Jun 202013
 

Mike Wallace12. Miami Dolphins
Head Coach: Joe Philbin
2012 Record: 7-9
2012 Offense: 288 points scored, 27th in points, 27th in yards (26th passing, 17th rushing)
2012 Defense: 317 points allowed, 7th in points, 21st in yards (27th passing, 13th rushing)

Key Additions
WR Mike Wallace, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Philip Wheeler, TE Dustin Keller, WR Brandon Gibson, CB Brent Grimes, T Tyson Clabo, DT Vaughn Martin, DE Dion Jordan, CB Jamal Taylor, OL Dallas Thomas, CB Will Davis

Key Losses
RB Reggie Bush, T Jake Long, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Kevin Burnett, TE Anthony Fasano, CB Sean Smith, WR Davone Bess, DT Tony McDaniel, K Nate Kaeding

Why 2013 will be better
Ryan Tannehill is a promising young quarterback who might well break out this season with weapons like Wallace, Gibson, and Keller added to his arsenal. The offensive line is solid in its depth, though Jonathan Martin has struggled at left tackle. Clabo does offer an upgrade on the right side. Cameron Wake is an elite pass rushing talent, while Dion Jordan has the talent to be a disruptive force on the opposite side. Jordan’s addition to the lineup allows Jared Odrick to move inside along with Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, providing the Dolphins with an excellent defensive line. Brent Grimes was a solid addition to the secondary after returning from a torn ACL in 2012, and will likely start opposite Richard Marshall, though rookie Jamal Taylor looks equipped to push Marshall for the spot. There is little doubt that the Dolphins’ dreadful pass defense will be better in 2013.

Why 2013 will be worse
Tannehill has tons of potential, but was also very inconsistent last season. Lamar Miller enters 2013 as the top running back. While the second year pro has a potential high upside, he saw limited carries in his rookie season and is an untested; at least in the short term he appears to be a downgrade from Reggie Bush. Daniel Thomas can be a good complement to Miller, but only if he can stay healthy. While Ellerbe and Wheeler are touted as an upgrade to the linebacker corps, Ellerbe was a one-trick pony with the Ravens, and the Fins appear to have overpaid for a player who may not have the three down talent that they think he does. Wheeler appears to be the real deal, but doesn’t appear to be an upgrade over Burnett. The Dolphins got younger at linebacker, not necessarily better.

Outlook
Tannehill was sacked 35 times last season, and needs better play from his offensive line to be able to play with the new toys that he has. Tannehill finished his rookie system ranked 27th in the league, but showed numerous flashes of his potential last season. One thing the Dolphins lack is quality depth at offensive skill positions, so health is going to be critical to the team’s offensive success. On defense, the Dolphins need a pass defense to complement a solid run defense, and the upgrades appear to sufficient to accomplish this. At first blush, the worst case for 2013 would appear to be a repeat seven win performance, and the team appears capable of winning as many ten games as they challenge for a playoff spot and seek to depose the Patriots from the AFC East throne.

Jun 102013
 

Andy ReidToday starts our series taking a quick peek at the state of all thirty two teams as they prepare for the 2013 season. Yes, it’s early and training camps are still far off, but the bulk of the roster moves have been made and we have enough information to make an educated guess on what 2013 holds for each club. We will go in draft order from worst to first, looking at why each team might be better or worse this coming season. We kick off our series with a look at the Kansas City Chiefs.

1. Kansas City Chiefs
Head Coach: Andy Reid
2012 Record: 2-14
2012 Offense: 211 points scored, 32nd in points, 24th in yards (32nd passing, 5th rushing)
2012 Defense 425 points allowed, 25th in points, 20th in yards (21st passing, 27th rushing)

Key Additions
Head Coach Andy Reid, QB Alex Smith, WR Donnie Avery, LB Akeem Jordan, CB Daunta Robinson, T Geoff Schwartz, CB Sean Smith, T Eric Fisher, QB Chase Daniel, TE Anthony Fasano

Key Losses
QB Matt Cassel, C Ryan Lilja, QB Brady Quinn, T Eric Winston

Why 2013 will be better
The Chiefs had six Pro Bowl players on the roster in 2012 and still managed to go 2-14. Enter Andy Reid and Alex Smith, who are proven winners. The air has changed in Kansas City, and the infusion of Alex Smith, Avery, Fisher, Robinson and Sean Smith promise to change the culture in western Missouri. Having an effective passing attack will make Jamaal Charles a more effective back. The improved offense will keep a very talented defense on the sidelines a little longer. The defense collapsed in 2013, at least in part due to the terrible, mistake-prone offense. Adding Robinson and Smith improves an under-performing secondary.

