Hard Rock Stadium has been a house of horrors for Tom Brady in his career, where he has a 6-9 record overall and has won only once since 2012. Against this current Dolphins squad, this is obviously more of a footnote than it is actionable information; but it is something that can be kept in the back of your mind while building rosters this week. (Maybe the stadium can field a pass rush? That would help them slow down Brady.)
Weather shouldn’t be a major factor this week (the Pats will be leaving mid-60s and humid in Foxboro to play in high-80s and humid in Miami; not nearly as difficult of a transition as many other Patriots games at Miami in the past), and if you’re comfortable fading the “Brady at Miami” narrative, we can assess how this game is likeliest to play out otherwise (and you can decide if you have the intestinal fortitude to build any MME blocks with alternate scenarios in which the Patriots just fall flat in Miami).
In a “likeliest scenario” that doesn’t worry about the Patriots’ history in Miami,” there are three clear ways this game could go — and all three ways include the Patriots smashing ::
In this scenario, the Patriots look to get Antonio Brown involved early and often (this is assuming that he plays — which seems likely, as the league is unlikely to move on anything regarding his sexual assault allegations before Sunday, and Belichick is likely being cagey when acting like AB might not be ready by Sunday), and they look to essentially use this game against the Dolphins as live practice reps to help sharpen and prepare them for the rest of the season. This scenario would be outlandish to consider for a lot of teams; but given the Patriots’ approach to things, this scenario is actually very much in play in this spot. In this scenario, AB would become attractive in all formats, while Julian Edelman would have floor to go with touchdown-driven ceiling, and Josh Gordon would have his typical bet-on-efficiency upside as well. The Patriots could also involve James White with this approach (and there is an outside shot that Rex Burkhead’s Week 1 usage would prove to be more than just matchup-based, and that he would be involved in this spot as well).
In this scenario, the Patriots protect their 42-year-old QB and keep him fresh and don’t put anything new on film with AB beyond some simple “practice-type” reps, and just lean heavy on the run. This is a very realistic setup as well, as the Patriots appeared sharp enough in Week 1 that they may prefer to play things close to the vest rather than put new looks on film for future opponents to prepare for. Again: this might be a bit of an outlandish scenario to consider for other teams; but with Belichick/McDaniels regularly mixing in plays and looks designed to specifically confuse future opponents and give them unnecessary things to prepare for (primarily focusing on this strategy once a game is in hand), it would be absolutely on-brand for this team to lean on the ground game this week. If Damien Harris is active this week, it will be an indication that this approach is more likely; though in that instance, there would be so many viable tributaries (Sony Michel getting 20+ touches and all the goal line work // the Patriots protecting Michel’s knees for another week while letting Burkhead split the load // the Patriots deciding to get Harris heavy touches in the second half) that we’re lowering our pursuit of +EV plays with all the guessing. If we do want to A) guess that the Pats go fairly run-heavy as the game moves on, and B) guess on the backfield: it’s likely that Burkhead’s usage last week was game plan specific, and that Michel sees 20+ carries this week. His low pass game role (seven receptions last year, and we can’t believe the “Michel catches passes now” narrative until we see it) and all this other uncertainty leaves him as a fairly speculative option; though the 100-yard, two-touchdown upside is real enough that I won’t totally cross him off my own list in tourneys. If Harris is active, I’ll also have some large-field tourney interest there, as it wouldn’t be outside the realm of viable possibilities that he could get 14+ touches if he’s active and the Pats put this game away early.
Run // Pass Smash
In this scenario, the Patriots put up four or more touchdowns with a balanced approach that mixes in Edelman // AB // Gordon // White // Burkhead // Michel (plus a bit of Phillip Dorsett, and James Develin, and maybe even one or two others), which would spread good scores across the board but make it difficult to isolate one single high-end play. The “four or more touchdowns” seems likely, even with this being a division game against coaches who are intimately familiar with the Patriots, in a stadium where the Pats have struggled. The talent gap is just too great for us to consider anything else “likeliest.” But with potential for the Patriots to spread things out (and for them to score “only” four touchdowns, instead of the six or seven everyone will want), there is also a very real chance that in a Run // Pass Smash scenario we don’t see a single “have to have it” score coming from the Patriots’ side of the ball.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Patriots are one of the top four or five defenses in the NFL, and the Dolphins have no offensive line and no quarterback, while none of their pass catchers have the nuance to their game to allow them to consistently get open against the Pats’ elite secondary. The Dolphins will likely be chasing points, and that’s your best bet for targeting something if you want to hope for slate-winning upside to emerge from this group. Ultimately, any Dolphins plays are just closing your eyes and hoping for the best.
The Patriots seem likely to get AB involved early to try to get him going — though they also seem likely to not put anything too creative on film, in order to save things for other matchups.
The Patriots are also likely to lean on the run in the second half if they have a lead in this one, as it’s probable that they will value deceit and health over “live practice reps” in this spot.
It’s also likely that the public will overreact to the Patriots’ and Dolphins’ Week 1 results, and that ownership will spike higher than the uncertainty should really carry; and yet, it’s also likely that most of the players targeted on the Patriots will produce solid scores, even if the week-winning scores don’t end up showing up. (I.e., most of these guys are high-floor options, even if the chances of them reaching ceiling are lower than many will expect.)
Ultimately, I’ll likely be looking to other spots myself for core builds; but if AB is out there, I’ll mix in some of him this week, and I’m interested in Michel as a potentially overlooked piece with slate-winning upside. (A hundred yards and a pair of touchdowns for Michel is not a crazy, outlier bet.) You could also justify other pieces in this game — though outside of maybe a few Pass Smash lineups with a small percentage of large-field play, my style of play will be pulling me in other directions this week.