Well, that sucked, if not exactly in the ways that I predicted it might suck.
I don’t typically get much into breakdowns of the previous week’s Fins game, but bear with me just a tad here. I knew this was going to be a tough one to win, as detailed in my Preview & Prediction article for the game. A few things I did NOT think would happen, though:
- having BOTH Xavien Howard AND Connor William out from the start as inactives. Those are two excellent players, one from each side of the ball, who make everyone’s job easier.
- Losing Isaiah Wynn a short way into the game (he’s now on IR, which is a massive bummer).
- Losing Jevon Holland and David Long Jr. on a weird, Bad News Bearsy kind of collision. Holland returned to the game, but is now in concussion protocol. Long sounds like he’s back, which is great, but he was out for the remainder of the Eagles game.
- The refs were criminally horrible. Look, I generally don’t go in for blaming refs all that much. I’m typically of the attitude that referee gaffes mostly even out over the course of a game. But this last Sunday? It was baffling just how lop-sided it was. So many blatant Eagles penalties not called, while every single ticky-tack nonsense thing you could imagine was called on Miami.
The Dolphins showed some heart and may have been able to overcome one or two of the things mentioned above, but all of them? On the road? Against a good team that had just suffered a bad, embarrassing loss? It just wasn’t going to happen.
End result: our Fins drop to 5-2. Still a good place to be after seven games, with a very winnable game next on the docket. For my part, I hate to say that I was right about the Fins losing this one, though it once again didn’t unfold quite like I expected. This improved my prediction record on the season to exactly what our Fins’ record is:
driftinscotty’s Predictions for 2023
|Game #||Opponent||Prediction||Outcome||My Straight Up Season Record|
|Game #||Opponent||Prediction||Outcome||My Straight Up Season Record|
|1||@Chargers||L, 27-24||W, 36-34||0-1|
|2||@Patriots||W, 27-20||W, 24-17||1-1|
|3||Broncos||W, 34-17||W, 70-20||2-1|
|4||@Bills||W, 34-24||L, 48-20||2-2|
|5||Giants||W, 41-17||W, 31-14||3-2|
|6||Panthers||W, 41-20||W, 42-21||4-2|
|7||@Eagles||L, 27-24||L, 31-17||5-2|
Let’s take a look at where the Patsies sit right now.
Tale of the Tape
Here’s how the overall team numbers stack up for both squads, heading into week 8:
Key Team Stats
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Patriots|
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Patriots|
|Passing Yards||300 (1st)||208.9 (21st)|
|Rushing Yards||162.3 (1st)||85.4 (27th)|
|Points Scored||34.3 (1st)||14.4 (31st)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||233 (20th)||210.6 (12th)|
|Run Yards Allowed||112.3 (19th)||100.7 (13th)|
|Points Allowed||26.7 (27th)||25.3 (24th)|
|Net Turnovers||-3 (tie 23rd)||-7 (tie 30th)|
|Against Penalty Yards||53.6 (19th)||50.9 (14th)|
Even after the offensive struggles in Philadelphia, our Dolphins are still #1 in all key areas. This was due in no small part to the fact that they did manage to find some success after a really rough start and some injuries last Sunday. It wasn’t enough to win, but it was enough to give me heart that McDaniel is learning how to improvise when he’s missing several key starters on that side of the ball. Really, though, the defense was the impressive part of the Philly game. They were the reason that Miami got back into the game and had any chance at stealing a road win. We may be seeing a little more progress with the Fangio system, and maybe it will continue to gel if and when that side of the ball gets healthier.
The Patriots’ stats continue to tell a rather bleak tale. Barely average in a few stats, and among the NFL’s worst in several. The defensive numbers are still a touch misleading, in terms of points allowed. More than a few of those can be hung on the offense, and particularly Mac Jones’ penchant for throwing picks of the “six” variety. If you just look at the pass and rush yards allowed, it seems that the Pats are OK in those areas. The problem is that “OK” doesn’t cut it when your offense keeps running into the school bus just trying to back out of the driveway.
We know that the Fins’ last two games have consisted of (1) a definitive win over a really bad Panthers team and (2) a frustrating loss to the Eagles that just had too many obstacles (mostly) beyond their control to overcome. What about the Pats? What have they gotten up to in the last two weeks?