Why 2013 will be worse
2013 can’t get much worse than 2012, but it’s possible (though not likely) that Reid’s attempt to cobble together talent in the midst of a coaching change will fall flat. Even then, the Chiefs can expect to improve on a two win campaign. Still, Reid seems to be trying to duplicate a pass-oriented attack that he relied on in Philadelphia, and the Chiefs may not have the talent or the interior line to pull it off.

Outlook
It all starts with the offense, and Alex Smith and Chase Daniel represent a major step up over Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. Keeping Dwayne Bowe was important (not to mention a mild surprise), as was adding Donnie Avery as a complement. Smith is a proven winner, and the Chiefs are highly likely to improve on the pathetic 13 points a game scored in 2012. The Chiefs may well be the most improved team in the AFC in 2013, but winning divisional games is going to be the key to their success this coming season. At worst, the Chiefs should be capable of pulling off four or five wins. At best, they are capable of going 8-8 and competing as a dark horse playoff candidate.

Mar 122013
 

Mike WallaceWe will continue updating this article for the next few days until may of the top tier free agents have landed. Some may get their own article, but this spot will keep track of the major comings and goings of players as the free agency period begins.

 

Tuesday, March 12

– Prior to the start of free agency today, the Jets released defensive tackle Sione Po’uha, who had a base salary of $4.9 million for the upcoming season, creating $3.8 million in cap space. No word yet on whether or not he is expected to re-sign at a lower price.

– The Panthers released linebacker James Anderson, whom they had overpaid for last season to the tune of 5 years and $22 million.

– The Chargers released tight end Randy McMichael.

– The Rams released safety Quintin Mikell, and have now parted ways with both starting safeties from last season.

– Word is that Wes Welker is still waiting to hear the Patriots’ first contract offer before free agency begins.  Tom E. Curran suggesting it is hard for the Patriots to know what the market for Welker will look like, but Welker is likely to wait for offers to increase his leverage. The soft market for wide receivers doesn’t help the Patriots. The Colts and Broncos may well rival the Patriots for Welker’s service. The Pats are risking not making the highest offer to Welker, and it might come back to bite them. Perhaps the Patriots are heading in another direction? One thing is for sure… Bill Belichick has ice water in his veins.

Tony Gonzalez looks like he is heading back to the Falcons.

– The Texans have released receiver Kevin Walter.

– The Vikings have re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson for one year. Meanwhile, the Steelers are giving Plaxico Burress another shot (drum roll).

– Safety James Ihedigbo has re-signed with the Ravens, insuring another year of him being able to drop to the ground in pain after every play.

– Linebacker Larry Foote has worked out a deal to stay in Pittsburgh. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has also agreed to restructure his contract.

Santonio Holmes has worked out a deal to restructure his contract and remain with the Jets.

– Cornerback Antoine Winfield has been released by the Vikings.

– Running back Beanie Wells released by the Arizona Cardinals.

– The Rams reach a deal to keep defensive end William Hayes in St. Louis.

– As expected, the Eagles have released cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha from their famous “Dream Team”

– Prediction 14 minutes before free agency begins, though not a stunner. Wes Welker is not returning to New England, and the Patriots don’t appear too concerned about losing him, despite numbers that put him on a path to the Hall of Fame.

– Giants sign cornerback Aaron Ross, who did not have to wait for free agency to begin as a result of being released by the Jaguars and going unclaimed.

– Vikings keep tackle Phil Loadholt just before free agency begins.

And now free agency begins…

Paul Kruger looks like he is headed to Cleveland… major surprise that the Ravens couldn’t get this one done. New word is that he has officially signed.

– The Bengals re-sign defensive end Robert Geathers.

– The Broncos steal away guard Louis Vasquez from the Chargers.

Mike Wallace appears set to make $13 million a year with the Miami Dolphins.

– Tight end Delanie Walker agrees to a deal with the Titans.

