Thursday, Dec 8th
Bye Week:
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Packers
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DOLPHINS @ PATRIOTS

GAME OVERVIEW::

  • Miami has built their offense around Tua Tagovailoa and surrounded him with speed all over the field.
  • New England returns some key players on defense this season and made some impactful additions through the draft and free agency.
  • Mac Jones makes his pro debut against one of the league’s best secondaries and a coach who is familiar with the Patriots’ system.
  • There is a clear “path of least resistance” for the Patriots to attack offensively, while the Dolphins will need to be very calculated in how they attack to cover up some deficiencies. 

HOW MIAMI WILL TRY TO WIN::

The Dolphins’ chances of offensive success in Week 1 got a big boost when it was announced All-Pro CB Stephon Gilmore would start the season on the PUP list. Will Fuller will be out for this game as he serves the rest of his suspension that began in 2020. Devante Parker has been managing some lower body issues throughout training camp, so the absence of Gilmore at least gives the Dolphins passing game a fighting chance. However, the Dolphins will need every advantage they can find as they enter the season with perhaps the league’s worst offensive line and are facing a very talented and aggressive New England pass rush. Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa struggled last year with identifying defenses and coverages. So you can safely bet that Belichick and the Patriots will throw a lot at him throughout this game to make him “prove” he has improved in that area.

The Dolphins are not a great running team — their line is weak and their top two RBs, Myles Gaskin and Malcolm Brown, were the 34th and 38th graded running backs by PFF last year out of the 47 players with at least 100 rush attempts. This means that the Dolphins are not great at creating yards through blocking and are also not great at making defenders miss and creating yards after contact — not a good combination.

The Dolphins’ best chance to move the ball should be through the air by isolating their backs and athletic tight ends against New England’s athletically deficient off-ball linebackers. The issue with executing that plan will be providing enough blocking support to their overmatched offensive line with backs and tight ends running routes. The other area the Dolphins could attack would be short passes and crossing routes to their speedy wide receivers. Due to the mismatch up front, it will be difficult for the Dolphins to push the ball down the field without risking disaster.

HOW NEW ENGLAND WILL TRY TO WIN::

The Patriots with Mac Jones under center will look much less like the 2020 version and more like the offense we saw for the few years before that. Jones is an extremely high IQ player with tremendous accuracy and timing from the pocket – he is very similar in playing style and traits to Tom Brady. Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores comes from the New England coaching tree and will be very familiar with what he faces in Week 1. Mac Jones likes to step up in the pocket and deliver accurate strikes with timing. Flores will be trying to bring pressure and stunts up the middle to force Jones out of the pocket where he will have to use his legs and/or make off-platform throws. Per PFF, the Dolphins blitzed at the 5th highest rate in 2020 and also played the most man coverage in the league — relying on their highly talented corners to lock up opposing receiving corps.

The Patriots’ best way to move the ball will be on the ground behind their top-5 offensive line against a Dolphins defense whose biggest weakness is in the trenches. Expect a heavy dose of runs early in the game with a mix of designed short-area passes to slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs. Bill Belichick is notorious for his game plans that avoid his opponent’s strengths while attacking their weaknesses. This matchup presents a clear recipe for the Patriots, and we should expect them to have Jones avoid the Dolphins’ stud cornerbacks at all costs in his regular-season debut for as long as possible.

LIKELIEST GAME FLOW::

The Patriots are likely to control the game as their running game should allow them to sustain drives and stay “ahead of the chains” and out of 3rd and long situations — making things very manageable for Mac Jones to attack the Dolphins areas of weakness. Meanwhile, the Dolphins will likely struggle to move the ball on the ground and won’t be able to push the ball down the field due to pass blocking concerns. This will make them very predictable, which is not ideal when facing a Bill Belichick defense. 

The Patriots are likely to build a lead. Still, it is unlikely to be done suddenly as the matchup will dictate a more methodical approach, and the Dolphins will provide some defensive resistance. The Dolphins will need to spring some big plays in the middle of the field and/or after the catch to move the ball and score enough points to be in it in the 4th quarter.

DFS INTERPRETATION::

The Dolphins showed a willingness to use three RB’s in the preseason, and their coach’s comments seemed to support that will be the case. How exactly the work is divided up remains to be seen. Myles Gaskin is clearly the best option for them right now, but he is likely to lose some short-yardage work, and the significant pass blocking concerns may lead them to use more Malcolm Brown, who is very good in blitz pickup. In a game with questionable scoring potential for his team and unresolved workload questions Gaskin comes with a lot of risk at a position that is filled with solid options in Week 1.

Tua should see a second-year jump, but Week 1 will be one of the worst situations he will see all season. Behind a struggling offensive line and facing a Bill Belichick defense with extra preparation time is not a recipe for a DFS explosion game. Likewise, DeVante Parker’s downfield skill set does not appear to be in a good spot, and his health is still uncertain.

The best spots in this game for the Dolphins likely belong to their other two starting WRs, Jaylen Waddle and Albert Wilson, who should both see significant playing time thanks to Will Fuller’s absence. Both are low-priced and talented. Waddle is a high-profile draft pick with a connection with Tua going back to their time at Alabama. Wilson has produced at a reasonably high level throughout his career when he has been on the field, but that has proven to be difficult for him as he has repeatedly been plagued with injuries. In a one-week scenario, however, he provides some intrigue at what should be absolutely miniscule ownership given the context of the Week 1 slate and pricing. Tight end Mike Gesicki also has a solid matchup but is priced near some more appealing options on the slate.

For the Patriots, Mac Jones will undoubtedly draw some ownership due to his near-minimum price tag at a premium position. However, for the reasons outlined above, he likely lacks the ceiling you are looking for from the QB position on a week with soft pricing. Damien Harris has a great set-up but comes with a good amount of risk due to the Patriots’ history of RBBC and bruising back Rhamondre Stevenson potentially taking goal-line work. The Patriots wide receivers have extremely difficult matchups and are unlikely to see significant volume, making them hard to trust. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry both received significant contracts in free agency and should be heavily involved. The uncertainty that the presence of both tight ends causes will also scare away ownership in a matchup that should encourage passes to the middle of the field. It would not be surprising for either one of them to pop off for a significant game here, although it is anyone’s guess who that player will be.