New England’s Last Two Games: at Vegas and vs Bills
Two weeks back, Belichick and his 1-4 squad went into Vegas to see if they could somehow get back on track against a then 2-3 Raiders team. This game was not much fun to watch, even in its condensed form of around 40 minutes or so. The Raiders got out to a 10-0 lead shortly after the start of the 2nd quarter, and it looked like they would be able to slowly and steadily heap dirt on the grave of a New England team whose offense looked like they belonged in a matchup against UMass Dartmouth. Alas, this is a Raiders team led by former Belichick padawan, Josh McDaniels. Between the Raiders’ inability to convert on red zone trips and the Pats going “safety blanket mode” on offense, using strictly tight ends and running backs, the score was actually 19-17 for a hot second late in the 4th quarter. Both offenses spent several minutes engaging in a game of “Winning Is Scary,” committing mental goofs and penalties that kept the other team alive. Finally, with little time remaining and the Pats backed up just outside their own end zone, Maxx Crosby decided it was time to cash out and sacked Mac Jones for what was essentially a game-ending safety. Mercifully. Raiders get to 3-3 (somehow), while the Pats drop to 1-5 for the first time since 1995. That’s right - not even Belichick’s first season, the rebuilding year in 2000, was a 1-5 start. That team was 2-4 after its first six games.
Last Sunday, the Patriots prepared for what we all assumed was a summary execution: having the Bills come into town. Yes, the Bills were coming off a bad loss in London and near-loss against an awful Giants team, but surely they would shake that off and completely obliterate the Patriots into complete and total irrelevance, right? Right? Well, not exactly. At the end of the 1st quarter, it was 10-0 Patriots. At the half, 13-3, and then 16-10 with only one quarter remaining. New England actually scored a TD to go up 22-10 with only 7:36 left in the game and looking like they had lined everything up for a convincing, if somewhat surprising, upset. But that’s not how things work in the AFC East in 2023. The Bills sobered up just enough to score a TD to get the score to 22-17 and 5:32 remaining. Then the Pats regressed in an unforeseen fashion when the usually reliable Kendrick Bourne fumbled on his own 29-yard line, and the Bills recovered. Josh Allen and the offense did just enough to push the ball the modest 29 yards into the end zone, taking their first lead of the game at 25-22 after a made 2-point conversion. With just under 2 minutes left in the game, the Pats quickly marched down the field with some short passes by Mac Jones that produced nice amounts of YAC, particularly a 30-yard after-the-catch scramble by Rhamondre Stevenson. With only 12 seconds left, Jones found former Fin Mike Gesicki in the end zone, putting the Pats up 29-22. The victory was finally sealed on a WTF desperation play by Allen and the Bills. The Pats get to 2-5 on the season and find some small reason to cling to whatever hope they might have.
My observations about New England, based on these two games:
- New England’s D line is still stout enough to cause problems for teams with O-line issues.
- Their secondary - not so much. They still seemed to struggle to cover whole swaths in the middle of the field at times, and they gave up some head-scratching receptions against both Vegas and Buffalo.
- The Pats’ offense certainly looked better against the Bills than they have most of the year. They weren’t “good,” but they actually had a few series where there was some flow for more than two or three plays before regressing into a complete disaster. This is mostly built around a pretty conservative strategy where Mac Jones sticks with almost exclusively short passes to tight ends and Kendrick Bourne, balanced with an equal number of hand-offs to running backs. This is dependent on #4.
- The Pats’ O-line looks to be getting a bit healthier. They gave up four sacks two weeks ago in Vegas, but only one against the Bills last week. Granted, the Buffalo defense has been losing key players of late, but it’s worth noting that last week the NE line kept Mac Jones cleaner than he’d been in a while.
- Sidenote on Buffalo: they might be in actual trouble. Maybe they’ll shake it off, like they’ve done the last two years, but the injuries on defense are real, and I didn’t see enough slack being picked up by the remaining players out there. Josh Allen will show his MVP-candidate form at times, but then regress into his 2018/2019 form as well. All of these issues were exploited very well by New England last week.
So the Pats might be improving a bit, but let’s face it - that’s not saying much for a team that was one of the NFL’s worst for the five weeks prior to their upset win over the Bills. How do they match up with the Dolphins this week?
This section is usually pretty straightforward, and I typically keep the injuries as its own paragraph. But let’s face it - the Dolphins are definitely in a place where the injuries are playing a Raekwon Davis-sized factor in just how effective they can be. Look no further than the Eagles game last Sunday, when the absence of three good to great offensive linemen was enough for a strong Eagles defense to turn Miami’s unit from a historically great offense to a very, very pedestrian one.
A little peek behind the curtain here: I usually write this part of my article on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and then tweak them just a little bit when the Friday injury report comes out. Often there are no or minimal adjustments. Not this week, though. After what we saw last Sunday night and the infinite scroll length Wednesday injury report, I waited until the Friday availability and practice reports were made public. Fortunately, the news has ended up being quite good.
