Matchup: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
When: Sunday, September 12, 2021; 4:25 EDT/3:25 CDT/9:25 BST
Where: Gilette Stadium; Foxborough, Massachusetts
How to Watch: CBS or NFL Game Pass (NFL Game Pass live games are £147.99/season or £14.99/week in UK with Pro subscription) **NFL Game Pass does not offer live games in US markets, only full games after played for $100/season**
Point Spread: Patriots are a 3 point favorite over Dolphins
Miami Dolphins Head Coach: Brian Flores (15-17 record) Miami Dolphins Starting QB: Tua Tagovailoa (6-3 record, 1814 yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs) 1-0 vs. Patriots
New England Head Coach: Bill Belichick (280-136 record) New England Starting QB: Mac Jones (rookie, no NFL experience)
When Cam Newton was released from the New England Patriots in favor of former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback, Mac Jones, the Miami Dolphins versus the New England Patriots game became the most anticipated NFL season opener this season. Mac Jones was the backup quarterback of former Alabama teammate Tua Tagovailoa, the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback. The last time that two former Alabama quarterbacks faced each other in the NFL was in 1983 when New York Jets’ Richard Todd faced New Orleans Saints’ Kenny Stabler with the Jets getting the 31-28 victory over the Saints.
How Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa differ: There isn’t much difference with Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa except for NFL experience and Jones throws the ball right handed and Tua throws the ball left handed. For NFL experience, Mac Jones has no regular season NFL experience. This is Jones’ rookie season. Tua only has one season of NFL experience as a 6-3 starter which includes a victory over the Patriots as his only start against the Patriots.
How Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa are similar: For size comparison, with the exception of two inches, Mac and Tua are similar. Jones is only taller than Tagovailoa but not bigger. Jones is 6’3″ and weighs 217 pounds while Tagovailoa is 6’1″ and weighs the same 217 pounds. Both Jones and Tagovailoa were Heisman candidates in college. While Tua Tagovailoa holds the career record for being the most efficient quarterback in the history of college football with a 199.4 rating, Jones holds the single season record for being the most efficient quarterback in the history of college football with a 203.1 rating.
It must be noted however, when Tua was injured with his hip injury in 2019, which ended his college career, he had a 206.9 rating at that point in the season. Tua did not qualify for the single season record because he didn’t have enough attempts since he didn’t play the full season. It also must be noted that Tua Tagovailoa beat Mac Jones out in the Elite-11 competition during high school, winning the Elite-11 MVP; and Tua beat Mac Jones out in college, winning the starting job over Jones.
Tua and Jones both did well in preseason. Tua was 24 for 34 with 282 passing yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Jones was 36 for 52 with 388 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions.
Key Miami Dolphins Players: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Myles Gaskin, Jason Sanders, Xavien Howard, Emmanuel Ogbah (Will Fuller is not listed for this game due to suspension).(Honorable Mentions: Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins)
Unlike the 2020 season, Tua Tagovailoa will be entering his second season as an experienced and healthy starting quarterback in the NFL. Considering how much the circumstances around him are different than his rookie season, the leap forward he’s expecting to take in 2021 with his quarterback play should be a significant one. Last season in his only start against the Patriots, playing at only 60% health, Tagovailoa got the victory. Tagovailoa will definitely be poised to play even better this season against the Patriots.
If Bill Belichick is the good coach that he is then he knows if his team underestimates Tua Tagovailoa the way the media has this offseason then it will become Tua’s biggest strength, which will burn the Patriots in the end. An interesting fact is that during Tua’s college career he only lost two games. Those two losses came after he was recovering from tight rope surgeries from high ankle sprain injuries less or a little over than a month from the time of play. They were losses against Trevor Lawrence and Clemson and Joe Burrow and LSU.
When Tua had recovered from his first tight rope surgery in 2018, entering the 2019 season at 100% health, Tagovailoa had 1,718 yards, 23 touchdowns, 0 interceptions in his first five games of that college season. Tagovailoa is entering the 2021 NFL season at 100% health, something he never was during the 2020 season. Tua became the first quarterback in the NFL to eliminate the Patriots from the playoffs since 2008 during his 2020 victory over the Patriots. If Tua returns to his Alabama form at 100% health, he should be able to have a big game with multiple touchdown passes along with high passing yardage in Sunday’s game.
Mike Gesicki had his best season as a tight end in 2020 with 703 receiving yards, which was the fourth best among tight ends in the NFL. Gesicki averaged 13.3 yards per reception in 2020 and if he is targeted more than last year’s 85 targets he has the potential to have a 1,000 receiving yard season, placing him in the ranks among the best tight ends in the NFL. Gesicki should be a big contributor during the season opener.
Devante Parker missed two games last season due to injury causing him to miss a 1,000 receiving yard season by 207 yards. Parker will be a contributor to the game but may not be the biggest playmaker.
