Jon Scott: You could say that Belichick has coached the team up from when they were loaded with veterans who had Super Bowl experience. It may be more accurate to say the Pats are a work in progress. The defense shined against two teams with major issues on offense. The same defense couldn't stop Kyle Orton in crunch time at Denver and barely stopped Joe Flacco during crunch time against Baltimore. It's also the same defense which allowed Mark Sanchez to break the undefeated track record Belhcick had in New York. Before we crown Belichick as a genius this year, we'll need to get a close look at how players like Drew Brees and Peyton Manning fare. So far, though, the results look promising.
Q: Do you see the Pats as a legitimate Super Bowl contender at this point?
JS: Again, caution is the word here. At the beginning of the season I saw no problem with the line Vegas put on the Patriots as 6-1 Super Bowl favorites. Now the Super Bowl favorites are two undefeated teams: the Saints 3-1, and Colts 7-2. New England is third at 9-2. Not coincidentally, the Patriots play the Colts next week and the Saints two weeks after that. If New England beats both those teams, then there's no doubt they're a Super Bowl contender. But staying away from the safe bet, I'd have to say, yes, New England is one of the best teams in the AFC, and I expect they'll be very competitive in getting to and winning the conference championship game.
Q: What's your prediction for Sunday's game, and why?
JS: I expect New England to struggle here. Miami has reversed some of their early misfortune, sweeping the Jets – something the Patriots cannot do. The Dolphins run the Wildcat, a formation that continues to give New England trouble. And the Patriots will be without their top two defensive ends from the begging of this year — Jarvis Green (knee) and Richard Seymour (traded). New England is also starting a rookie left tackle and is down to its third-string running back.
With all that said, injuries aside, I think Brady can put up some points on the Miami defense. And, unlike the Jets, the Patriots have not allowed an opponent to score three times on returns for touchdowns. The Patriots will score late to put game out of reach, but will be in dogfight for much of the first part of the game.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Dolphins 17.