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5 players to watch when the New England Patriots Host Miami on Sunday Night Football

Can the Miami Dolphins make it two-straight wins to begin the year?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 was an adventure for the Miami Dolphins — time to turn the page as Sunday Night Football quickly approaches.

The Dolphins eye an opportunity to lock up back-to-back wins against AFC opponents, which would be handy when pushing for a playoff spot later in the season.

Last week we noted Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill — bold, I know. Moving forward, I hope to be more creative with players who could be stars on Sunday.

5, Austin Jackson

The former first-round pick was tasked with slowing down Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, and a Los Angeles Chargers pass rush that could flip a game sideways. Jackson began the year with a strong performance, allowing just four pressures and no sacks as part of an offensive line that kept Tagovailoa clean for most of the afternoon.

Sunday features another challenge in Matthew Judon, who has 29 sacks in 35 games since joining the New England Patriots before the 2021 season. The former Baltimore Ravens pass rusher earned five tackles and a sack against the Dolphins in Week 1 last year.

Judon has just one sack against the Dolphins since joining the Patriots — Jackson’s job is to keep it that way.

4. Andrew Van Ginkel

Nobody foresaw David Long Jr. playing just 17 snaps against the Chargers. Instead, Van Ginkel played 51 snaps at linebacker for the Dolphins.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio explained that Van Ginkel is Miami’s nickel linebacker while Long starts in the base defense. Van Ginkel wasn’t bad, earning four tackles and a 70.9 coverage grade.

The Patriots and Chargers feature entirely different offenses, to say the least. Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliot can move the chains, but neither is as shifty or versatile as Austin Eckler.

It’s still very early in the season but another light day for Long would be concerning.

3. River Cracraft

I swear I am not trying to be the hipster by picking the fourth receiver on the depth chart — hear me out. Five players had at least 40 receiving yards against the Chargers — it is no surprise that the Dolphins feature a variety of players who are a threat with the ball.

That said, Cracraft played 27 snaps last Sunday, and 11 of them (40 percent) came as a run blocker. Tight end Durham Smythe played 67 snaps. Twenty of them ( 30 percent) were running plays.

Cracraft caught the season’s first passing touchdown and may not be on the field for every snap, but he could be just the mismatch Miami is looking for to start running the football.

The Dolphins already leverage a fullback that can catch the football, and a successful blocker at wide receiver is another problem to overcome.

2. Xavien Howard

Justin Herbert was No. 11 in yards per pass thrown last week, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. The rushing attack did the heavy lifting with 233 yards on the ground. The Patriots are a bit different, Mac Jones threw the ball 54 times against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

Receiver Kendrick Bourne caught six of the 11 targets to come his way for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Will Howard help slow the passing attack after an up-and-down Week 1?

Howard surrendered five receptions on seven targets for a total of 39 yards. Allowing 7.8 yards per catch ranks 24th among cornerbacks to play at least 30 coverage snaps in Week 1. Kader Kohou, opposite of Howard, ranked No. 9 with an average of 5.3 yards per reception allowed.

Howard is at his best when forcing turnovers, and New England coughed up the football twice last week. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were tough matchups. Sunday should test Howard after dealing with injuries for most of last season.

1. Jaelan Phillips

Phillips led the Dolphins with two quarterback hits last week and will face an offense that gets the ball quickly. Jones averaged 2.2 seconds before throwing the ball, fifth among starting quarterbacks last week.

Herbert averaged 2.4 before throwing the ball, but the Patriots ended Thursday with five offensive linemen on the injury report. Trent Brown and Sidy Sow are recovering from concussions and did not practice. Leg injuries limited three others.

Miami’s pass rush has high expectations this season, and a statement on Sunday night would be an ideal way to wrap up a two-game road trip to begin the year.