami, leads the team in sacks with 3.5.
This game is a tough one to call. Given how Miami hasn’t won a game since September 22, it would be tempting to peg this game as an easy win for the Patriots, but last week’s loss to the Jets proved that the Patriots won’t be able to roll over their division opponents as easily as in previous years. Additionally, because the Dolphins are particularly strong against the run, this may force the Patriots to throw the ball more often than they would like, and New England’s passing game has not been in sync for most of the season. If tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to play well, the Pats should be able to pull this one out, but expect a low-scoring game.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.