I'm not a homer. You kind people who read this blog daily know you are more likely to get a scathing review of the Dolphins in this space as you are a cheerleading attaboy.
That's just how things are when people don't perform.
That's just how things are when the last two seasons have brought twin 7-9 records and last year's homestand yielded seven failures in eight tries. Stuff like that makes me write angry.
Having said that, I'm picking the Dolphins to beat the Patriots Monday night.
I made my prediction on The Herald's Pigskin Challenge yesterday evening. I also will make the same prediction in The Herald's Monday print edition. And I'm saying it here as well, obviously.
I'm saying it here because this is the only venue for me to explain the odd pick. (It's odd considering no other Herald "expert" has picked the Dolphins at this stage and everyone and their mother nationally thinks the Dolphins are, how to put this delicately, crap).
Make no mistake, the Dolphins have issues. I think the right side of their offensive line is like a dam that has tons of little cracks, with the question being when, not if, those cracks will spring a leak. I think running Reggie Bush between the tackles is a joke. I think the secondary had better start working on catching interceptions on the JUGS machine every day after practice because I have not seen them do it as a unit even once this training camp. I think anyone who is certain Chad Henne will play well this season is stupid because that is impossible to know. I think Miami has zero depth at tight end. I think Miami's offense needs either Clyde Gates or Marlon Moore to be good enough to win that second receiver job because no one else is really going to pose a legit deep threat otherwise.
So I see the flaws in the Dolphins. And those are just off the top of my head.
But guess what?
The Patriots have flaws, too.
When I look at the Patriots, I see a well-coached team with the best quarterback in the NFL the last decade. That, in a nutshell, is the reason the Patriots have been so good for such a long time. But that, in a nutshell, is also the reason the Patriots haven't won a playoff game since January 2008 and, indeed, have lost three consecutive postseason games they were favored to win.
That team is mostly about Tom Brady.
The defense? Good, not great.
The receivers corps? If you don't include the tight ends, they're below average. With the tight ends, they're good.
The running backs? Ordinary.
The offensive line? Check the Detroit Lions preseason game. Check the recent addition of Brian Waters. Tell me what that says.
The Patriots maximize their potential. The Dolphins haven't. The Patriots have a franchise QB. The Dolphins haven't had one since 1998.
That, however, doesn't answer why I'm picking the Dolphins. This will:
I recently spoke with two people who talk to Bill Belichick with some frequency. They tell me Belichick is not really thrilled with his team these days.
They point to the fact the Patriots have been something of a turnstile of late, bringing in new players, jettisoning players like Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, whom most believed had had spots on the roster nailed down.
The comings and goings are a sign of dissatisfaction. Belichick has a plan and wants personnel to fit that plan, and apparently he is still stirring the mix to try to get the recipe just right. And he may well do that. But it will be hard for him to get it right this early.
So the Patriots are not last year's 14-win good. And they're not as good today as they might be a month or two from now. The Dolphins are catching them at the right time. So there's that.
Then I look at the players the Patriots added as their prized offseason additions. Albert Haynesworth? He practiced, what, a grand total of two weeks? And he's ready for the regular season? The man who takes every third play off is ready for a game in Miami's humidity?
I am skeptical.
The Patriots expect to go with a pressure-oriented defense this year. Quick, tell me what pressure-oriented defensive player have they added? Yes, Vince Wilfork is a beast. But he's been there.
Rob Ninkovich again? He's Belichick's latter day Lawrence Taylor? To play pressure defense you have to, well, create pressure. That means they have to find an elite pass rusher or do it as the Jets do -- with schemes. You do it with schemes, you better have great cornerbacks and disciplind safeties. We'll see about that.
On offense the Patriots like their rookie running backs. They can also point to Chad Ocho Cinco as a signature acquisition.
Ocho Cinco brings a great personality to Boston. Of course he does, he's from Miami. And this game he's coming home to play. All wonderful. All cool. And all worthless when the kickoff comes.
Ocho Cinco is still getting acclimated in New England. He is a possession receiver and the Patriots are hoping he can be more than that. I don't see it. Yes, Brady will make him look better than he looked in Cincinnati. Brady would make me look like a better receiver than I typically look in front of a Whopper. But that doesn't mean the Patriots found a 2007 Randy Moss.
"Chad’s been here all of training camp," Belichick said Wednesday. "He hasn’t missed any practice time. He's worked hard and he's spent a lot of time before and after practice working with our quarterbacks and with our receivers and receivers coach and so forth, so I think he’s pretty well versed in what we’re doing offensively. He hasn’t had as much game experience doing it as other players who have been here longer, but that’s the way it is on every team with certain players. I think he’s doing fine."
Look, the Patriots are going to be a good team. Please don't misunderstand. I think they'll eventually win the AFC East. But they've got miles to go and the folks I'm talking to say Belichick knows this and is working hard to correct the gap between what he's got now and what he wants.
The Dolphins, by the way, also haven't arrived. But they have advantages working on their behalf this game.
They have been pointing toward this game all offseason. If Brian Daboll doesn't have three or four surprise plays for New England, I'd be disappointed and so should you. Daboll, by the way, authored the offensive game plan last year that helped the Browns beat the Patriots.
The same holds true for Mike Nolan. He knows it is time for his defense to take the next step. The Dolphins had a good defense last year. Next up, this unit has to be dominant. The way to do that is turn Brady into a tormented soul who wishes he was back dancing in Rio instead of laying on the field at Sun Life.
Enter Cameron Wake. Enter some scheme work to get Jason Taylor loose. Enter a more seasoned Koa Misi. They have to get after Brady to make this thing work. If they fail, my prediction is worthless. (I know, it's probably worthless anyway).
The only way to beat the Patriots is to beat Brady. Hit him. Sack him. Frustrate him. You beat the Patriots.
I think the Dolphins can win the battle up front against the New England offensive line, tight ends and backs. They must win or else.
None of this speaks to the idea that Reggie Bush presents issues for the Patriots. They don't have an exceedingly fast defense. What are they going to do when the Dolphins come out in base offensive personnel, they respond with their base defense, and then Bush shifts out of the backfield and into the slot?
Who is going to check him? A linebacker? Really?
A safety and a backer? And now who's doubling Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess?
Oh, you can't double Bush, Marshall and Bess. Oh, I get it. Ten catches for Davone Bess, fantasy geeks. With five of them going for first downs.
I've said enough.
I know the Dolphins won't be in New England's class by the end of this season. Belichick is too good. Brady is way, way, way too good. Everyone else will fall in line or get shown the door. The culture there breeds success.
But the culture takes time to germinate every season. It needs breeding time. The Pats haven't had that time. And that is a great equalizer.
The Dolphins will grind. They'll use what little weather advantage they have remaining after ownership and the schedule maker chopped them off at the knees with a night game. They have the advantage of unveiling a new offense.
And Miami is desperate, or should be. These guys have a circle-the-wagon mentality going on right now. They're hungry. That means something.
For right now it means I'm picking the Dolphins in this one.
(By the way, this is a prediction. I've been known to be wrong. If I am, indeed, wrong, get over it! Also, this morning a radio station in Boston has turned me into the biggest villian since the Boston strangler. Of course, they didn't speak with me. Nice journalism, boys.)
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