1. The Dolphins will have trouble scoring against the Patriots defense.
Last time these two teams faced each other the Dolphins took it to the Patriots in Foxboro 38-13 winning their first game of the season. The Patriots looked dazed and lost when the Dolphins used the "wildcat" offense against them. By now Belichick and his defensive staff have seen plenty of film of the "wildcat" offense and should have come up with a game plan to stop it. if the players execute the game plan and close the gaps they should be able to handle the offense this time when the Dolphins employ it.
The Dolphins this year are averaging 20.9 points a game (24th in the NFL) and average 353.5 yards a game of total offense. Despite gaining the yards, their scoring total has been reflected of the total yards on offense. The Dolphins had 461 net yards against the Patriots the last time they played them. The "wildcat" is no longer a surprise and with the Patriots being off since their game played last Thursday night, this has given Bill Belichick extra time to come up with and implement a game plan on how to defense the "wildcat".
2. Cassel is not the same quarterback he was during the first meeting.
The Dolphins sacked Cassel and pressured the Patriots QB last time these two teams meet. Cassel was getting his feet wet and was a lot more inexperienced as he is now. Since that game, Matt Cassel has been Offensive player of the week and as recently as last week had 400 yards passing and 62 yards rushing as the Patriots had over 500 total net yards. And he did that against an opponent who has been playing pretty good defense lately in the New York Jets. The quarterback that the Dolphins will see on Sunday will have a different look than the deer in the headlights variety they say the first time. They will see the look of a young quarterback who has gained a ton of confidence and is a much better player. They will see a quarterback who didn't dare attempt the deep pass the first time, not only attempt them, but complete the passes.
Cassel was 19/31 with one touchdown pass and one interception last time. Randy Moss had 4 receptions for 25 yards with a long of 7 (yes 7) yards. Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney had 55 and 51 yards respectively. The tights ends (Ben Watson and David Thomas) had 2 catches for a total of 10 yards. Don't expect the same kind of offensive inefficiency this game as the Patriots had in their first meeting against the Dolphins. If the Patriots can put together a couple of the long drives, such as the 9-minute drive they had against Buffalo, that will change the complexion of this game.
3. Which team needs the game more and is more experienced in big games?
The Patriots are the answer to both questions. New England's best shot at making the playoffs is to once again win the AFC East division. The Patriots have lost to San Diego and Indianapolis while beating Denver in conference games. Right now the Colts are tied with the Patriots with identical 6-4 won/loss records. The Colts have the first tiebreaker head-to-head meeting. Although the Chargers are behind New England, they play in the weak AFC West division and can gain ground on the Patriots. One again New England would lose that tiebreaker of head to head having lost to the Chargers.
If New England loses to Miami on Sunday, record wise they would be one game behind the Dolphins but they would have been swept by the Dolphins this years losing the tie breaker with the Dolphins if they end the season tied and falling behind further on other playoff tie breakers for the wild card. The Dolphins have an easier schedule while Patriots schedule include playing AFC North leading Pittsburgh, NFC West leading Arizona and a trap game against Seattle. The Seahawks like the Patriots have experienced their share of injuries however they are getting their players back to a club that was expected to win their division. They should play the Patriots at the healthiest that they have been all year. Playing them at Seattle will not be easy as Seattle has a great home record and will be really hard to beat them there. The Patriots when they lost to the Jets lost their last chance at having a hiccup.
The Patriots have players who have played in their Super Bowl wins that will take the field against the Dolphins. And we all know it doesn't get bigger than the Super bowl. They should be able to reach deep down and come up with a performance the befits a Champion. They don't have a choice.
4. The Patriots Divisional success and success when losing the previous week.
The New England Patriots have won 5 AFC East Divisional titles in a row and have won six out of the last seven AFC East titles. This is the most in the history of the AFC East. Over the last seven seasons (2001-08), the Patriots have compiled a 37-11 (.771) divisional record, marking the best divisional record in the NFL. This is in the Patriots favor and the trend should continue against another divisional opponent in the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots since the beginning of the 2003 season are 15-1 (.938) in games following a loss. New England fell to the New York Jets last week in over time 34-31. The Patriots have not been swept in their season series against a divisional opponent since 2000, when they were swept twice that year losing to both the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
November 5 and November 12, 2006 are the only time the Patriots have lost back-to-back games in over five and a half seasons.
That's an amazing accomplishment in the National Football League. This fact speaks well for the preparation of the coaching staff. The coaches not only studied the film of their upcoming opponent that week analyzing the strengths and weaknesses but they also studied the tapes of their last loss so that they could put together a plan on how to correct the mistakes made in the lose. To the player's credit, they paid attention (unlike certain diva wide receivers falling asleep in meetings) to details and work hard to correct the mistakes so that they don't happen again. All of this is done while the players work on the game plan for the next opponent. They are mentally tough enough to not dwell on the mistakes but dwell on getting and playing better. Being mentally can be the difference between winning by a point or by losing by a point in tight games. Expect the Patriots to come out taking the game to the Dolphins who have had a couple of close games in the last two weeks.
5. Patriots offense should be able to do just enough.
The Dolphin are ranked 10th in the NFL in defense allowing 19.7 points a game and ranked 14th in total yards given up allowing 315.2 yards a game. The Patriots average 21.9 points a game (19th in the NFL) and have just had a game in which they had 511 total net yards against a defense that is better than the Dolphin defense. The Dolphins can be stingy against the run only allowing 91.3 yards per game (9th best in the NFL). However the Patriots average 132.2 rushing yards per game which is 8th best in the NFL). The Patriots should be able to exploit the Dolphins pass defense which is ranked 21st in the NFL allowing 223.9 yards a game. The Patriots after a slow start offensively are 12th in the league in passing averaging 214.2 yards per game.
There has been an offensive improvement and if the offensive line can give Cassel a little time to throw the Patriots receivers should be able to take advantage of the Dolphins secondary. Josh McDaniels has heard the interviews by the Dolphins players after the last lopsided lose that they put upon the Patriots that they knew what the Patriots were going to do offensively. I'm sure it will not be so telling this time as he has more confidence in Matt Cassel who is maturing and will open up the playbook more and take more chances downfield.