Dolphins Offense vs. Patriots Defense: This is more or less the same Patriots defense that we saw back in week 2, with one major difference: stud linebacker Matthew Judon is on IR now. The Fins, meanwhile, started the week with a ton of offensive players on the injury report, but all of them were back practicing by mid-week, with the biggest name being Connor Williams. If Williams is out there holding down the center position, then I think this offense gets back to putting up the gaudy numbers that we saw in the weeks prior to the Eagles game. The Pats still boast a solid D line, who looked good against Buffalo, but a mostly full-powered Dolphins offense just presents way more speed and talent than New England and its more pedestrian backfield can keep up with. My one concern here is that Liam Eichenberg will be filling in for Isaiah Wynn, but if he struggles too much then Lester Cotton or Robert Jones could fill in. Advantage: Dolphins
Patriots Offense vs. Dolphins Defense: The Pats offense managed to look like a for-real NFL offense last week against Buffalo. This would have been more impressive if it had been against the Bills before they had lost key defenders like Matt Milano, Tre’Davious White, and DaQuan Jones. As it was, they executed a conservative plan well enough to pull off the win. For most of the season, though, this offense has had great trouble doing much of anything. Conversely, the Dolphins defense has continued to improve a bit each week. While the 31 points surrendered to Philadelphia last week might say otherwise, in truth they only surrendered a respectable 355 total yards to that potent offense, and they even came up with several big plays to keep the Fins in the game until about 6 minutes left. With the word being that not only are Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland likely to return but that Jalen Ramsey may also get his first action, then I think the Dolphins defense should be able to handle what a rather limited Pats offense can present. Slight advantage: Dolphins.
Coaching, Special Teams, and Other Factors
Coaching: No change from what I wrote in my article for the week 2 game against the Pats in Foxborough: Belichick is an all-time great, but Mike McDaniel doesn’t let that intimidate him. Advantage: NONE
Special Teams: While Billy’s special teams have gotten better since the beginning of the season, they’re still not on par with the elite units that he regularly ran out there for the better part of New England’s run of dominance between 2001 and 2018. Still, the Dolphins special teams languish as a bottom-10 unit in the NFL, with every game featuring one or more of the following: a lame punt, an average field goal missed or just barely made, and a big return surrendered. Advantage: Patriots
Location & Climate: This one is at Hard Rock, and the weather looks to be perfectly normal for late October. Mid-80s temperatures with high humidity. The climate might have a bit of an adverse impact on the Patriots, which is part of the bigger factor here: Belichick has always had one hell of a time winning down there. Even in all the Brady games between 2001 to 2019, the team was 7-9 in Miami, the only road location where that tandem had a losing record. Since the Brady era, the Pats are 0-3 at Hard Rock. It is literally the hardest place for Belichick Patriots teams to play and win. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe the players indulge a tad too much in the Miami nightlife after spending most of their time in greyer, grittier Massachusetts. Whatever the reason, South Beach serves as legitimate kryptonite to Bill Belichick squads. Advantage: Dolphins.
Injuries: See my unit matchups above. Injuries were so numerous and potentially impactful heading into this week that I folded them into that section.
Other Factors: Time is running out for the Patriots to make any kind of run at respectability. Prior to last Sunday, all but full-blown Belichick cultists were talking over the best strategies for Robert Kraft to show his head coach/GM the door. Lo and behold, they actually played a decent enough game to snipe a Bills team that continues to find ways to give inferior opponents chances to compete with and sometimes even beat them. It happened three weeks ago against Jacksonville and again this past weekend, which perhaps breathed a bit of life into a New England club that had all but flatlined. Like any game between division rivals, there is never a 100% joyous outcome. The Bills losing helps a lot. The Pats winning gives New England a shred of hope and the motivation to really try in the next week or two. Ultimately, though, I don’t know that it provides any significant edge for the Pats, especially with the Fins coming off a bitter loss in Philadelphia and still looking to prove that they’re legit. I think this game will simply come down to which team has more, healthy talent able to play.
Game Prediction: Dolphins 31, Patriots 20
I’m fighting the urge to hedge my bets here and go even more conservative, but I’m predicting a solid win here. It might even be one where the final score doesn’t indicate how handily the Fins will get back in the win column. The Patriots’ offensive line has been playing better, but they are still nursing a few injuries, while the Dolphins defensive line has been getting better. I see them forcing Mac Jones to regress enough to make a few mistakes which the offense capitalizes on. I’m sure Bill Belichick will try the same overall strategy as last time - play conservative on offense, hope the defense keeps you in the game, and maybe the other team will help you out. It worked against Buffalo, but I don’t think it will work against Miami this weekend.
What do you think, fellow Fins fan? How do our guys do against the visiting division rivals? Drop a comment down below.