Dolphins vs Patriots: Week 1 Preview

Dolphins ATB preview the key matchups, expectations and keys to success ahead of their NFL regular season opener against the New England Patriots.

Patriot Dolphins
Mandatory Credit: Gillette Stadium
  • Date: Sunday September 11
  • Time: 13:00 ET (18:00 UK Time)
  • Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami FL
  • TV: CBS and Sky Sports NFL

The wait is over, the 2022 NFL regular season is upon us.  After a long offseason fueled by excitement and high expectations, the Mike McDaniel era in Miami has arrived. First up, a familiar foe in the New England Patriots — for the third straight year.  Dolphins ATB preview the key matchups, expectations and keys to success ahead of their NFL regular season opener against the Patriots.

Expectations for Week 1

Expectations are certainly high for the 2022 Miami Dolphins. However, having gone back to last year’s Week 1 preview article, the narrative is shockingly similar…

“After years of mediocrity Dolphins fans are somewhat bemused about what to expect, going into a season a strong favorite as a playoff contender. Gone are the days of Chan Gailey’s archaic play-calling, with the new era of George Godsey and Eric Studesville bringing excitement over the possibility of a modernized attack. Last season the Dolphins thrived when they played up-tempo. The additions the Dolphins made this offseason highlight how speed will be an integral part of the 2021 Dolphins offense.”

2021 Season Week 1 Game Preview: Dolphins @ Patriots

Everything said in the above quote can be said about the 2022 Dolphins. Whether you call it delusion or insanity, us fans fixate on what our destiny could be and with high expectations for what the season may bring. Despite years of being let down by the team, I have no choice but to fall back into the trap of thinking “this could be the year” or “things are different this year”.

As to the present, I do expect the Dolphins to have the edge this game. The Patriots’ offense appears to be a ship without a captain, with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge attempting to fill the play calling void left behind by Josh McDaniels. While I expect the Patriots’ pass rushers to cause the offensive line difficulties, I feel that Miami’s weapons will prove to be a matchup nightmare against New England’s secondary.

As to what I expect from the Dolphins, I expect a rather conservative game, trying to establish the run early and gain rhythm and consistency on the short and intermediate passes. Do not expect the long balls early, those will come with time. While this offense and Tua may feel they have a point to prove, they first have a game to win. Starting the season with a winning record is far more important than seeing a Tua-to-Tyreek 75-yard touchdown pass on the opening play.

Keys to Success

1. Establish the Run

The Dolphins have had mixed success in running the football against the Patriots in recent years, with a lot of Miami’s success in establishing the run coming later on in the season.

Over their past two regular season openers against the Patriots, the Dolphins have averaged 80 yards from 25 carries and 3.2 YPC.

In the second meeting between the two teams, the Dolphins have managed to average 222 yards from 42 carries, which equates to 5.3 YPC.

The Dolphins have struggled so far during camp, and the pre-season, to establish the run. Nevertheless, with a vastly improved backfield and renowned running game expert in Mike McDaniel calling the plays, the Dolphins will be hoping that the new zone running scheme will signal the end of Miami’s early season troubles in rushing the football.

2. Pressure Up Front

Play to your strengths. Miami has one of the strongest defensive lines in the league. However, with Byron Jones currently on the PUP list until Week 5, Miami’s “Amoeba” defense is likely to be hamstrung with out one of their lockdown corners.

It is therefore essential that Miami’s defensive line can keep sustained pressure on Mac Jones. Jones, a traditional pocket passer, achieved a 71.9 percent completion rate when he had a clean pocket in 2021. When under pressure, that completion percentage dropped drastically to 54.3 percent.

While New England’s receiving corps is nothing to write home about, if Jones is allowed time in the pocket, Miami’s depleted corners may struggle to lockdown the likes of Devante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Jakobi Meyers. It will be interesting to see which receiver will line up opposite Xavien Howard.

The DL will also be key to containing the Patriots’ backfield that totaled 2,151 rushing yards and 24 TDs in 2021, behind a strong offensive line.

3. Discipline

Under Brian Flores, the Dolphins were one of the least penalized teams in the NFL. This early in the season, there is inevitably going to be some teething problems for all teams. A key to the Dolphins’ success will be keeping those mistakes to a minimum to prevent beating themselves.

A new look offensive line that has had limited play time together as a unit, may encounter some early difficulties as they seek to build chemistry as a group. Minimizing drive killing penalties will be key to any team wishing to start the season 1-0.

Key Matchup: Austin Jackson vs Matt Judon

With Terron Armstead solidifying the left side of the line, it is highly likely that Bill Belichick will seek to overpower Tua’s blindside and Austin Jackson.  Who better to do that than Matt Judon, who ranked 52nd on the NFL Top 100.

