Are the Patriots 21 points better than the Miami Dolphins? Yes. However, that doesn’t mean the Pats will win by three TDs Sunday in Miami. The reality is, when playing in Miami all bets are off. And the fact that this is the season opener adds to the Patriots' already substantial challenge.
Now before you start yelling, “There ya go Tanguay -- you jerk -- trying to be like Felga again,” hear me out.
I fully expect the Pats to win on Sunday and at times to look downright dominant. But this is the first game for a New England team that has undergone changes in two key places: The secondary and the offensive line.
Darrelle Revis is freaking awesome. We know that. But he's never played a full regular-season game in this system. Am I worried about Revis’s ability? Of course not. But he's in a new system with new modes of communication.
My partner on Patriots Wednesday Live, ex-New England great Troy Brown, says the Pats' secondary must have clear communication as they face the up-tempo offense the Dolphins installed in the offseason. It's unfair to expect this secondary, with a new corner, to make all the correct calls on Sunday.
The offensive line was a concern before Logan Mankins was traded, and with the talk of Sebastian Vollmer moving to guard you have to wonder about this group. Bill Belichick referred to the season opener as the unknown. This is what he was talking about. It's unfair to say this line will be worse without Mankins, but we just don’t know how well they'll come together, especially in the first game.
The officials are another factor. Will it be Flag-o-mania, or will they dial back the point of emphasis on defensive clutching and grabbing? If the Pats struggle at all against the Dolphins up-tempo offense, they may be prone to committing penalties. We shall see.
Then there are the Dolphins themselves. Oh, that’s right; the Patriots won't be the only team on the field on Sunday. The Pats lost there last year and Tom Brady is 6-6 in Miami. Bill Lazor, a quarterback coach under Chip Kelly, has brought the Eagles' up-tempo offense to South Beach. The Patriots weren't able to get tape on the Dolphins' execution of their new style during the preseason because they didn’t run it much. Again, to Belichick’s point: We are talking the unknown here. Of course, since the Dolphins don't have Nick Foles at quarterback, Shady McCoy in the backfield or DeSean Jackson out wide, this could blow up in the Dolphins face this Sunday. Who knows?
What I do know is the Patriots are the more talented team and therefore should weather any pitfalls, bad calls or unexpected bad luck and win on Sunday. Just don’t be surprised if the victory margin is less than 21 points.