New England Patriots (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Miami Dolphins (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
NFL Week 1
Date and Time: Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Sun Life Stadium
TV: CBS, DTV 711
by Vesper Abadon, Pro Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -4.5/Mia +4.5
Over/Under Total: 46.5
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Remember in Week 15 of last season when the Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots in the closing seconds of the game? It was an emotional win, and one that essentially sent the Fins to the Playoffs; after all, they just needed to win one of their final two games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets respectively to make it. Well, that proved easier said than done as the Dolphins scored just seven points total in both those games combined. Exit offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and enter new coordinator Bill Lazor.
Lazor brings an up-tempo plan of attack, which will be refreshing for a Fins offense that has failed to inspire in the better part of a decade. What’s more, Lazor was the Eagles quarterbacks coach last season, which meant he was the man behind Nick Foles’ breakout season. Will he be able to do the same with Ryan Tannehill, who is entering his third year as a starter?
The Fins hope so as they’d like to improve upon their 20th-place passing game last season, which average 222.9 yards per game (YPG). That was due in no small part to an abysmal offensive line plagued by locker room drama (remember Jonathan Martin vs. Richie Incognito) that led to Tannehill being sacked a league-high 58 times. The Fins attempted to address the offensive line issues in the offseason, but no sooner did they sign some players then Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey went down with a hip injury. He’ll miss the early part of the season, and he will be missed.
Brian Hartline did his part in the receiving corps by catching 76 passes for 1,016 yards, making him the first Dolphins receiver to notch back-to-back 1,000+ seasons since the days of Dan Marino. On the flip side, Dolfans are waiting for Mike Wallace to catch fire. Granted, he had 73 receptions for 930 yards and five touchdowns last season, but the chemistry between him and Tannehill is still a work in progress.
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Miami has legitimate aerial weapons, but they’re still struggling to compliment it with a running game. They brought in Knowshon Moreno, who was coming off a career year with the Denver Broncos, and while he’ll get the start over incumbent Lamar Miller, who rushed 177 times for 709 yards last year, there will definitely be a timeshare. With an average of 90 rush YPG, the Fins ended up with the 26th-ranked ground game.
Defensively the Dolphins finished 21st in the league after allowing an average of 359.4 YPG (234.5 passing YPG, 124.9 rushing YPG), but that was still better then their Week 1 opponents, the aforementioned Patriots, who ranked 26th after allowing 373.1 YPG (239 passing YPG, 134.1 rushing YPG). The Patriots will improve though thanks in no small part to brining former division rival Darrelle Revis and Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner to the secondary, though the latter is suspended until Week 5.
Offensively, the Patriots had the 10th-best passing game averaging 255.4 YPG. Veteran Tom Brady went 380 of 628 for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns, which would be great for most teams but was mediocre by his standards. Julian Edelman proved to be his go-to receiver last year — catching 105 passes for 1,056 yards - while the sure-handed Rob Gronkowski finished with 39 receptions for 592 yards. Gronkowski is coming off a surgically repaired knee, and while he says he is good to go for Week 1, a lot of eyes will be on him to see if he can return to form. For the Patriots’ sake, they’d better hope he does as he plays a key role in their offense.
On the ground, the Patriots finished ninth in the league thanks to the combination Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 773 and 772 yards respectively while both scoring seven touchdowns. The latter is now in Pittsburgh, which leaves Ridley shouldering the load with Shane Vereen and rookie running back James White waiting in the wings.
Vesper’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: In the last decade, a Dolphins win over the Patriots has been a rare thing. That said, it does happen from time to time. A Week 1 victory over their division rivals would be huge and go a long way to their Playoff chances (it’s only opening weekend I know, but these division games always play a role later on down the road), but I just don’t think it’s going to happen.
Contrary to popular belief, Brady is still an elite quarterback, and he’s going to come out strong in South Florida. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ revamped secondary should keep Wallace and Hartline in check, which will allow their front seven to put pressure on Tannehill. As a result, mistakes will be made and the Patriots will capitalize. I like the Pats to defeat the Fins while covering the spread.