The Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins will be on the field at Sun Life Stadium in about 90 minutes. But, before they kickoff their Week 14 contest, it's time for us to take a look at five things to watch, and my prediction for the game.
1. Michael Vick's Health. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick returns to his starting role this week after missing the team's last three games. Vick was nursing two broken ribs he sustained in the team's game against the Arizona Cardinals. Although he was able to stay in that game, his accuracy dramatically fell off, and he was obviously not the same player. Now, after three weeks of rest, Vick feels he is prepared to get back on the field.
Vick did concede that he needs to take fewer hits and slide more when he runs. But, it will be interesting to see how he plays as he comes back from this injury. Are his ribs healthy enough to bring his accuracy back up to it's normal level? Will he be able to run like normal? What's going to happen the first time he take a hit? Vick will be fascinating to watch during the game.
2. Miami Offensive Line vs. Philadelphia's Defensive Line. The Dolphins' offensive line has been a weakness all year, and seems to be a constant member of the "what to watch" article. How they perform dictates how the Dolphins do in the game. They have to be able to open holes for Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, and, more importantly, they have to stop the opponents' pass rush to give quarterback Matt Moore a chance to find the open man.
The Eagles', meanwhile, have a pair of stellar defensive ends. Jason Babin is second in the league with 12 sacks so far in 2011, and has been ruthlessly dominating opposing tackles. Across the defensive line from him is Trent Cole, who has 6 sacks of his own. The tandem have pressure the quarterback 57 times this season. Miami's tackles, All-Pro Jake Long and Marc Colombo have allowed 9 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, and 42 quarterback pressures this year.
Whomever wins this battle will probably win the game.
3. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas vs. Philadelphia Linebackers. The Philadelphia linebacker corps has been a constantly changing lineup, and that continues this week. All the change, and the poor play leading to those changes, have the Eagles' defense ranked as the 17th best rush defense in the league. This week finds Casey Matthews returning to the field after disappearing into the depth chart for most of the season.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins running game has broken open lately, with starter Reggie Bush eclipsing his former career high in season rushing yards last week. Rookie Daniel Thomas is just 163 yards behind Bush in rushing yards this season, and the two have combined for over 1,100 yards. If the Dolphins can properly exploit a weak linebacker corps, Bush and Thomas could each have a huge day.
4. LeSean McCoy vs. Miami Run Defense. The Philadelphia Eagles main weapon is running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy leads the league with 15 touchdowns and is second in rushing yards (1,134 yards, three behind Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew). McCoy has been nearly impossible to stop this season, averaging over 95 yards per game, and 5.3 yards per carry. McCoy's production has given the Eagles the 2nd ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have the 5th best rush defense in the league. Over the last 6 weeks, the Dolphins have allowed an average of just 67.8 yards rushing, with the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9 the only team that went over 85 yards rushing in that span. Last week, the Dolphins held the Oakland Raiders to just 46 yards rushing.
Whomever wins this battle, McCoy or the Dolphins defense, could descide who wins this game.
5. Brandon Marshall vs. Nnamdi Asomugha. We took a look earlier at the injuries to Philadelphia cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha earlier today. Those injuries, plus the fact that Asomugha is not having a typical year, will make the match up with Dolphins wide receiver Bandon Marshall a key to this game. Will Asomugha be able to cover the "Monster?"
Before I make my predictions, I asked JasonB of SB Nation's Bleeding Green Nation for his keys to the game and a prediction. He replied:
"The Eagles win if Michael Vick is healthy and their defense shows up. The Miami Dolphins win if they can establish the run and control the clock... which I think they will and win 24-17."
I can't really argue with either of his keys to the win. I do think the score will be a little different, however. I think the Dolphins will be able to control the Eagles' offense a little better, with a final score of Miami 24, Eagles 9.
Record Predicting Dolphins Games: 6-6 (Streak - 1 Correct)
Record Predicting All NFL Games: 121-71