Judon’s acceleration and penetration make this a key matchup against Jackson, who has struggled in his early career to get his feet set — especially against speed rushers.

However, there is reason for optimism. Jackson, who has made the transition to right tackle after stints at left tackle and left guard, has impressed during camp.

“When Austin Jackson is playing right tackle, I’ve been very pleased”

Dolphins’ Head Coach Mike McDaniel

Jackson’s athleticism and intelligence gives him every chance to succeed in Miami’s new outside zone blocking scheme. However, the transition will not be an easy one, with Judon coming off a career high 12.5 sacks.

Injury Concerns

A number of Miami’s starters were limited in practice on Wednesday, however all 53 players on the roster practiced. Jaylen Waddle’s injury has officially been designated as a quad injury, with Nik Needham suffering a similar injury. Nevertheless, it is hoped that both will be fit for Sunday’s game.

As for the Patriots, Meyers (knee), OT Isaiah Wynn (back), and RB/WR Ty Montgomery (knee) were all limited during Wednesday’s practice.

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AFC East Preview: Offseason Recap and Predictions

The AFC East has gained a new look since Tom Brady left for Tampa. Four young quarterbacks look to be their teams answer for the next decade as they battle for the title: AFC East Champions. Big stars enter the division this year. Let’s see who joined and how it all will end in our AFC East preview.

AFC East Preview

4. New York Jets

Key loses – OT Morgan Moses, WR Jamison Crowder, DE Foley Fatukasi, FS Marcus Maye,

Key additions – OG Laken Tomlinson, CB D.J. Reed, TE C.J. Uzomah, TE Tyler Conklin, OT Duane Brown, S Jordan Whitehead, OLB Jake Martin, DE Solomon Thomas, K Greg Zuerlein, ILB Kwon Alexander, CB Ahmad Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson, RB Breece Hall, DE Jermaine Johnson II, TE Jeremy Ruckert

Re-signed – FB Nick Bawden (1-year)

Head coach Robert Saleh’s first season in East Rutherford wasn’t ideal. The team went 4-13 and got swept by the rest of the AFC East. They were one of the worst teams in the league, but added a lot of talent in the offseason. With a handful of high NFL draft picks, this Jets team could now be a somewhat competitive team.

Last season’s offense would end up having four different quarterbacks play for them due to injuries. Zach Wilson started a majority of them, and he comes into this season looking to prove he is the future in New York. The front office helped him out by getting some weapons. Rookie wideout Garrett Wilson will be trying to become Wilson’s top target, and tight end C.J. Uzomah is going to be a safety valve.

While Michael Carter is listed as the #1 running back, rookie Breece Hall should see plenty of snaps as he looks to take over the #1 spot. This offensive line is up-and-coming, and has the potential to become elite. It is still a young offense, so there will be some hiccups along the way, but the Jets should improve on their 26th ranked offense.

Jets fans had a tough time watching their offense last year, but the defense was even worse. They ranked dead last in the NFL in yards, points for, and first downs allowed. They did add some talent, though, with rookies Jermaine Johnson II and Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner. Johnson II helps to create a solid defensive front four with John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams.

Gardner pairs up with newly acquired cornerback D.J. Reed, causing this secondary to have one of the most improved units in the NFL. However, the Jets still have one of the worst linebacker corps in the league with C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams, who both had one of the worst seasons of their careers last season.

Prediction

While the Jets improved a lot this offseason, they still have a ways to go. They still have to find out if Wilson is the answer, so I have them finishing 5-12, and 1-5 against the AFC East. They are heading in the right direction, and this season needs to be an improvement.

3. New England Patriots

Key loses – WR Gunner Olszewski, CB J.C. Jackson, ILB Kyle Van Noy, C Ted Karras, RB Brandon Bolden

Key additions – WR Ty Montgomery, S Jabrill Peppers, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Malcolm Butler, OG Cole Strange, WR Tyquan Thornton, CB Marcus Jones, CB Jack Jones

Re-signed – OT Trent Brown (2-years), ILB Ja’whaun Bentley (2-years), K Nick Folk (2-years), WR/ST Matthew Slater (1-year)

Extensions – S Adrian Phillips (3-years, $14 million), P Jake Bailey (4-years, $13 million), DT Davon Godchaux (2-years, $20 million), RB James White (2-years, $5 million)

Year two without Tom Brady, and the Patriots ended up making the playoffs. With Mac Jones becoming the first rookie quarterback since 1993 to start for the Patriots, they went 10-7. They would go on to lose 47-17 in the playoffs to the Buffalo Bills in the worst postseason loss of head coach Bill Belichick’s tenure. It was an interesting offseason for the Patriots, as they hope to reach the postseason again.

