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Five Players To Watch: Dolphins vs. Patriots

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Miami gets set to face New England for the first of two times in the next three weeks, here are five players to watch in the first matchup this Sunday

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If losing four games in a row, including last week’s 30-20 loss to the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wasn’t depressing enough for Dolphins’ fans, start preparing yourself for yet another disappointing experience Sunday as the team runs into the New England Patriots who find themselves as 16-point favorites.

For how bad the Dolphins have been on both sides of the ball recently, the Patriots, 8-2 overall and winners of six consecutive games, have been the model of consistency averaging nearly 27 points per game while allowing just 12.5 during the six-game win streak.

Two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions as the Patriots are destined to claim yet another AFC East title while the Dolphins tease their fan base but will likely be drafting in the top half of the draft next offseason, it’s going to take the combination of Miami playing its best game of the season and a handful of New England’s starters suffering from post-Thanksgiving food poisoning in order for the Dolphins to escape with the victory.

With that being said, here are five players to keep an eye on come Sunday in the team’s first of two matchups against New England in the next three weeks.

Kiko Alonso

The secret is out, Alonso has been exposed in coverage and opposing teams are game planning to take advantage of this deficiency.

Raiders’ tight end, Jared Cook, burned the Dolphins for 126 yards on eight catches a few weeks ago before Buccaneers’ tight end, OJ Howard, posted 52 yards and a touchdown last week.

With Alonso and the Dolphins facing one of the best tight ends in the history of the NFL in Rob Gronkowski, it would be wise to give the linebackers assistance in coverage from the safeties and take their chances with one-on-one matchups against the receivers on the outside.

Tom Brady

For how good the Patriots have been the last decade plus, we all know the driver of the squad is Brady.

If Miami is able to apply pressure to Brady they’ll clearly increase their chances of winning; but if Brady is allowed to sit back and pick apart the defense it’s likely Brady will once again crush Dolphins’ fans hearts, and they’ll probably cover that 16-point spread.

Xavien Howard

The Patriots and Tom Brady are notorious for finding your weakness and attempting to expose it throughout the game.

While showing flashes of being a capable cover corner, Brady will likely seek out Howard and look to expose the second-year defensive back out of Baylor who has been on the wrong side of some big plays in the passing game this season.

New England doesn’t lack weapons that can beat you on any give play so Howard and the performance of the Dolphins’ secondary will be key to the game as the Patriots rely heavily on their passing offense, averaging a league-best 304.6 passing yards per game.

DeVante Parker

The bottom line with Parker is that it’s time to show up. This preseason was littered with hype surrounding Parker since he was both healthy and making the type of plays in practice, which led the Dolphins to making him their first-round selection back in 2015.

Is it time to give up on Parker if he doesn’t produce consistently for the remainder of the season? Absolutely not – but we’ve seen both Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills produce in this fairly inept offense, so it’s time for Parker to make an impact on a team that has the potential of tying a lot of future salary to the wide receiver position.

With Stills receiving his contract extension last offseason, and the unknown surrounding Landry and his future in Miami, the front office will also soon have to decide if Parker is part of the future of what is likely in need of a rebuild.

Malcolm Butler

If the three primary options at receiver for the Dolphins can all get on the same page with whoever ends up playing quarterback this week, they are clearly the team’s most impactful position that has the ability to take over a game.

Butler is tied for the team lead with two interceptions this season and will likely see some of each Parker, Landry and Stills, unless he shadows one of them like he did with Amari Cooper last week.

Both Butler and Stephon Gilmore have been catching some heat for their performance so far in 2017, but the current stable of cornerbacks in New England doesn’t seem to doing too bad this season based on the less than 15 points per game they’re allowing during the six-game win streak.