By: Chip Turner
There’s a great scene from the movie Zoolander in which the antagonist, Mugatu, points out something that’s been mostly ignored for much of the movie: All of Derek Zoolander’s fashion looks are exactly the same. “Doesn’t anyone notice this?” he screams. “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
For the past week or so, I’ve been repressing my inner Mugatu as the Patriots have been picked not only as the favorite for a wild-card berth in the AFC, but also as home favorites against the Miami Dolphins for Week One. This isn’t to say that the Patriots are a bad team; they’re not. It just appears that everyone outside of Miami (and to be honest, some of the people in Miami) are taking the Dolphins a bit lightly.
Here are a few thoughts to consider before you waste some of that hard-earned cash betting against the Dolphins this week. For emphasis, imagine me screaming these, Mugatu-style:
And yet, Miami is an underdog to a team that finished three games behind them in the standings last year. Yes, New England spent a bundle on free-agent acquisitions Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Yes, Bill Belichick is still their head coach. But at some point in time, we need to realize that “because they’re the Patriots” is being used as justification for picking them to win games.
And at some point, people are going to realize that “because they’re the Patriots” doesn’t mean what it used to mean. Here’s a quick breakdown of which position groups I believe have the advantage this upcoming Sunday.
Quarterbacks: This is the most important bit right here. Maybe someday Mac Jones has his own legacy, but let’s at least have him throw a regular-season NFL pass first. Advantage: Miami.
Offensive Lines vs Defensive Lines: I’m not going to get into this in too much depth; New England’s offensive line is one of their biggest strengths, and their defensive line is underrated. Miami can get very creative with their schemes, and I’m of the opinion Jaelan Phillips gets a lot of work on Sunday, but the difference in the offensive lines is too much to ignore. Advantage: New England.
Run Games vs Run Defenses: I keep hearing about how New England is going to run the ball down Miami’s throat all day. Yes, New England has the superior offensive line, and I think that New England’s backfield is marginally more talented than Miami’s, but there’s something a lot of people are overlooking here.
New England couldn’t stop the run last year. They finished 26th in the league in yardage allowed, and gave up over 163 yards per game in their last three contests. Yes, they were without Dont’a Hightower and added Kyle Van Noy, but both of those two are on the wrong side of 30, and Van Noy seemed to lose a step last year. Advantage: Even
Passing Offense vs. Passing Defense: The secondaries would be a longer conversation if Stephon Gilmore was playing. He isn’t. I’m not going to discount J.C. Jackson, and Belichick is a master at disguising coverages and hiding weaknesses, but Miami has one of the premiere CB tandems in the NFL, and the secondary as a whole got better with the additions of Justin Coleman, Jason McCourty, and Jevon Holland.
Regarding receivers, I’m aware that the Pats added Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry and Nelson Agholor. But if you’re going to try to argue that the Patriots receiving corps is superior to Miami’s when healthy…pack a lunch. Advantage: Miami
Coaching: Yes, Brian Flores was a Coach of the Year candidate last year. Yes, an argument can be made that Bill Belichick was somewhat dependent on Tom Brady for his success. But…c’mon. Advantage: New England
Special Teams: Jason Sanders is one of the league’s best kickers. Michael Palardy has looked outstanding this preseason. Jakeem Grant is one of the top return men in the NFL. This unit, which used to be a weakness on the Dolphins, has become a strength under Coach Flores. Advantage: Miami.
Final Score: Miami 28, New England 20.