Mac Jones and the Patriots offense finished 15th in total offense a year ago. Yet, they didn’t do much this offseason on that side of the ball. Drafting Cole Strange in the first round was definitely strange to fans, but he helps create a top ten offensive line. This should help out their running back committee, as they hope to lead the Patriots to a top ten finish in rushing again.

Wideouts Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne had solid seasons in 2021. They are hoping their chemistry with Jones causes another leap in their statistics. This offense still features below average weapons, and with questionable play calling, they might be one of the bottom ten offenses in the league.

Bill Belichick’s been known for his defensive mind, and last season showed another reason why. The Patriots finished fourth in total defense. However, they struggled against the run, finishing 22nd in yards against. It didn’t help to lose JC Jackson this offseason, but bringing back Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler is a decent consolation. The secondary has depth and a great safety duo, but might struggle against elite receivers.

The linebacker corps took a hit losing Kyle Van Noy, but has two guys that play hard in Bentley and Wilson. The young defensive line looks to make a jump next to veteran Matthew Judon. With Bill Belichick at the helm, I don’t see this defense being ranked lower than ten.

Prediction

One of the harder teams to predict in this league, I believe the Patriots will finish 7-10 after going 1-5 in the division. Mac Jones will need to take a big leap this season for them to reach the playoffs.

2. Miami Dolphins

Key loses – QB Jacoby Brissett, OG Jesse Davis, WR Albert Wilson, CB Justin Coleman

Key additions – OT Terron Armstead, WR Cedrick Wilson, C Connor Williams, RB Chase Edmonds, CB Keion Crossen, FB Alec Ingold, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OLB Melvin Ingram, RB Raheem Mostert, DE Trey Flowers, P Thomas Morstead, WR Tyreek Hill, LB Channing Tindall, WR Erik Ezukanma, QB Skylar Thompson

Re-signed – TE Durham Smythe (2-years)

Extensions – CB Xavien Howard (5-years, $50 million), WR Tyreek Hill (4-years, $120 million)

After starting 1-7, Miami would finish the season winning eight out of their last nine to finish with a record of 9-8. Despite the second-half success, they still decided to fire head coach Brian Flores and hire Mike McDaniel. They would make another big move this offseason, trading for superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill. It creates one of the fastest duos in NFL history, and the Dolphins are looking to challenge Buffalo for the division.

With Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa should have no issue getting the ball out fast. With this offensive line, Tua will need to get the ball out fast. Even with the upgrades made from last season, they still rank in the bottom ten in the league. Overall, the receiving corps will help boost this offense up from their 25th ranked offense last season.

The new running back committee will have a tough time between the tackles, but should get plenty of touches out of the backfield to make plays. The offensive line holds this offense back, but they should still rank in the middle of the league.

The defense last season was up-and-down. They ranked 15th in total yards while not exceling against either the run or the pass. They added some older veterans to help this defenses rise in the rankings. The secondary is a top five group, with cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Bryon Jones leading the way. That helps an average defensive line, as they are able to be an excellent blitzing team.

The only concern on this defense is the linebackers. Jerome Baker leads the group, and he has yet to show that he is an elite linebacker. Rookie Channing Tindall should get a chance to help this group out. This is a solid defense overall, and I expect them to be just outside the top ten this season.

Prediction

The Miami Dolphins will be fighting for the playoffs this season, as I believe they finish 10-7 after going 4-2 in the AFC East. It could come down to tiebreakers for Miami, as the loaded AFC will be close.

1. Buffalo Bills

Key loses – DE Mario Addison, DE Jerry Hughes, P Matt Haack, DT Harrison Phillips, C Jon Feliciano, CB Levi Wallace, WR Cole Beasley, OC Brian Daboll

Key additions – OLB Von Miller, DT DaQuan Jones, DT Tim Settle, OG Rodger Saffold, DE Jordan Phillips, WR Jamison Crowder, OT David Quessenberry, P Sam Martin, CB Kaiir Elam, RB James Cook, WR Khalil Shakir, LB Terrel Bernard, CB Christian Benford

Re-signed – RB/ST Taiwan Jones (1-year), OG Ike Boettger (1-year), CB Siran Neal (3-years), LB Tyrel Dodson (1-year)

Extensions – WR Stefon Diggs (4-years, $96 million), FB Reggie Gilliam (2-years, $5 million)

A gut-wrenching loss against the Chiefs last season ended the Bills season one game away from the AFC Championship. This season, they are looking to go the farthest they have since 1994, the Super Bowl. With the addition of two-time Super Bowl Champion Von Miller, they are primed and ready to win back-to-back AFC East titles — and maybe more. Will Buffalo be able to get the job done, or will they have another season that ends in heartbreak?

The Bills finished fifth in total offense last season while being effective in both the passing and rushing game. Josh Allen is back and is looking to have an MVP season with wideouts Stefon Diggs and breakout hopeful Gabe Davis. With Dawson Knox, the Bills have plenty of guys to throw to, and they added another in the draft. Running back James Cook is looking to provide that threat out of the backfield in the passing game, while we’ll see a lot of Devin Singletary in the run game.