– The Bills have cut quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. I guess that prank phone call caused some embarrassment in western New York. Talk about addition by subtraction.

– The Chiefs have agreed to a deal with tight end Anthony Fasano.

– The Alex Smith to Kansas City trade is now official.

– Are the Colts set to steal both Talib and Welker from the Pats? A tweet from the Colts’ bizarre owner seems to go in this direction.

– Former Bills guard Andy Levitre headed to Titans on a six year deal.

– Or is this what Irsay was talking about? The Colts have reached agreement with offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus. Does he really merit that many exclamation points?

– Quarterback Chase Daniel agrees to terms with Chiefs.

– No, this is why Irsay is excited. The Colts have agreed to terms with cornerback Greg Toler. It’s a good move by Grigson.

– The Colts are on a roll. Linebacker Erik Walden has left Green Bay to join the Colts. Good moves by Indy, even if they aren’t sexy.

– Ah, the Colts did steal a Patriot! Guard Donald Thomas is headed to Indy.

– Punter Sav Rocca is staying with the Redskins.

– Elvis Dumervil now appears willing to take pay cut from Broncos; the two sides are apparently negotiating according to Ian Rapoport.

– Another Ravens loss: Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe reaches agreement in principle with Miami Dolphins.

– Colts make it five Day One signings as they pen linebacker Lawrence Sidbury from the Falcons. Busy day for the Colts.

Taking a dinner break now… will be back later.

Back from a long dinner break, and lots more has happened…

– Safety Darius Butler will be remaining with the Colts.

Martellus Bennett has landed with the Bears, with the tight end signing a four year deal.

– The Ravens signed defensive lineman Chris Canty to a three year deal.

– The Vikings re-signed fullback Jerome Felton to a three year deal.

– The Dolphins dumped linebacker Karlos Dansby, who started all 16 games last season playing with a torn biceps muscle and racking up 134 tackles. Ouch. They added linebacker Phillip Wheeler and re-signed safety Chris Clemons.

– The Rams are poised to sign the coveted tight end Jared Cook, formerly of the Titans.

– The Eagles get into action by signing former Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung (good riddance) and former Panthers’ linebacker Jason Phillips, as well as tight end James Casey from Houston.

– The Eagles keep it coming with former 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopoga and former Rams’ cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

– The Raiders released receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and safety Michael Huff.

– The Chiefs have stolen away a Jets’ favorite by signing defensive tackle Mike DeVito.

– Apparently Warren Sapp doesn’t think much of covering Bill Belichick on the NFL Network. Or maybe he just doesn’t think.

– The Browns get another one with the signing of defensive tackle Desmond Bryant.

The pace is slowing down a little at 8:30 pm Central, but there may still be a few transactions before the end of the night. In the meantime, the free agents that we are waiting to see what transpires with on this thread include (in no particular order):

Cliff Avril (Det / SEA)
Wes Welker (NE / DEN)
Jake Long (Mia)
Greg Jennings (GB / MIN)
Aqib Talib (NE)
Dashon Goldson (SF / TB)
Osi Umemyiora (NYG)
Steven Jackson (StL / ATL)
Ed Reed (Bal)
Danny Amendola (StL / NE)
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Phi / DEN)
Sebastian Vollmer (NE)
Connor Barwin (Hou / PHI)
Adrian Wilson (ARI / NE)
Andre Smith (Cin)
Cary Williams (Bal / PHI)
Brian Urlacher (Chi)
Dustin Keller (NYJ / MIA)
John Abraham (ATL / NE)

– Last one for tonight – offensive tackle Sam Baker is staying with the Falcons, signing a six year deal. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 13

A few early tidbits before the action begins again in earnest.

Wes Welker and the Patriots are described as very far apart on terms, with the Patriots maintaining an offer on the table. It will be interesting to see how this develops between now and the weekend.

– The Redskins signed defensive tackle Kedric Golston to a new three-year contract on Tuesday.

Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma are taking big pay cuts to stay in New Orleans.

– The Chargers signed former Eagles tackle King Dunlap to a two year deal.

– The Browns signed free agent linebacker Quentin Groves, who played in Arizona last season.

– The Jets housecleaning is in full swing. And even with Revis likely on his way out of town, it didn’t stop the the Jets from restructuring the contract of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Baby Mamas should beware.

More to come as the day develops!

