TIME TO REBOUND

Coach Dave Wannstedt always puts a premium on division games, and the Dolphins play their first Sunday when they host the New England Patriots.<p>Miami enters the game as a solid favorite to improve to 3-1 on the season, but Wannstedt is quick to point that last weekend's results proved that no team can be taken for granted.<P>

Besides, the Patriots and Dolphins have played a lot of close games in recent years, with seven of the last nine meetings decided by seven points or less. Despite their disappointing 5-11 finish last season, the Patriots played Miami tough in both games, with the Dolphins winning 10-3 at Pro Player Stadium and 27-24 at Foxboro Stadium.

That's why the Dolphins aren't expecting to just roll over the Pats on Sunday.

What follows is a quick look at Sunday's game against the New England Patriots

WHO: Miami Dolphins (2-1) vs. New England Patriots (1-2)

WHERE: Pro Player Stadium; Miami, Fla.

KICKOFF TIME: 1 p.m. ET

TELEVISION: CBS (Gus Johnson, play-by-play; Brent Jones, color)

LINE: Miami by 10

COACHES: New England, Bill Belichick (2nd year in New England, 3rd year in NFL); Miami, Dave Wannstedt (2nd year in Miami, 8th year in NFL)

SERIES RECORD: The Dolphins lead 43-28 (New England has won two of three playoff meetings)

LAST MEETING: 2000 at New England; Dolphins 27, Patriots 24

INJURIES: Dolphins — FB Rob Konrad (ankle) is doubtful; S Trent Gamble (shoulder), LB Zach Thomas (knee) are questionable; DT Ernest Grant (ankle), S Brock Marion (knee), LB Derrick Rodgers (shoulder), LB Twan Russell (neck), P Matt Turk (back) are probable.

Patriots — QB Drew Bledsoe (chest) is out; CB Leonard Myers (flu) is doubtful; DE Willie McGinest (leg), RB J.R. Redmond (ankle), S Matt Stevens (knee), LB T.J. Turner (knee) are questionable; LB Bryan Cox (flu), NT Jace Sayler (knee) are probable.

THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Dolphins kick returners vs. Patriots linebacker Larry Izzo: Izzo became one of the top special teams players in the NFL during his time with the Dolphins, and he would love nothing better than to make a couple of big plays in his return to Pro Player Stadium.

Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor vs. Patriots tackle Grant Williams: Taylor is off to a slow start this season, but could get healthy against Williams, who will never be confused with Tony Boselli or Jonathan Ogden.

Dolphins fullback Deon Dyer vs. Patriots linebacker Bryan Cox: It's a shame Rob Konrad probably won't play in this one because it would have been a treat those two go at it. Dyer is just the type of blocker who could make Cox pay for his disparaging comments about Konrad.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL: Coach Dave Wannstedt has said that the New England defense has as many schemes as any the Dolphins will face this season. The Patriots also have decent personnel on that side of the ball, which means the Dolphins won't be moving the ball up and down the field. Safety Lawyer Milloy is among the best at his position, while the rejuvenated Cox leads a pretty solid linebacker corps. If there's one area on defense where New England is weak, it's the pass rush. The Dolphins had success throwing the ball against the Pats in last December's meeting at Foxboro, and it might be their best path to success in this game as well. Lamar Smith still is looking for his first 100-yard game of the season, and it won't be easy to reach that plateau against New England. With the Dolphins' speed at wide receiver, throwing the ball might be the way to go in this game.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL: The Patriots are coming off a 44-point outburst against the Colts, but the truth is this is still a mediocre offense. And that might be generous. Quarterback Tom Brady again will start in place of the injured Drew Bledsoe, and while he was efficient against Indy he certainly isn't likely to light up the Dolphins secondary. Antowain Smith rushed for 94 yards against the Colts last Sunday, but might be lucky to get half that total against a good Dolphins run defense. The biggest advantage the Dolphins defense has over the New England offense is up front. The Patriots offensive line simply isn't very good. The Dolphins defensive line has gotten off to a slow start in terms of establishing a pass rush, but this might be the game where the pressure appears. Any way you look at it, it's hard to envision New England scoring many points in this game.

BOTTOM LINE:

The Dolphins were embarrassed by the way they were routed at St. Louis last Sunday, and this is a perfect opportunity to make amends. The nature of this series suggests the game probably will be closer than many expect, but the Patriots simply don't appear to have enough ammunition to win at Miami. And any concern about the Dolphins looking past New England to next week's showdown against the New York Jets disappeared with Miami's big loss and the Pats' big win last weekend.


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