All of these weapons make Allen’s, and the offensive line’s, job a lot easier. It’s an offensive line that ranks in the middle of the NFL, with the potential to be a top ten group. New offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey will have some fun taking over.

The top defense in the NFL last season got even better. They went out and added future hall of famer Von Miller to help rush the passer. They are hoping he can finally bring an elite pass rush to Buffalo alongside Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau. Elite depth at the position should help plug up the middle and get after the quarterback.

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, but is still solid. This creates a duo with Matt Milano that still has the potential to boost this group into the top ten. The secondary is getting corner Tre White back midseason, but in the meantime will have to rely on three young guys to step up. Their job will be easier in Buffalo with the help of the arguably the best safety duo in the league. This defense should be in the top three yet again this season.

Prediction

It’s Super Bowl or bust this season for the Bills, as the hype is the highest it’s been in two decades. I predict that the Bills will go 14-3 and 6-0 against the AFC East. They have the most talented roster in the NFL and, barring injuries, should compete for the Lombardi trophy.

Patriots Training Camp Primer

The NFL season is almost upon us, and the Patriots are looking to return to the promised land.

Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The NFL season is inching ever closer, and so is the Patriots training camp. Rookies, quarterbacks, and rehabbing players have already reported for training camp in Foxborough. Full training camp kicks off on July 27. A quick recap of the team’s off-season activity shows a healthy influx of new faces at critical positions. But it is accompanied by a dearth of talent and familiarity walking out the door.

Notable Acquisitions

RB/WR Ty Montgomery

WR DeVante Parker

OL Darryl Williams

LB Mack Wilson

CB Malcolm Butler

S/LB Jabrill Peppers

Notable Departures

QB Jarrett Stidham

RB Brandon Bolden

C Ted Karras

OG Shaq Mason

LB/DE Chase Winovich

LB Kyle Van Noy

CB J.C. Jackson

LB Dont’a Hightower (remains unsigned)

As the team gears up for another season, here are five storylines to watch as Patriots training camp opens:

Development of Mac

The most important storyline of the Patriots training camp — and season — will be how second-year signal caller Mac Jones progresses. Mac had a solid rookie season finishing with 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions; enough to be named a Pro Bowl alternate in his debut season.

Despite ranking among the most accurate quarterbacks last year, the offense often seemed timid. Mac rarely attacked downfield in the same aggressive manner he did at Alabama. To complicate matters, the Patriots lost their offensive coordinator to the Las Vegas Raiders and haven’t exactly replaced him.

Year two is crucial for every player’s development, but even more so for young quarterbacks. Mac has put in the off season work with organized throwing sessions with receivers all across the country, all while ditching his dough-boy appearance for a leaner, meaner Mac. Last year he tore it up throughout summer activities; this year, he needs to do the same with a more aggressive approach of attack this time around.

The Pats don’t have a top-tier talent at receiver or tight end, but have a plethora of solid 1B/2A types. Adding Devante Parker gives Mac a contested ball guy who can win outside the numbers. Parker should free Nelson Agholor up to move around the formation into favorable match-ups. The Pats offense needs to add a more aggressive downfield element in year two of Mac.

Matt Judon and Who Else?

The linebacker group looked a step (or two or three) slow against the Bills late in the season. With the rest of the AFC East gaining speed this off-season (hello, Tyreek Hill), the Pats look to be shying away from their big-bodied thumpers at linebacker. Matt Judon started the season scorching hot before fading down the stretch.

The Pats are hoping to replace Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy with a combination of Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings, and trade acquisition Mack Wilson. The latter group features smaller bodies with a lot more speed.

The Pats desperately need at least two of these guys to become reliable starters — Wilson and Uche project to be three down players, if they develop as the team hopes. Perkins should bring a pop to the pass rush and may develop into a full-time edge defender; splitting time between DE and OLB wouldn’t be a surprise given his college production.

McMillan will most likely play alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley as primary run defenders. Any way you slice it, the Pats will be faster at the second level of their defense next season. The important thing is if they can be effective with their speed.

Who are the Corners?

J.C. Jackson cashed in in free agency with a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. Replacing him will garner a lot of attention this summer and throughout the season. The Pats brought in veterans Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell while also drafting Jack Jones (fourth round) and Marcus Jones (third round). The guarantees for Butler and Mitchell are low enough that their roster spots aren’t guaranteed.

The health of Jonathon Jones bears watching. His return will help against the spread ‘em out attacks of the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets. But past him, the depth chart is anything but settled.

Speed, Speed, Speed

The Patriots were focused on speed throughout the draft. They drafted the fastest player overall while also adding speed at corner and running back. We already touched on their plan to add speed to the interior of the defense.