– The Ravens have just released safety Bernard Pollard. Is he worth a look in Foxboro?

Mike Giardi is tweeting that Wes Welker drew some attention, and those offers have impacted negotiations with the Pats. Expect the Patriots to move on and find a new slot receiver.

– The Lions have re-signed cornerback Chris Houston.

– The Broncos have guaranteed the salary of Peyton Manning for the next two seasons.

– Linebacker Manny Lawson has signed a multi-year deal with the Buffalo Bills.

– Some very interesting chatter about where Wes Welker may be going. Due to the source I won’t share where, but this is going to be a very interesting thing to watch. Plus I am going to lay $5 on my info.  I know, I know… big spender. :-)

– The Steelers have signed quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to a three-year deal.

– The Jaguars have waived wide receiver Laurent Robinson one year after signing the former Cowboy to a huge deal.

Wes Welker’s agent has described the Patriots’ offer to the wide receiver as “laughably low.” Sounds like all sides are ready to move on.

– The Giants have signed kicker Josh Brown.

– Former Colts’ receiver Donnie Avery is joining the Kansas City Chiefs.

– The Ravens have re-signed offensive guard Ramon Harewood.

Reggie Bush is the new lead back for the Detroit Lions.

– Word is that the Patriots offered 4 year, $32 million to Wes Welker and the Welker camp is unhappy. Suitors may be down to the Broncos and Pats, though I am hearing there are two dark horses, at least one of which has made a better offer than New England.

– The Arizona Cardinals agree on a one-year deal with former Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall.

– A big one is off the market; the Rams have signed offensive tackle Jake Long to a contract. Update: Correction; an offer has yet to be made or accepted (as of 1:56 pm Central).

– It looks like the Broncos are working hard to get a deal with Wes Welker done today. I’m going to lose my five bucks.

– The Detroit Lions have added safety Glover Quin, formerly of the Texans; this is a big upgrade in their secondary.

– The Buccaneers have signed former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson to a five year deal.

– The Jaguars signed former Bears free agent linebacker Geno Hayes to a one-year deal.

– The Wes Welker to Denver deal is looking close to done.

– The 49ers have agreed to a contract with former Chiefs defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

– The Titans have reached agreement on a three-year, $10 million deal with former Jets’ running back Shonn Greene.

– According to WEEI, Wes Welker’s camp has brought the Broncos’ offer back to the Patriots to give New England a chance to match. My guess is no, but this shows where Wes’ heart really is.

– The Broncos announce one-year deal with linebacker Stewart Bradley.

– Running back Lex Hilliard has signed a one year deal to stay with the Jets.

– Cornerback Drayton Florence has agreed to a one year deal with the Panthers. It looks like the corners are now going to start to go.

– Defensive tackle Samie Lee Hill has reached agreement on a three-year, $11.4 million deal with the Titans.

Wes Welker has agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos. Clearly, the Patriots declined the offer to match. It is only a two year deal, so it must be coming down to guaranteed money. Waiting for the details.

– Details on Wes Welker… it is “only” two years, $12 million. Must be fully guaranteed, and it must be that the Patriots set a value for the position and would not exceed it.  Sounds like the Patriots had already determined that Welker was no longer “Plan A.” Patriots have yet to make major moves, but it’s in the air. The next couple of days should show us the Pats’ off-season approach.

According to Greg Bedard, Patriots initial offer to Wes Welker was two years and $10 million with incentives. Albert Breer accurately notes that the Pats likely see Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker as redundant, and Hernandez is much younger and at least as difficult to cover. This deal underscores how much the Miami Dolphins, who have agreed to shell out $30.55 million over five years for Brian Hartline, overpaid for a number two receiver.

– Quarterback Drew Stanton signed a three year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s hoping they don’t trade for Tim Tebow.

– The Broncos have signed former Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

OK… time for another dinner break… and to make sure I move the Wes Welker to the back of my closet.

– The Oakland Raiders signed linebacker  Kaluka Maiava and defensive tackle and defensive end Pat Sims, as well as defensive end Jason Hunter.

– The Arizona Cardinals signed cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Yeremiah Bell.

– The Seattle Seahawks have landed defensive lineman Cliff Avril, who provides an instant upgrade to the Seahawks’ pass rush.

