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Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots: In Depth Game Preview and Prediction

Jason ClaryCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2011

Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots: In Depth Game Preview and Prediction

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    The Miami Dolphins open up the 2011 NFL season at home against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

    After back-to-back 7-9 seasons, the Dolphins will be looking to get off to a quick start in 2011. New England has remained a powerhouse for the better part of a decade, but they have lacked success in the playoffs since winning their last Super Bowl.

    Miami enters 2011 with a lot of doubt from the outside world, though they are motivated to prove otherwise. New England has added some veteran talent, including former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco.

    While it is only the first week of NFL football, this game is a must win for the Miami Dolphins.

Miami's Offense

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    Miami comes into the NFL season with many questions on offense. With a brand new offensive coordinator, no one really knows what to expect.

    Chad Henne will get perhaps his last chance to start in Miami before they make a decision on his future.

    The Dolphins' offensive line also has many question marks around it, even after adding rookie center Mike Pouncey. The only two consistent players on Miami's line are Jake Long and Pouncey. Although Pouncey hasn't started an NFL game, his presence will have an impact. 

    With Miami's new offensive scheme, quarterback Chad Henne looks comfortable and confident. He looks like he has taken control of the offense and is now the vocal leader in the huddle.

    Henne's success hinges on getting Brandon Marshall the football. Marshall's 2010 campaign was below average compared to the rest of his NFL career, even though he had over 1,000 receiving yards.

    Along with Marshall, the 'Fins receiving corps got stronger with the addition of Clyde Gates through the NFL draft. Gates, a fourth-round pick, gives Miami the speed to stretch the field with the passing attack. His speed will compliment Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline.

    Reggie Bush should also make an impact in Miami's offense. Bush is not seen as a between-the-tackles runner, but when he is asked what type of runner he is, he will say exactly that. He is out to prove people wrong and he will add a ton of excitement to the offense.

    Miami will definitely put up some points against New England, whose defense is suspect. Even so, Miami's offensive effort may not be enough considering how potent the Patriots offense is with Tom Brady at the helm.

Miami's Defense

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    The defense is, by far, the strong suit for the Miami Dolphins. Mike Nolan turned the defense from average in 2009 to great in 2010.

    Miami was ranked in the top-10 in Nolan's first year, which should get fans excited for the 2011 defense. Not only is this the second year for Nolan's scheme, Miami has added players like linebackers Kevin Burnett and familiar face Jason Taylor.

    Not only did Miami improve by adding players, but players like Sean Smith and Vontae Davis are also coming of age. Davis and Smith are out to prove that they are the NFL's best cornerback tandem. They certainly have some work to do but they feel confident that their efforts won't go unnoticed.

    Miami also has one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL. Jared Odrick, who was injured during his rookie season, begins his second year healthy and motivated. Along with Odrick, Paul Soliai is coming off of the best season of his career. Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, and Tony McDaniel are also entering the 2011 season healthy.

    While Miami has a very young defense, they have veteran talent sprinkled throughout that is sure to warrant success in 2011.

    When you hear the name Cameron Wake, it is pretty self explanatory what kind of impact he will have. Miami will need another player to step up in pass rushing efforts since Wake will be getting a ton of attention from blockers.

    The big challenge facing Miami in week 1 against New England is getting pressure on Tom Brady. Brady had trouble against the Detroit Lions in the preseason because his pocket was being disrupted.

    Apart from the obvious fact that scoring more points than the opponent equals a win, Miami will have a very good chance of winning if Tom Brady is sacked and knocked down often.

New England's Offense

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    You can't mention the New England Patriots without mentioning Tom Brady. Not only is Brady the best quarterback in the NFL, he is all but guaranteed a Hall of Fame spot when he retires.

    Though it's hard to believe, New England's offense got better in the offseason. The addition of Chad Ochocinco gives Tom Brady a high-caliber receiver that will take focus away from the other receivers.

    Not only will Ochocinco provide big plays, his presence alone makes guys like Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski better.

    The Patriots' offense is, without a doubt, a pass-first offense. However, they still do an efficient job of mixing the run throughout. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead all do a great job of making the most of the carries they get.

    There have been a lot of questions about the Patriots' offensive line, especially after the struggle they had against the Lions front-four.

    If New England gives Brady ample time to throw, Miami does not have a chance in this game. Brady will beat any team if he is able to drop back without worry.

