Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots: Teetering Pats have history on their side
There are creeping signs of frailty in New England, but are the Dolphins good enough to make them pay? Mark Kirwan considers the AFC East clash...
"Writing off the Patriots feels a bit like doing the same to the Germans - but then we all saw them in June this year, didn't we?"
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
Sunday, 18:00 BST
Live on Sky Sports Action
A generation of football fans could be on the verge of seeing something that hasn't been witnessed since Ant and Dec were still PJ and Duncan: a bad New England Patriots team.
Writing off the Patriots feels a bit like doing the same to the Germans - but then we all saw them in June this year, didn't we?
New England are staring at a 1-3 start for the first time since the early aughts, and for the first time in a long time it looks like fortune isn't flowing in their direction.
For example, coming into this year, with the signing of Jeremy Hill, it was fully expected Belichick would work his spell and turn a player whose obvious talent hadn't delivered in Cincinnati into yet another 1,000 Pats rusher.
And then he snapped his knee.
Sony Michel, their first round pick, hasn't fit in with the austere New England way as well as hoped. Mike Gillislee flopped. Rex Burkhead is now on IR.
This pattern of problems is repeated at wide receiver, where Tom Brady is severely restricted by the lack of talent. Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Eric Decker, Malcolm Mitchell, these are just some of the names who've cycled through Foxboro in recent months only to be sent on their bike shortly afterwards. Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman cannot join the team soon enough.
Defensively, as ever, there are big questions facing this team. Ja'whaun Bentley, a bright spot at linebacker, is done for the season. There are signs of life in the pass rush at least, but this still looks like a team that'll need it's offence to score rather than D to shut opponents down.
Their beat down by the Jaguars in week two was evidence enough of that.
Can Miami take advantage?
On paper, the Dolphins look like they can deliver another blow to the Death Star, but Miami have benefited from a relatively easy opening few weeks and the freakish weather conditions that disrupted their home opener with the Titans.
Still, they have some exciting playmakers. Kenny Stills has emerged as Devante Parker was supposed to following Jarvis Landry's departure. Rookie Jakeem Grant has had some big plays, former Pat Danny Amendola - another departure from last season - continues to catch balls, and Albert Wilson has come in from KC and made noise. With Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake splitting carries, Miami have solid run game.
And Ryan Tannehill at quarterback still shows enough to keep you thinking he could be the offensive leader the team needs if he can stay healthy.
Defensively too, they look to have improved, and that despite losing a major player in Ndamukong Suh. Raekwon McMillan's appearance after missing his entire rookie season helps, and Kiko Alonso showing some of his early-career form is also a plus. It remains to be seen how their line works after Wiliiam Hayes' injury, but star defensive back Reshad Jones could return for this game after missing week three.
All in all, the Dolphins are a quirky team who feel relevant again after a few years of drift.
All of which is to say they've closed the gap on New England in the division. But that was a big gap to start with.
The Pats start causes doubts - yes, they've started badly before, but double-digit losses back-to-back isn't something we're used to - still, it's hard to let go of the idea that Belichick will get them clicking sooner rather than later as that's what's always happened before.
The Dolphins are an interesting team, but their record in Foxboro is not encouraging, with the Pats winning their last four visits here by at least 7 points. Also, familiarity with one another has to benefit New England with Belichick's scheming on their side.
It's not with huge confidence, but I'd expect New England to get it together at some point. The Dolphins have had one of the easier schedules, and this should be where they splash back down. On the handicap market, the Patriots -7 is where I'd prefer to be at [2.02], and if the line moves to -6.5 that's even better.
On the Total Points market, neither of these teams have looked like offensive powerhouses through the opening weeks. 48 is not an especially high number, but, at the moment, I'm not expecting this to go over at [1.97] .
0.5pt on the New England Patriots -7 on the Handicap market @ [2.02] on the Exchange
0.5pt on Under 48.0 on the Total Points market @ [1.99] on the Exchange