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Patriots vs Dolphins: Week 1 NFL preview

The New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins kick off their 2021 seasons in a Week 1 AFC East divisional duel that could have massive playoff implications as a tiebreaker. Check out our full preview of this highly anticipated matchup below.

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New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins: What you need to know

Mac Jones vs Tua Tagovailoa

New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins: What you need to know
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13), quarterback Mac Jones (10) and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos before the LSU game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday November 3, 2018. Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13), quarterback Mac Jones (10) and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos before the LSU game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday November 3, 2018. Credit: Mickey Welsh

How strange that Mac Jones is making his official NFL debut against his predecessor at Alabama, Dolphins second-year QB Tua Tagovailoa. The latter has the edge in experience, but Jones has the chops to be an instant NFL success.

Jones clearly beat out Cam Newton for the Patriots’ starting job in training camp and in the preseason. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick certainly isn’t afraid of being bold, and Jones’ rise is at least somewhat reminiscent of his decision many moons ago to start the young Tom Brady over veteran Drew Bledsoe.

  • Mac Attack: Although he had a loaded cast of skill players around him with the Crimson Tide, Jones did play in an offense with plenty of pro-style principles. He recorded an FBS-record 77.4% completion rate, with 12.8 air yards per attempt. Jones wasn’t dinking and dunking down the field, and he should diversify New England’s passing attack.
  • Tua’s Other Reunion: A whirlwind rookie campaign saw Tagovailoa mostly overwhelmed. Still, he managed a 6-3 starting record. He now has another former Alabama star in rookie No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle as an electrifying weapon to throw to as part of Miami’s revamped receiving corps.

Advantage: New England Patriots

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Bill Belichick vs Brian Flores

Patriots vs Dolphins: Week 1 NFL preview
Aug 29, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks up during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s well-documented that Belichick’s former assistants often flop when they venture beyond Foxborough. Brian Flores is an exception to that general rule.

Flores has flourished since taking over the Dolphins program, and now has them with an elite defense and a radically shifted culture. He’s clearly adopting some “Patriot Way” principles espoused by Belichick, yet is doing his own thing and being an authentic leader. Everyone in Miami is buying in.

  • Flores In a Flow State: Not only did Flores transform the Dolphins’ defense into one of the NFL’s best, but he deftly juggled a QB controversy in 2020 and still managed to finish with a 10-6 record. This man knows what he’s doing.
  • GOAT Talk: Belichick is probably tired of hearing about Brady’s success after he guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl. Week 1 should mark the first step in a return to form from Belichick, as The Hoodie reminds the football world that he’s still the GOAT of all coaches.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Quinn Nordin vs Jason Sanders

Patriots vs Dolphins: Week 1 NFL preview
Dec 22, 2019; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders (7) kicks the game winning field goal in overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

A kicker matchup? Yes, that’s correct. This should be a tightly contested affair that may boil down to execution on field goal attempts.

How confident is Miami in its kicker? Well, the Dolphins signed Sanders to a contract extension through 2026. That’s quite a ringing endorsement. Nordin missed three short kicks in a preseason game, but still managed to beat out veteran Nick Folk for the Patriots kicking gig.

  • Michigan Man: The strength of Nordin’s leg isn’t really in question. It’s his dubious accuracy, which wasn’t an issue isolated to that aforementioned preseason showing. Nordin kicked for four seasons at Michigan. That experience counts for something. So does his 72.4% field goal success rate. Not great!
  • Super Sanders: During the 2020 season, Sanders converted all 36 of his extra point attempts, and missed just three of his 39 field goal tries. That’s about as good as it gets.

Advantage: Miami Dolphins

The bottom line: Despite this being Jones’ NFL debut against one of the league’s most formidable defenses, this is where the inside knowledge Belichick has of what Flores likes to do works to New England’s advantage. Combine that with a home-field edge, and the Pats should narrowly avoid a home upset.

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