Perhaps most importantly, many sources within the team have highlighted a change in the offensive structure and play calling. Having fast players only matters if you allow them to play fast. By simplifying the systems, the Patriots are hoping to let their guys play fast.

Protecting Mac Jones

The Patriots have questions at arguably four of their five offensive line spots. Not great. Tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown don’t have the cleanest track records with health.

The backup tackle spot is a question mark among young players and unproven vets. First-round pick Cole Strange was viewed by many as a colossal reach, but internally is being viewed as a day one starter. Right guard will fall to third-year man Mike Onwenu, who had a stalwart rookie year but a lackluster second. For Mac and the offense to reach their full potential, he will need to be kept upright.

Patriots Roster Reset

It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year. They are likely to add in one form or the other before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After being exposed by the Bills on wildcard weekend, the Patriots entered the off-season with a laundry list of needs. Unfortunately, they were snug to the cap already, having just under $10 million to spend at the onset of free agency. The Pats were in a challenging position, having multiple internal free agents and a litany of glaring needs.

Free agency is winding down, and the team is in full NFL draft prep mode. The Pats may be waiting for after the draft to add free agents, as those additions would not forfeit any compensatory picks next year. With an eye on the draft, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots roster as it stands today.

Quarterback

Rostered: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

Retained: Brian Hoyer

Top Free Agents Available: Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Jake Fromm, Blake Bortles

The Patriots took their quarterback of the future last May in the NFL Draft with Mac Jones. Jones was solid in his rookie campaign. The team is internally optimistic he will be the franchise QB for years to come.

Hoyer had a brief foray into free agency before re-signing with the team. Hoyer will provide leadership as Mac navigates an off-season where the young signal-caller lost offensive coordinator/QB coach Josh McDaniels.

Stidham is a camp arm and may stick around on the practice squad. I wouldn’t expect the Patriots to add anyone prominent to this group.

Running Back

Rostered: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, James White, Devine Ozigbo, Dalton Keene

Out: Brandon Bolden (Raiders), Jakob Johnson (Raiders)

Retained: James White

Top Free Agents Available: Sony Michel, Darrel Williams, Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Jalen Richard

This group is one of the more talented collection of players on the Patriots roster. Damien Harris should return as the 1A option. Rhamondre Stevenson is looking to continue his ascent into the top tier of NFL running backs in year two.

The Pats were able to get James White back with minimal guarantees as he recovers from a season-ending hip injury. White was off to a scorching start with Jones before the injury in week 3. If he can return to form, he will be in for a big year. White returning to form will offset the loss of Bolden. This off-season may provide Taylor with his best opportunity to unseat White as the passing back. Devine Ozigbo offers a camp body and practice-squad player.

Although officially listed as a tight end, Dalton Keene looks to benefit from Jakob Johnson’s departure. The Pats traded up in the 2020 NFL Draft to grab the H-back out of Virginia Tech. Now, Keene is finally healthy heading into the offseason. Look for him to get every opportunity to lock down the TE3/FB hybrid spot this training camp.

The Pats may add a free agent here (old friend Sony Michel), but are more likely to add a rookie as Harris enters the final year of his rookie deal.

Wide Receiver

Rostered: Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Ty Montgomery, Tre Nixon, DeVante Parker, Malcolm Perry, Kristian Wilkerson

In: Devante Parker (Dolphins), Ty Montgomery (Saints)

Out: Gunner Olszewski (Steelers)

Retained: Jakobi Meyers

Top Free Agents Available: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Will Fuller, Julio Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Keelan Cole, Cole Beasley, T.Y. Hilton, Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson, Adam Humphries, Isaiah Ford

Agholor, Bourne, and Meyers return as the top options for Mac Jones. The Pats added a bigger target in DeVante Parker, who will provide the young gun with a sure-handed receiver in contested catch situations — if he can remain healthy. Parker should be everything the Pats hope Harry would be. Montgomery was added to take snaps at running back, receiver, and all over special teams.

Malcolm Perry offers a fun, gadget-type player who may find himself in a camp battle with Montgomery for a single roster spot. Wilkerson offered a peek into his potential last year late in the season and will try to carry that momentum into a roster spot this year. Tre Nixon hopes to stay healthy and flash his big-play potential from college. Harry is a long-shot to be on this roster on kickoff weekend

The Pats were rumored to be in on several free-agent receivers this off-season They continue to be linked to Odell Beckham Jr. Isaiah Ford also has time in the New England offense and may make sense on a cheap deal. The Patriots are also looking at many rookie wide outs in the draft. It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year.