– Not waiting long to respond to Wes Welker’s deal with Denver, the Patriots have signed wide receiver Danny Amendola to a five year, $31 million deal,, with $10 million guaranteed.

– The Titans signed linebacker Moise Fokou, formerly with the Colts.

– The Broncos complete a successful day by reeling in cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one year deal.

– The Colts have signed former Jets free agent safety LaRon Landry

That’s all for tonight…. more to come on Thursday!

Thursday, March 14

I’m expecting today to be a little bit slower as the agents and teams take a breath and assess where they are, and as remaining players line up visits with teams.

– Former Seahawks’ running back and return man Leon Washington will visit the patriots, who just lost their punt returner yesterday (what was his name again?). Washington has also been connected to talks with the Bucs.

– Cornerback Derek Cox has signed a four year, $20 million deal with the San Diego Chargers.

– Running back Chris Ogbonnaya will be staying in Cleveland, agreeing to a two year deal.

Greg Jennings will be visiting the Minnesota Vikings, who seem to be the front runners (along with Green Bay) to land the veteran wide receiver.

– A mystery suitor for Wes Welker has been revealed by Adam Schefter.. the Tennessee Titans. I rather suspect we will learn of one or two more teams in the coming days.

Great article from Mike Reiss details that Wes Welker went back to the Patriots with the Broncos’ offer, only to be later informed that the Patriots had already made a commitment to another player (Danny Amendola).

– The Chiefs have released Matt Cassel. Is a homecoming a possibility in Foxboro?

– The J-E-T-S are trying to build leverage by suggesting that they are not actively trying to trade Darrelle Revis.

– The Panthers are keeping quarterback Derek Anderson for another year.

– Cornerback Sean Smith has found a new home in Kansas City, agreeing to a three year deal.

– It turns out that the Patriots signed Danny Amendola on Tuesday, a full day before the Wes Welker drama took place. Anyone else think the team hadn’t already decided to move on?

– The Redskins and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood have reached a deal.

Kevin Kolb is about to be released by the Cardinals, and his next destination appears to be the starting quarterback of the J-E-T-S.

Ricky Jean Francois has agreed to a four-year, $22 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

– The Vikings have landed quarterback Matt Cassel, who was just released from the Chiefs.

– The Eagles have added cornerback Cary Williams and safety Kenny Phillips .

– Cornerback Keenan Lewis has agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints on a five year deal.

– The Falcons have landed running back Steven Jackson to replace Michael Turner in Atlanta.

– Linebacker Connor Barwin leaves Houston for Philadelphia and a six year deal.

– The Patriots have landed kick returner and running back Leon Washington.

– The Buccaneers have signed wide receiver Kevin Ogletree.

 Friday, March 15

We’ll wrap this thread up with a recap of last night’s signings and some look at today.

– The Jets are close to signing running back Mike Goodson. UPDATE: Goodson has signed.

– Defensive end Michael Bennett has agreed to a one year, $5 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers may be an early favorite for the Super Bowl, but right now they appear to have serious competition to win the NFC West.

– Former Vikings’ linebacker Jasper Brinkley has agreed to a two year deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

– John Elway says that defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s salary is “out of whack.” From a business perspective Elway is right, but does anyone seeing a change of location coming for the pass rushing star?

– The Jaguars re-signed cornerback Antwaun Molden to a one-year veteran minimum deal.

– The Rams have re-signed defensive end William Hayes and defensive tackle Jeremelle Cudjo.

– The Bears re-signed defensive tackle Nate Collins to a one-year contract.

– Former Bears’ linebacker Nick Roach has joined the Oakland Raiders.

– Adam Schefter is expecting cornerback Aqib Talib to return to the Patriots, as the cornerback market is not drawing the same dollars it was just a year ago.

We’ll keep updating the list presented at the end of Day One, but we will only be posting updates for bigger news the rest of the way out.

– OK, this is worth an update. According to PFT, the 49ers are in “serious discussions” with cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson.

– The Patriots have signed former Bills’ wide receiver Donald Jones.

– Tight end Dustin Keller has joined the Miami Dolphins, who appear to be cementing second place in the AFC East.

Kevin Kolb is being released in Arizona. Is New York next?

– Cornerback Kyle Arrington has re-signed with the Patriots and a four year deal.

