The Miami Dolphins will try to get their season back on track Sunday when they pay a visit to the AFC East-leading New England Patriots. Miami has lost its last six meetings against the Pats, and it may take a Herculean effort to top them at Gillette Stadium, where New England has won 9 of its past 10 games.
"We're going to have to play our best game of the year," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Friday. The Patriots have the 5th-best scoring defense in the NFL, and they rarely make mistakes, giving up fewer turnovers than all but two teams.
Miami is reeling after a 3-0 start was followed up by 3 straight losses. A win would put the Dolphins back in the hunt in the AFC East, while a loss would have Dolphins fans thanking the sports gods for the beginning of the NBA season on Tuesday.
When the Dolphins have the ball: The Dolphins attempted to upgrade their offensive line this week, acquiring tackle Bryant McKinnie from the Baltimore Ravens. They hope McKinnie can help jump-start Miami's moribund running game (the Dolphins are averaging just 3.9 yards per rush) and cut down on sacks (Miami is just 11 sacks away from matching last season's total of 37).
The sacks are beginning to take a toll on QB Ryan Tannehill, who was limited in practice Thursday due to a sore shoulder. "We're killing ourselves right now," guard Richie Incognito said this week. "Turnovers, sacks, that's stuff that we can eliminate. That's stuff that we can control. That's the most frustrating part."
Tannehill has thrown 7 interceptions, and New England's ace CB Aqib Talib could return to the field after missing last week's game against the Jets. He leads the NFL with 4 interceptions, while New England has the 11th-best pass defense in the league.
The Pats are less stout against the run, giving up more rushing yards than all but one team. Second-year DE Chandler Jones leads the team with 6.5 sacks, and the Patriots are 11th in the league with 13 takeaways.
When the Patriots have the ball: New England's offense has been rudderless at times, but they still have QB Tom Brady, who can elevate lesser receivers into All-Pros. Still, his completion rate is a career-low 55%, and he has thrown 1.1 touchdowns per game after averaging more than 2 a game in each of the past three seasons.
He could get WR Danny Amendola back from injury this week (he is listed as questionable), which would help. TE Rob Gronkowski caught 8 passes for 114 yards last week in his first game back from a forearm injury. Judging from the way the Saints' Jimmy Graham abused the Dolphins secondary, it is a safe bet Brady will target Gronkowski often.
Like the Dolphins, the Pats have struggled in pass protection, giving up 20 sacks through 7 games. New England has gotten good production from a running back committee consisting of Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden.
Who has the edge? New England does not appear as good as the past versions that ran roughshod over the AFC East, but the Dolphins have regressed as of late, plus the Pats have home-field advantage. An upset by the Dolphins would be a big surprise.
The Pick: Patriots 28-Dolphins 13
Details: Miami Dolphins (3-3) at New England Patriots (5-2)
TV: CBS, 1:00pm ET, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Line: Patriots by 7
Previously: Miami lost 28-0 in Week 17 of 2012