The Patriots roster is likely to gain another receiver before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded, but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Tight End

Rostered: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

Out: Troy Fumagalli (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Rob Gronkowski, Jared Cook, Blake Jarwin, Kyle Rudolph, Jesse James

The Pats spent here last year and spent big. Henry provided even more than the team could have hoped for in year one. Jonnu, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Smith has been present for off-season programs thus far, a difference from last year, as the team and player look to accomplish in year two of the mega-contract.

Asiasi has not lived up to his billing coming out of college and is entering make-or-break territory in year three. Throughout camp, Keene should push for the third spot in a battle with Asiasi. There’s not a lot available in the way of free agents, but the Pats will likely add a body here in rounds 5-7.

Offensive Line

Rostered: David Andrews (C), Yasir Durant (G), Arlington Hambright (G), Trent Brown (T), Yodny Cajuste (T), Drew Desjarlais (T), James Ferentz (G), Justin Herron (T), Mike Onwenu (G), Isaiah Wynn (T), Will Sherman (T)

Out: Shaq Mason (Buccaneers), Ted Karras (Bengals)

Retained: Trent Brown, James Ferentz

Top Free Agents Available: J.C. Tretter (C), Eric Fisher (T), Duane Brown (T), Daryl Williams (G/T), Riley Reiff (T), Trai Turner (G), Ereck Flowers (G), Brandon Shell (T), Ryan Bates (G), Nate Solder (T), Bryan Bulaga (T), Matt Paradis (C), Marcus Cannon (T)

This is perhaps the shakiest group of players on the Patriots roster. They return three out of five starters after losing Ted Karras to the Bengals in free agency and trading Shaq Mason to the Buccaneers. The Pats tried to retain Karras, but were unwilling to go as high in the bidding as the Bengals.

The Mason trade was a bit of a head-scratcher as a young, premier talent at this position, on an affordable contract, was only able to gain the team a fifth-round pick. The move was made to clear some cap space for the team, but the return seems hardly worth it. Onwenu should slide in at either guard spot, leaving the Pats a man short in their starting five.

Furthermore, tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn are not known for their ability to stay healthy. Will Sherman, Yodny Cajuste, and Justin Herron project to battle it out for the top swing tackle spot, while James Ferentz currently projects as the top backup on the interior.

The Pats will look to add here both in free agency and the draft. The Pats could call old friends Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon to gain veteran depth at the tackle spots, while someone like Trai Turner or Ereck Flowers may make sense as depth on the interior. The Patriots may look to address these spots early in the draft, so don’t be surprised if they use their first selection on a player up front.

Defensive Line

Rostered: Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Byron Cowart, Bill Murray, Deatrich Wise, Daniel Ekuale

Out: Carl Davis (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Trey Flowers, Jadeveon Clowney, Akiem Hicks, Larry Ogunjobi, Ndamukong Suh, Justin Houston, Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eddie Goldman, Sheldon Richardson, Carl Nassib, Linval Joseph

Barmore was an absolute steal in the second round of the draft last May. He looks to continue to build on his impressive rookie season and offers stability in the interior of the defense for years to come. Lawrence Guy was his steady self, while Davon Godchaux showed flashes of why the Pats shelled out to get him.

Anderson agreed to a restructured deal to stick around after getting injured last year. Deatrich Wise restructured his contract to give the Pats some more space and continues to offer pass-rush ability and strong leadership in the locker room.

Cowart, Murray, and Eukale would preferably be practice squad/depth pieces but currently project to get considerable playing time if no additions are made. Carl Davis remains a free agent. It makes sense for both sides to continue their relationship. Trey Flowers and Akiem Hicks would be substantial additions to this group, and both are familiar with New England.

The Pats should add competition here in the form of free agents and rookies before training camp. The Pats may go to this group early in the draft, if the right players slide into striking range.  

Linebacker

Rostered: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, Anfernee Jennings, Matt Judon, Harvey Langi, Cameron McGrone, Raekwon McMillan, Ronnie Perkins, Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai, Mack Wilson

In: Mack Wilson (Browns)

Out: Kyle Van Noy (FA), Chase Winovich (Browns), Dont’a Hightower (FA), Jamie Collins (FA)

Retained: Ja’Whaun Bentley

Top Free Agents Available: Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Joe Schobert, Melvin Ingram, Anthony Barr, Landon Collins, Anthony Hitchens, Nick Kwiatkoski, A.J. Klein, Takkarist McKinley

Bentley returned to the team after leading them in tackles in 2021. Bentley is a more traditional linebacker who doesn’t fill a three-down role, but provides a big body against power-rushing teams such as the Colts and Titans.

This off-season, a common goal for the team has been the infusion of speed at every position group. None needed it more than this one in 2021. Hightower remains a free agent as a big lumbering type is slowly being phased out of the current rendition of the game.

The Pats swapped Winovich for Mack Wilson in a change of scenery trade that may benefit both players. Wilson offers a more undersized body linebacker than Belichick has liked in the past, but offers more speed. Judon was an absolute force before falling off after week 13 when he got COVID. He will force himself into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation if he can continue his pace for an entire season.