    Sebastian Vollmer, the Patriots starting right tackle, may be unable to play on Monday Night. That means that rookie Nate Solder could get the nod. If Solder is the starter, look for Miami to attack him early and often in attempt to get pressure on Brady.

    It is inevitable that New England will score points. However, if Miami can hold them to field goals instead of touchdowns on several drives, the Dolphins could shock the NFL world and win this game.

    That, however, is easier said than done.

New England's Defense

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    The Patriots' defense is suspect at best. While most teams would be in trouble with a suspect defense, the offense normally scores enough points to win no matter how the defense plays.

    That's not to say that the Patriots are lacking talent on the defensive side of the ball. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo will make an impact during any game. The Patriots also took a risk on Albert Haynesworth, and it has yet to be seen whether that addition will pay off.

    The Patriots made a very surprising move recently, cutting Brandon Meriweather. Meriweather was a member of the past two Pro Bowl teams. In a Patriots defense with some issues in the secondary, this move could hurt them even more.

    New England also has some issues rushing the passer. There is no clear-cut, pass-rush specialist on the Patriots roster.

    If they can make a collective effort rushing the passer, they will have success. The Patriots struggled with that task last season, and the defensive depth chart didn't improve much.

    Miami's offense will likely score some points against the Patriots. New England doesn't have much to work with before the game, as Miami's offense is relatively unknown at this point.

    Don't be surprised if Miami takes shots early and often to try to get out to a big lead early. If they can keep the momentum on their side, New England will struggle to keep up.

    Miami will either surprise people with the potency of their new offense, or disappoint people because not much has changed. For Miami to score enough points to beat New England, they will have to get the ball into the hands of Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall.

    There is no doubt that the Patriots game plan will focus on Bush and Marshall.

Fantasy Impact

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    Week 1 will either make or break your fantasy roster. I like most offensive players in this game due to the fact that Miami is going against an average to below average Patriots defense, and New England always has success on the offensive side of the ball.

    In 12-team leagues, Chad Henne could put up decent numbers in a flex position, while Tom Brady should start in any and every league.

    Chad Ochocinco should also have some success, though he could have some trouble against Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.

    Both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski should make a decent impact, as both have had success against Miami before. Miami struggled last season keeping tight ends in check.

    Unless you need an extra player on a flex position, Reggie Bush should sit on your bench until he proves that he will get a good amount of touches and make plays with those touches.

    Daniel Thomas didn't practice on Thursday, which is why Miami re-signed Larry Johnson. Thomas should also sit on your bench.

    In PPR (points per reception) leagues, Davone Bess should do well as a third or fourth option. Bess caught over 70 passes last season as a slot receiver, and always plays well against the Patriots. Wes Welker is also an asset in PPR leagues.

    Brandon Marshall is a must-start. Miami will go out of its way to get Marshall the ball, which could bode well for both the Dolphins and fantasy owners. Marshall is a mid-round pick in most fantasy leagues, and if Henne has a better season in a new offense, Marshall will put up a lot of points this season.

    I wouldn't expect much from the Patriots running backs. They won't get a ton of touches, although they could have success running near the goal line.

    I also wouldn't start Anthony Fasano until otherwise noted. He just isn't a good option as a fantasy tight end.

    Long story short, you should start Brady, Marshall, Welker and Ochocinco.

    You should consider starting Davone Bess, Aaron Hernandez, Reggie Bush, Chad Henne and Rob Gronkowski.

    You should sit Antony Fasano, Patriots running backs, and Daniel Thomas.

Game Prediction

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    This game is a MUST win for the Dolphins. This is Miami's opportunity to earn respect from the league on Monday Night Football.

    It could really go either way, considering all of the different variables there are to work with.

    Is Chad Henne really improved? Can Miami's defense have success against the Patriots offense? Will New England have a pass rush? Can New England adequately cover Brandon Marshall? 

    This game will be close, and I wouldn't be surprised to see both teams score 20+ points.

    Miami is highly motivated and the new offensive scheme in place will help Chad Henne improve.

    It has yet to be seen how much Henne will improve under this new scheme, but it could surprise a lot of NFL fans.

    Also consider this, Miami went 7-9 last season. They come into 2011 with an improved defense and a better offensive scheme. They lost several close games last season, which would have meant a better record. At the end of the day, a win is a win no matter the point differential.

    Although this game will feature a lot of scoring, defense will tell the outcome in this game.

    With Miami potentially having a top-5 unit, that could bode well for them on Monday Night.

    Prediction:

    Dolphins over the Patriots 28-27 in a very close contest.

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