When the Dolphins run: It’s been a struggle for the Dolphins’ run game this season, as one of eight teams averaging less than 100 yards per game. But there is some hope as veteran Matt Breida, who has 168 yards in nine games this season, will return this week and may play a lead role. Breida returns after a two-week absence on the COVID-19 list, which leading rusher Myles Gaskin is currently on. Miami’s execution needs to improve so its league-worst 3.6 yards per carry also improves. Edge: Patriots.
When the Patriots run: New England has the NFL’s fifth-best rushing attack, averaging 147.5 yards per game thanks to quarterback Cam Newton’s size and strength to the tune of 451 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns this season. Second-year back Damien Harris has led the way with 681 yards on 5.0 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. The Dolphins’ run defense, the team’s only weakness defensively, hopes to respond after giving up 217 yards to New England in the opener. Edge: Patriots.
When the Dolphins pass: Tua Tagovailoa seems to be finding a groove, throwing for career highs in each of the last two weeks against the Cincinnati Bengals (296) and Kansas City Chiefs (316). Tagovailoa will face Bill Belichick’s defense for the first time in his career, but the positive is he faces a similar defensive scheme in practice all throughout his rookie season. Tagovailoa may have his struggles, especially if DeVante Parker (hamstring) or Mike Gesicki (shoulder) do not play. But his talent should shine through like it did during the Chiefs game when his fourth-quarter comeback ultimately fell short. Edge: Dolphins.
When the Patriots pass: Patriots quarterback Cam Newton hasn’t lived up to Tom Brady’s prowess this season. His 46.7 total quarterback rating by ESPN ranks 29th among all NFL quarterbacks, and he has thrown just five touchdown passes this season while completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,172 yards. New England’s offense has also been limited due to a lack of playmakers at receiver with Julian Edelman set to potentially return after missing seven games this season. Miami’s defense needs to turn run-happy offense into a pass-happy one. Edge: Dolphins.
Special teams: The Dolphins reliable special teams unit gave up a punt return touchdown while kicker Jason Sanders missed just his second field goal of the season against the Chiefs. The 10-point swing hurt Miami’s comeback effort last week, as the number of injuries the Dolphins sustained led to a trickle-down effect on special teams depth. Miami has to keep an eye on Patriots punt returner Gunner Olszewski, who scored a 70-yard return against the Chargers two weeks ago and had another called back due to penalty this season. But expect Miami to rebound against New England. Edge: Dolphins.
Intangibles: The Patriots’ franchise hasn’t been the same since Brian Flores and the Dolphins won the season finale at New England last year. The loss lingered into an early exit in the playoffs last season, and Tom Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay. And the win catapulted Miami’s rebuilding effort, which has turned into a 8-5 start and a potential playoff berth this season. Typically, it’s the Dolphins trying to play spoiler alert for the Patriots during these late season matchups. Now, it’s the Patriots’ turn. But Miami has home-field advantage on its side with New England wining just two of the matchups at Hard Rock Stadium since 2013. Edge: Dolphins.
Prediction: Dolphins 27, Patriots 17