Josh Uche was a problem his rookie year, as many around the league identified him as a potential star in year two. The leap never happened, as he was injured early in the year and struggled to earn playing time later. Anfernee Jennings enters year three, losing his first two to poor injury luck. He might be in line to replace Hightower as a large, on-the-line body type. Perkins was a third-round pick last year and spent his rookie season as a redshirt. Perkins offers pass rush specialty with an upside to become an every-down player after a dominant college career at Oklahoma.

Raekwon McMillan was putting together a solid camp last fall, with multiple internal evaluators very high on him, before tearing his ACL and missing the season. If he can return to form, this group may be much better than expected. This group will also blend with safeties Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, and Adrian Phillips, as the Pats look to add speed to the interior of their defense.

Kyle Van Noy and Hightower seem likely to return on lighter deals as part-time players. Nakobe Dean of Georgia and Devin Lloyd of Utah are premier rookie talents to watch for in the draft.  

Cornerback

Rostered: Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones

In: Malcolm Butler (Cardinals)

Out: J.C. Jackson (Chargers)

Top Free Agents Available: Jackrabbit Jenkins, Joe Haden, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Kevin King, Trae Waynes, Fabian Moreau, Xavier Rhodes, Vernon Hargreaves

This is another part of the Patriots roster that has had much made about it this off-season, but is perhaps in better shape than many expect. Losing J.C. Jackson makes this a less talented group, no doubt about it, but his loss may be overstated. While he was a talented ballhawk, there is quite a drop-off between him and the top tier of NFL cornerbacks.

The Pats brought back Malcolm Butler and added Terrance Mitchell. Butler played at a very high level in 2020 before retiring in the 2021 preseason and not playing last year. How he plays in his return will largely determine how this group performs. Mitchell offers a competent NFL journeyman type who fits better in zone defenses. Last year, the Pats transitioned to more zone-based coverages and should continue that trend without a premier lock-down at the cornerback spot.

Shaun Wade has an outside chance of developing into the team’s next top corner, but hedging the farm on it would not be wise. Joejuan Williams is running out of time to prove he deserves a spot, as he joins N’Keal Harry as part of the failed 2019 draft class. Myles Bryant and Jonathan Jones provide the Patriots with two top-tier slot options. Jalen Mills played primarily on the outside last year after being signed as a jack-of-all-trades in the Patriots’ 2021 free agent spending spree. Due to the lack of depth, he may be forced again to play primarily outside in 2022.

The draft is extremely top-heavy at corner, with a severe drop-off after the top three of Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner, LSU’s Derek Stingley, and Washington’s Trent McDuffie. Belichick has had immense success in developing late picks or undrafted rookies and may go that route again if one of the top three doesn’t fall into their laps at 21.

Safety

Rostered: Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis, Joshuah Bledsoe

In: Jabrill Peppers (Giants)

Retained: Devin McCourty

Top Free Agents Available: Tyrann Mathieu, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Jaquiski Tartt,

The Pats kept their 2021 group together while adding Jabrill Peppers. They immediately are one of the stronger groups on the Patriots roster. McCourty returns after a solid season despite a slow start. He is starting to slow a touch, but continues to be a step ahead due to his understanding of Belichick’s system.

McCourty is the quarterback of the defense. Retaining him was an extremely understated development this off-season. Dugger began to flash his playmaking ability. If he continues to grow, the Pats will have their safety duo of the future after locking up Adrian Phillips last year.

Peppers offers a hybrid player who can play in the box, line up deep, play the slot, and match up on premier tight ends. He also may find himself as the top punt returner. Joshuah Bledsoe arrived as a rookie to much fanfare last year, but missed the season due to a college wrist injury. He will have every opportunity to make a run at a roster spot.

Edmunds and Mathieu remain big names on the free agency market, but the addition of either remains a long-shot to this roster. The Patriots could add here in the middle rounds of the draft.

Specialists

Rostered: Nick Folk (K), Quinn Nordin (K), Joe Cardona (LS), Jake Bailey (P), Matthew Slater (ST), Justin Bethel (ST)

Out: Brandon King (Colts)

Retained: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater

Despite strong individual performances from this group in 2021, the Patriots’ special teams were largely a disappointment throughout the year. Folk has made 55 straight field goals under 50 yards, as he has been one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL since joining the Patriots in 2020. Jake Bailey is a season removed from an All-Pro season. Joe Cardona not only shares a birthday with Bill Belichick, but also shares Navy ties. He’s not going anywhere.

