New England are the reigning Super Bowl champions and are nine games unbeaten. But they could be in for a tougher than expected workout against the resurgent Dolphins, according to Neil Harvey...
"Miami started strong the last two times these teams met and are on a defensive high at present, so I love them on the first half handicap"
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
Live on Sky Sports 1
A resurgent Miami head to the town of Foxborough hoping to stop the juggernaut that is New England. But the Dolphins will need to be razor sharp at the Gillette Stadium if they're to upset a Patriots team that's now nine competitive games unbeaten and counting, in a run that dates back to the start of last season's play-offs.
Nonetheless, the Dolphins will arrive buoyed by hope and belief. Since tight ends coach Dan Campbell was promoted to interim Head Coach at the start of October, things have improved quickly for Miami. Yes, it's only been two games. But the difference has been astonishing.
On defense, Miami are now performing in line with the expectation that comes with having such big name stars as Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes. For example, in the four games played under previous Head Coach Joe Philbin, the Dolphins conceded an average of 160 rushing yards. Since Campbell took over, that figure's dropped to almost 60.
There's been equally significant improvement on offense too. Running back Lamar Miller managed just 131 yards and no scores though his first four games. But under Campbell, he's cantered to 288 yards and two touchdowns in half the time. That's partly due to Miller simply getting the ball more often. But Miller's also doing more with the rock when he gets it, thriving in particular on the edges. Miami's game plan is clear. Give it to Lamar, early and often. So the prospects of him putting up some big numbers and scoring for a third straight game look good.
When they're not feeding the ball to Miller, Miami's other go-to guy is Jarvis Landry, a receiver who doesn't bust too many huge plays, but who's as slippery as an eel for opposing defenses to cover. Landry's top three in the league for yards covered by receivers in possession of the ball. He runs great routes and will be a hot red zone target for QB Ryan Tannehill. And given that 11 of the 14 touchdowns scored against the Patriots have come though the air, Landry looks great value at 10.009/1 to grab the first TD here.
Ranking in the bottom half of the league against both pass and run, New England's defense really isn't all that good. But their offense is simply much better. And they score with such frequency that few teams are able to keep up with them.
One team who did keep up with them last season was in fact Miami, beating them in Florida in Week One, 33-20. The key to that Dolphins win was the pressure produced on Tom Brady, with New England's QB sacked four times, producing two fumbles.
When the sides met again in Week 15, Miami were within just a point going into half time, only to be subjected to a second half Tom Brady masterclass as the Patriots ran out easy 41-13 winners. The Dolphins are once again well equipped to put up a strong showing early on. They'll focus on running the ball through Miller and testing out that 23rd ranked Patriots run defense. You have to fancy that the Patriots will eventually overpower them, but it could take a while and I think Miami could be close, perhaps even in the lead, by the break.
Once the Patriots get ahead though, few teams can catch them. In Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, Brady has two of the safest pairs of hands in the NFL to aim for. And now Brandon LaFell, albeit showing signs of rustiness last week, is back to bolster Brady's options. Last year it was Gronk who led the way, bagging almost double the number of touchdowns of any of his teammates. So if you want to back a New England scorer, look no further, at what seem fair odds of 1.68/13.
Miami's defense will try to bring a lot of heat to Brady. That's been the key to their defensive renaissance, cutting down the number of defensive plays and focusing on getting to the quarterback. And that could cause New England some problems for a while. Eventually though the Patriots should work them out. And with so many receiving options at their disposal, the Pats are always in the game.
Miami started strong the last two times these teams met and are on a defensive high at present, so I love them on the first half handicap. Everyone's expecting a New England win. But it's in how they do it that the value lies. And I'm tempted more to back them for a strong second half showing, with the Miami/New England double result having appeal at the big price of 9.008/1.
Lots of runs from Miller and short passes from Tannehill, as Miami look to hog possession, could see the first half points total go under. Anything goes though in the second half, with the Pats capable of cutting teams to shreds once they're playing catch-up, which makes the bet of most points coming in the second half also look good value.
3pts Miami (+3.5) to win at Half Time @ 2.001/1
2pts Second Half to be highest scoring @ 2.001/1
Miami(+7.5) to beat New England @ 2.1011/10
Jarvis Landy to score first/anytime touchdown @ 10.009/1
Lamar Miller Rushing Yards to be Over 70.5 @ 2.001/1
Rob Gronkowski to score anytime touchdown @ 1.608/13
Back Miami/New England in H/Time-F/Time market @ 9.008/1 or better