– Running back Danny Woodhead has signed to two year deal with the San Diego Chargers.

– Offensive Lineman Willie Colon has joined the Jets.

– Safety Louis Delmas has signed back on with the Detroit Lions.

– Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy has a one-year deal in Arizona.

– Huge drama surrounding Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil agreed to a salary reduction but the paperwork did not get filed on time by his agent. The Broncos were seven minutes late filing, and Dumervil has been officially released. The release, along with Welker’s new deal, has just created a cap problem in Denver. The Broncos can likely still work out a deal, but they now have a huge financial mess on their hands. UPDATE: The release creates $4.87M in dead money for this season, meaning Denver will be hard pressed to bring Dumervil back. Question: Why are teams in a multi-billion dollar industry still relying on fax machines?

– While fax machines are being flung out windows in Denver, defensive end John Abraham officially becomes a member of the New England Patriots.

– Eagles announce they acquired wide receiver Arrelious Benn, a former 2nd-rd pick, and 7th-rounder from Tampa Bay for a 2013 6th-rounder and 2014 conditional pick.

– Wide receiver Brandon Gibson is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.

– Running back Justin Forsett has agreed to terms with the Jaguars.

– Big news breaking that the Patriots have signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, which is undoubtedly front-loaded with case. The cap-strapped Pittsburgh Steelers now have a chance to match the offer. It’s been a big day for the Patriots.

– The Cardinals agree to terms with cornerback Antoine Cason on a one year deal.

– Safety Adrian Wilson has signed a three year deal with the New England Patriots. Right now Bill Belichickk is looking like a salary cap genius.

– Big news in Minnesota… the Vikings have signed wide receiver Greg Jennings away from Green Bay.

– The Jets signed defensive tackle Antonio Garay to a one year deal. That’s two good moves in the same day, Jets’ fans.

– The Ravens signed defensive lineman Marcus Spears to a two year deal.

Saturday, March 16

– Per Adam Schefter, the Patriots have not signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet… yet. They are mulling over the possibility. That may be a cap issue, or it may be an issue of whether or not they believe they can fit Sanders in with Lloyd, Amendola, Jones, Gronk, Hernandez, and Balllard. The Pats have also been quiet on the re-negotiations with Lloyd, so that may be part of the calculus.

– Hearing that something is likely forthcoming on cornerback Aqib Talib’s return to the Patriots. All is still quiet on the Sebastian Vollmer front.

Nov 292012
 

This weekend the New England Patriots have the opportunity to clinch the AFC East with a win over the Miami Dolphins, while the Dolphins have the opportunity to make themselves serious contenders in the hunt for an AFC wildcard spot. So what can we expect to happen in south Florida on Sunday afternoon?

The Patriots ride a five game winning streak into the contest and are fresh off of a Thanksgiving blowout win over the New York Jets. The Dolphins are coming off of a solid performance in beating the Seahawks, after previously dropping three straight games. Yet the Dolphins find themselves at 5-6, just a game out of the second wildcard spot. And with this being a divisional contest, we can expect that the two team’s familiarity with one anther will help offset what is a noticeable difference in talent level between the two teams. The Dolphins enter the contest much healthier than the Patriots, who are looking like the walking wounded on offensive line and on the defensive line, and Jermaine Cunningham’s four game suspension for performance enhancers thins the depth at defensive line even more.

When the Patriots run
The Patriots have the sixth ranked rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 143.7 yards per game, but the Dolphins have a solid run defense, giving up just 96.7 yards over game, seventh in the NFL. Miami only gave up 96 yards on the ground to the Seahawks, so don’t look for the Patriots to line up and try to run the ball down the defense’s throat. Instead, look for the Patriots to utilize the spread formation to run, and to find opportunities to run Stevan Ridley (939 yards) and Shane Vereen (159 yards) off of passing situations. The biggest damage that the Patriots’ backs may do is by taking short passes out of the backfield, but the Patriots should end up with somewhere near 130 yards on the ground Sunday.

