Division Decision: New England Patriots

As we get closer to training camp, it's time to take a look at the Dolphins and compare them to each of their three rivals in the AFC East. We start off with the New England Patriots and break down both teams position by position to see who has the edge and where.

Quarterback

The Dolphins find themselves in better shape at this position than they in a long, long time thanks to the presence of Chad Pennington, Chad Henne and rookie Pat White. For New England, it's all about Tom Brady, back after missing virtually all of last season because of a knee injury. The Patriots have no proven depth behind Brady, with Matt Cassel having been dealt to Kansas City in the offseason.

There's no question the Dolphins have the better depth here, with Kevin O'Connell and Matt Gutierrez as the backups to Tom Brady. But Brady is still Brady.

Big Edge: Patriots

Running Back

The Dolphins have two established stars here with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and some nice complementary pieces with Patrick Cobbs and fullback Lousaka Polite. But the Patriots have tremendous depth at this position with newcomer Fred Taylor joining third-down specialist Kevin Faulk, former Dolphin Sammy Morris, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and former first-round pick Laurence Maroney.

There's a lot of talent at this position on both teams, who have the luxury of rotating guys in and out without any kind of drop-off.

Edge: Even


Wes Welker has been ulta-productive for the Patriots.
Stephan Savoia/AP

Wide Receiver

Much has been made of the Dolphins' lack of a pure No. 1 receiver, but they do have a lot of numbers at the position thanks to the likes of Greg Camarillo, Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess, Patrick Turner, Brandon London and Brian Hartline. The Patriots have a great receiving corps, thanks to Randy Moss, former Dolphin Wes Welker, newcomer Joey Galloway and rookie Brandon Tate.

This just might be the weakest position on the Dolphins, while it's clearly a major strength for the Patriots. It's, in fact, what might separate the two teams in the end this season.

Major Edge: Patriots

Tight End

The Dolphins got great production from this position last season thanks to Anthony Fasano and David Martin, and they've added to the position with the additions of rookies John Nalbone and Jared Bronson, as well as the expected continued development of Joey Haynos. The Patriots acquired Alex Smith in an offseason trade with Tampa Bay, and he joins returning starter Benjamin Watson, David Thomas and former Jets starter Chris Baker.

Fasano is the key here because he has the potential to become an All-Pro-caliber type of tight end. But Watson is an established receiver and the Pats appear to have a small edge here in terms of depth.

Slight Edge: Patriots

Offensive Line

The Dolphins started building the strong foundation of an offensive line last year with the additions of Jake Long, Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas, and they made sure to keep it that way this offseason by re-signing tackle Vernon Carey and adding center Jake Grove to replace Samson Satele. The Patriots' line has been together a while and the key pieces remain left tackle Matt Light, center Dan Koppen and guard Stephen Neal.

If Smiley and Thomas can make successful returns from their 2008 injuries, the Dolphins have the makings of a very, very good line. But depth is a major concern. New England, meanwhile, has had an underappreciated line for several years now and that's not likely to change. The Pats also have better depth up front than the Dolphins.

Slight Edge: Patriots

Defensive Line

This is an area for the Dolphins where there will be a lot of attention focused because of the offseason release of veteran Vonnie Holliday and the presence of so many young players, such as Kendall Langford, Phillip Merling, Lionel Dotson, Rodrique Wright and Tony McDaniel. The Dolphins do have a solid veteran in nose tackle Jason Ferguson, although there's a question mark when it comes to his backup. The New England D-line is among the best in the league thanks to starters Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. Jarvis Green and Mike Wright provide depth for the Pats.

The Dolphins have some potential up front, but the Patriots already have seen their starters fulfill their potential.

Major Edge: Patriots

Linebacker

The Dolphins might not be strong anywhere else on the roster, except perhaps for running back. All four starters are back from last year, and two-time CFL defensive MVP Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor were brought in for reinforcement as well. This is an area of concern for the Pats, who have seen age become an issue. New England has two good starters here in 2008 Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas, but Tedy Bruschi's career is winding down and there's a hole at one outside linebacker spot.

The additions of Wake and Taylor should answer the need for pass rushing that was the only question mark for the Dolphins at this position. New England, meanwhile, needs several answers here.

Big Edge: Dolphins


New England acquired veteran Shawn Springs from Washington in the offseason.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Cornerback

The Dolphins have revamped this group by bringing in free agent Eric Green and rookie draft picks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. They join a unit that lost Andre' Goodman to free agency but returns starter Will Allen as well as backups Nathan Jones and Jason Allen. New England also overhauled its cornerback corps, acquiring veteran Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden in the offseason as well as drafting Darius Butler in the second round.

On potential alone, the Dolphins could be very good here because both Davis and Smith look like they'll become quality NFL players. But it might take time. The Pats, meanwhile, aren't nearly as good here as when they had Asante Samuel, but Bodden and Springs are established starters.

Edge: Even

Safety

The Dolphins made sure to re-sign Yeremiah Bell before he could become a free agent this offseason, and then they won in the trade-off of Gibril Wilson for Renaldo Hill. Fifth-round pick Chris Clemons also looked good enough in the offseason to suggest he'll become a contributor. New England added Patrick Chung as a second-round pick and they're hoping that former first-round pick Brandon Meriweather continues to develop, but neither can replace the impact lost with the retirement of Rodney Harrison.

With Chung and Meriweather, the Pats have potential down the line, but for now they can't match the established tandem of Wilson and Bell.

Clear Edge: Dolphins

Special Teams

The Dolphins will be looking for improvement from a unit that really struggled early last season before making some progress later on. The return game has potential with Davone Bess handling punts and Patrick Cobbs handling kickoffs, while Dan Carpenter will be looking to build on a good rookie season. But there needs to be improvement in Brandon Fields' consistency and in the coverage units. The Pats, meanwhile, have one of the best kickers in the game in Stephen Gostkowski, but their return game doesn't look like anything special after they traded Ellis Hobbs to the Eagles in the offseason. And Chris Hanson is nothing special as a punter.

Gostkowski deserves a clear edge over Carpenter when it comes to the placekickers, but the Dolphins' return game should be better.

Edge: Even


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