There’s a rolling inevitability about the Patriots’ annual dominance of their division. Despite the best efforts of the Jets, Bills and Sunday’s opposing Dolphins, the gap is as wide as ever. They’ve won the division 10 of the last 11 years. The one they didn’t in 2008? Quarterback Tom Brady went down in the opener with a season-ending injury. So what’s to stop them rolling everyone over again in 2014?
A few people in Miami might have an idea.
New England -222
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Sunday’s game between the two AFC East teams is going to set down a marker for what we can expect all year. Both have something to prove. New England don’t want to skip a beat, they have to start as they intend to carry on; by pummelling their divisional rivals. For them, it’s all about staying on top. In Miami, there’s a different motivator. They want to usurp a giant.
So how close are they? Well, they’re better than 12 months ago. In Ryan Tannehill they have a solid young quarterback who’s shown flashes of next-level ability, while not having a huge amount to work with. They’ve gone out and strengthened at the skill positions, spending a lot of money at wide receiver and bringing in Knowshon Moreno at running back to compete with Lamar Miller, hoping to generate a formidable ground game.
But most crucially, they have completely redesigned the offensive line.
Last year the Dolphins suffered through a number of weeks of embarrassing media coverage as the line crumbled, with stories emerging of locker room bullying and a poisonous atmosphere. There’s been player and staff turnover as they look to consign the whole episode to history, and they come out the other side with the best free agent pickup of the year: Branden Albert.
Premier left tackles are hard to come by, and the former Chief is given the responsibility of doing what the whole offensive line couldn’t do last year – keep Ryan Tannehill upright. The upgrade on Tannehill’s blind side suddenly means he has the time to let plays develop, especially to downfield threat Mike Wallace. It’s a key piece of the offensive jigsaw and signals their intent to challenge the Patriots in the division for the first time since 2008.
At Foxborough the intention is to stay on top of the pile, and they too spent the offseason adding to the local landscape as Revis Island makes its way back to the North East of America. After an injury decimated 2013 which still saw them reach the AFC Championship game, the Patriots have undergone a bit of reconstructive surgery on their defense, adding free agent cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to go with already highly rated youngsters Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard. The result is one of the best pass coverage units in the league, relieving the pressure on the ageing Vince Wilfork, and realigning the defense to cope with the receiver friendly, pass heavy offenses they’re going to be dealing with.
And some might say it’s about time. For all the Patriots’ successes in recent years, it’s all been done on the arm of Tom Brady, while the defense has often gone neglected, filled with random bodies off the streets, rugby players, undrafted free agents and scrubs. Now there’s balance. Now there’s expectation not just on Brady and Gronkowski to put up numbers, but on the young, fast and talented D to stop the other team putting them up too. It’s the most balanced offering the Patriots have produced since the All-World beating 2007 side that came just one minute away from a perfect season.
And that’s what makes Sunday’s game so enticing. The Patriots, refreshed from injury and in the sunset years of their superstar quarterback, know they have to win now and have crafted a side fine tuned to do it. The Dolphins, upstarts with little to lose and a lot of talented youth, have rebuilt their offense to compete for the first time in years.
They’re the only two teams with a shot in the AFC East. The only game in town. And come Sunday night the pieces will have fallen into place. Will the all-stars have lived up to the expectation? Or will the underdogs have proved they can hang? The fruits of months of rebuilding will be on show this weekend – and they’ll let us know exactly what these two teams are made of.
Betting Instinct tip – Last year the Patriots won this fixture 27-17 at Gillette Stadium, but Miami have strengthened. New England to win by 1-6 points is +350 with Intertops.eu.