Matthew Slater returned for his age 37 season, as the longtime captain agreed to a one-year deal. Slater (15) trails only Tom Brady (20) and Steve Grogan (16) for the number of seasons played for the team. Quinn Nordin has a booming leg, but needs to become more accurate. He should stick around as the heir apparent to Folk. The Pats may take a late-round flier on a specialist, but otherwise, this part of the Patriots roster is set.

Patriots Dolphins Preview: 5 Areas to Watch

A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of not only winning the division, but climbing all the way to the number one seed in the AFC. All of those dreams start with a win in Miami.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – SEPTEMBER 12: Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Adam Butler (70) catches New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) during a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins on September 12, 2021, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fast Start/Play from Ahead

The Patriots are getting ready for their first-ever week 18 game against the Miami Dolphins. Against the Jaguars last week, it was the first time since their bye week that they quickly gained the advantage and held it throughout the game. The buildup of the team makes it important they get a lead; they’re built to run the ball offensively and rush the passer defensively.

It’s no secret opponents want to put the game in Mac Jones’ hands. Before playing the Jaguars, Mac had thrown four interceptions in the two games prior. While he did enough to put the team in striking range in both games, he was also part of the reason the Pats were in holes to begin with.

Compare that with the effort he put together against Jacksonville and he begins to appear as a snowball passer. When things are rolling in his favor, he plays confidently and more aggressively, often leading to better final stat lines and overall team outcomes for the Patriots.

Against the Dolphins, the Patriots must do to Tua what previous opponents have done to Mac. Both teams are built similarly and Miami would love to play with a lead and their impressive secondary. However, when the pressure is on Tua he has wilted of late. If the Pats can jump out to a quick lead and force Tua to beat them, the game shifts in their favor.

Health

The Patriots already ruled out starters Kyle Dugger and Dont’a Hightower, while Damien Harris is still nursing a hamstring injury. A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of winning the division, but that starts with a win in Miami.

Despite the desire to win, the Patriots also must keep an eye on the future as they will potentially be suiting up again in the Wildcard round next week. This shouldn’t be a game where the starters are pulled unless the outcome is virtually guaranteed, meaning the Patriots must come out of it without any additional injuries to monitor going forward.

Nelson Agholor will be making his return from concussion protocol against Miami. His departure from the Colts demonstrated how severely limited the passing game is for New England. While Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are competent receivers, they struggle to separate against man coverage. Agholor adds a speed element that opposing defenses must respect. Any injury to a starter for the Pats may provide fatal for their hopes in the playoffs.

Miami Weirdness

You probably don’t need a reminder that Miami is a house of horrors for the Patriots. Outside of Michael Floyd destroying a guy and a Wes Welker full field touchdown, there haven’t been many highlights for New England in South Florida.

This will be Mac Jones’ first trip to Miami. His teammates are sure to have made him aware of the multiple disasters that have happened here if he was oblivious. If this game is close late, the Patriots need to refrain from putting any tight ends on defense and do whatever is needed to secure the win.

N’Keal Harry

The Patriots elevated Kristian Wilkerson ahead of last week’s game and he responded with his first two career touchdowns. As mentioned in that game summary, N’Keal Harry’s career high is two touchdown receptions in a SEASON. Despite this, the Patriots did not elevate Wilkerson ahead of the deadline for Sunday’s game.

The return of Agholor may mean the value of Harry’s blocking is more important to the Patriots offensive gameplan than adding a very real fourth receiving threat.

Or perhaps the coaching staff is giving one final gasp at keeping his roster spot. While his physical style and ability as a blocker are impressive, defenses will start matching up with him as a second or third tight end, negating any possible advantage the Pats once had with him on the field. One thing that should be able to put to rest is Harry will not be returning punts against Miami.

The Scoreboard

Not their own, necessarily. But the Patriots and their fans should be watching the outcomes for other games as well. As of this writing, the Chiefs managed to escape a very game Broncos squad, erasing any chance the Patriots had to get the number one seed. However, they can still win the division.

While the Patriots are playing, the results of Tennessee/Houston and Cincinnati/Cleveland will have been decided in the earlier time slot. With those in hand, the Patriots will know if they are playing for a very real possibility of the number two seed.

Regardless of that scenario, the Jets will be taking on the Bills while the Patriots take on the Dolphins. If the Bills win, they win the division. If the Jets somehow beat the Bills, a Patriots victory gives them the AFC East title. Depending on the outcomes of the game today and on Sunday, the Patriots are in play for anything from the number 2 to number 6 seeds in the AFC.

Prediction

In the first match up, I predicted a close game that the Patriots snuck out in the end. A similar outcome is the most likely in the rematch. The Dolphins did not look good last week against the Titans. The Patriots defense, despite their injuries, will have a chance to again stifle the Miami attack. The Patriots offense will have its hands full with the Miami defense. A couple takeaways may blow this one open in favor of the Patriots. That probably doesn’t happen in Miami as the Pats sweat one out 20-17.