When the Patriots pass
This is where the game may well be determined. The Patriots possess the league’s top passing attack, averaging over 292 yards per game, while the porous pass defense (26th in NFL) is giving up over 261 yards per game. Even worse for the Dolphins, while Cameron Wake is having a great year with 9.5 sacks, the Dolphins generally have to blitz to apply pressure to the quarterback. This creates mismatches that will favor the Patriots’ short passing attack, and you can expect New England to carve up the field. The Patriots, even with a banged up offensive line, have done an excellent job of protecting Brady and making pass rushes disappear, and the Dolphins cannot win this game without applying consistent pressure to Brady and taking him out of his rhythm. Look for Brady to pass the 300 yard mark on Sunday, and for the Patriots receiving group to have a big day. The Dolphins’ secondary, depleted by injuries all season, is simply not up to the task of containing the Patriots’ attack.

When the Dolphins run
The Dolphins ran for 189 yards last week against the Seahawks, and rank 16th in the league with an average of 108.9 yards per game this season. The strength of the Patriots’ defense however, is against the run, where the Patriots rank 10th, giving up 100.8 yards per game. Reggie Bush has been a feast or famine back this year (mostly famine), while Daniel Thomas has emerged as a solid companion back. The Patriots are vulnerable on the defensive front, but still have Vince Wilfork stuffing the middle of the line, forcing backs into the waiting arms of Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont’a Hightower. The Dolphins are likely to run for 110-120 yards, but not necessarily be able to run consistently to maintain drives.

When the Dolphins pass
Miami has only the league’s 22nd ranked pass offense (212.4 ypg) and the Dolphins have been prone to turning the ball over this season, while the Patriots are masters at baiting quarterbacks to make unwise throws. Ryan Tannnehill is having a good rookie year as the ‘Fins signal caller, with a 59% completion rating and a 72.9 passer rating, seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but it’s the last number that creates a problem for the Dolphins. For all of the yards the Patriots may give up through the air (29th, 289.4 ypg), those yards don’t always convert to points, and the Patriots have a knack for forcing turnovers. While I expect Tannehill to throw for 300 yards in this game, turnovers will offset some of this production, and some of it is likely to come after the game is already decided. Davone Bess has emerged as a solid if not spectacular receiver for the Dolphins (55 receptions). Brian Hartline also has 55 receptions. Anthony Fasano is the Dolphins next option, but he is dealing with an injury and may or may not see much action in this game. Fullback Charles Clay had a big receiving day against the Seahawks, and needs to be accounted for. Meanwhile, the Patriots are getting healthier in their secondary, and the move of Devin McCourty seems to be paying dividends. With Steve Gregory now emerging as a play-maker and with a pass rush that is improving in step with the secondary, Tannehill could see his day undone with a handful of big defensive plays.

Special Teams
Both Dan Carpenter and Stephen Gostkowski are solid kickers for their squads. Brandon Fields gets the edge in the punting game over Zoltan Mesko, though both are effective in pinning teams deep in their own end. Marcus Thigpen is a dangerous kick and punt returner who is capable of returning a kick for a touchdown at any time, but the Patriots also possess dangerous returners in McCourty and Edelman.

Intangibles
The Patriots lead the league with a +24 turnover differential (32 takeaways and 8 giveaways), far better than any other team. The Dolphins are sitting at -10 with only 11 takeaways and 21 giveaways. So many games are decided on turnovers in the league, and the Patriots excel at protecting the ball and taking it away from the other team. Combined with the Patriots’ deadly passing attack, these two factors should be the difference in the game.

Prediction
This game has the potential to drive Patriots’ fan nuts on Sunday, but I am not expecting that to last very long. The Patriots’ ability to create turnovers, and their history of taking advantage of young quarterbacks suggests that the Patriots will be able to turn the tide of the game through forcing the Dolphins into mistakes. Further, the Patriots surgical passing attack will be able to take advantage of a weak Dolphins’ secondary. The pass will set up the run in this contest, and the Patriots should be able to sustain long drives without needing to take on the Dolphins’ stout run defense in a direct way. Look for match-up advantages to favor Welker, Edelman (if he plays), and Hernandez, and thus set up Ridley and Vereen for runs and screens when the safeties are caught defending the pass. Expect Miami to get some early points in this contest, as has so often been the case in Patriots’ contests so far this season. New England will assert itself in the second quarter through a long scoring drive and, if a turnover or two is forced, look for a lead by half. Expect the second half to be a gutting of the Dolphins’ secondary by Brady and company, with the Patriots pulling away in the fourth quarter. Predicted Score: Patriots 38 Dolphins 20.