Miami Dolphins’ 6th overall 2021 NFL draft pick, Jaylen Waddle should get a significant amount of playing time, especially with Will Fuller being absent from game one. Waddle should get some return duty in game one and those returns may prove to be an important part of the game against the Patriots. His receptions will also be a sight to watch as he will probably be one of the most explosive rookies during the 2021 season with one of the best juke moves in the NFL. Before his injury in his 2020 college season, Waddle was on a pace to have an incredible record setting 2,000 yard receiving season, a feat only did once in the history of college football.
Myles Gaskin’s run game should increase significantly in 2021. Gaskin is now RB1 and is positioned to get his first 1,000 all purpose yards this season after just missing 1,000 all purpose yards by 28 yards in rushing and receiving in 2020. Expect Gaskin to get a significant amount of carries against the Patriots.
Jason Sanders will be a big part of the Dolphins this season with his kicking game. Sanders has already established himself as being one of the best and most accurate kickers in the NFL with a 92.3% kicking percentage in 2020, which was better than Justin Tucker’s, Will Lutz’s, Dan Bailey’s, and Greg Zuerlein’s 2020 percentages. With a career long field goal of 56 yards in 2020, expect when called upon against the Patriots for Sanders to come through.
For the defensive side of the ball, after finally getting the contract fiasco worked out, two-time NFL interception leader, cornerback Xavien Howard will be returning for the Dolphins. He will be a key in the secondary to stopping Mac Jones.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah led the Dolphins last season with 9 sacks and had 42 tackles. If Ogbah’s success continues in 2021 expect him to have a big year and a big part in the season opener against the Patriots.
Key New England Patriots Players: Mac Jones, Nelson Agholor ?, Hunter Henry, Jakobi Meyers, Damien Harris, J.C. Jackson, Kyle Van Noy, Christian Barmore (Honorable Mentions: Dont’a Hightower and Kendrick Bourne)
Even though Mac Jones has no NFL experience, he is now expected to be one of the better NFL rookie quarterbacks in the league this season after an outstanding preseason performance. Statistically, Jones was the best quarterback in college football during 2020, leading the Alabama Crimson Tide to a National Championship as a Heisman candidate. Mac Jones’ 2021 offseason training camp and preseason performance was so impressive to the Patriots staff that he won the starting job over former NFL MVP Cam Newton, whom the Patriots released. Out of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round this season, Mac Jones had the highest PFF grade at 92.2.
Nelson Agholor just missed his first 1,000 receiving yard season by 104 yards in 2020 and was tied for 8th in the NFL with 8 receiving touchdowns. Agholor was not present in Thursday’s practice due to an ankle injury and his status for the season opener is questionable at this point. If Agholar plays in Sunday’s game, expect Jones to go to Agholor a lot in the season opener against the Dolphins.
Hunter Henry isn’t the best tight end in the league, but his 613 receiving yards was the 12th best among tight ends in the NFL in 2020. Expect Jones going to Henry to be another big part of the Patriots play calling in the season opener.
Jakobi Meyers led the New England Patriots in receiving yards in 2020 with 729 receiving yards in 81 targets. Expect Meyers to be a contributor in the game against the Dolphins.
Now that Sony Michel is no longer with the Patriots, Damien Harris, whom led the Patriots with 691 yards with 137 attempts in 2020 is RB1. Given enough rushing attempts in 2021, Harris should become a 1,000 yard rusher. Damien Harris should play a significant role in the season opener.
While many Dolphins fans have placed their focus on cornerback Stephon Gilmore not playing in the season opener, nobody should sleep on J.C. Jackson. Among interception leaders in 2020, Jackson was second in the NFL with 9 INTs, just one less than Xavien Howard’s NFL leading total. Those 9 interceptions were 3 more than Gilmore has ever had in a season. He also recovered 3 fumbles in 2020 and defended 14 passes. If Tua Tagovailoa throws an interception against the Patriots, the odds that the interceptor is J.C. Jackson are just as high as it would be for Xavien Howard being the interceptor if Mac Jones throws an interception.
Dolphins fans are hoping that former Dolphins linebacker Kyle Van Noy being resigned by his former New England team will not come back to haunt the Dolphins. For the Dolphins in 2020, Van Noy had 6 sacks and 69 tackles with 3 of those sacks being in one game against the Bengals. Van Noy also had 8 tackles in the game against the Bengals, which five of the tackles were for losses. The former defensive player of the week and two time Super Bowl champion, Van Noy will definitely be part of the pass rushes against Tua Tagovailoa.
Christian Barmore is probably one of the most underrated rookie defensive linemen in the 2021 draft. Barmore was tied for 5th in college football with 8 sacks during his 2020 college season. He was named Defensive MVP of the College National Championship game and was a big defensive contributor to Alabama’s undefeated 2020 National Championship season. Just like Van Noy, expect Barmore to be part of the pass rushes against his former teammate, Tua Tagovailoa once he enters the game.
Miami Dolphins Strength: Dolphins receiving corps and Dolphins defense. The Miami Dolphins receiving corps is poised to become one of the best receiving corps behind the accuracy of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during the 2021 season. Expect explosive receiving plays against the Patriots in the season opener.
Xavien Howard leads the defense with his 2020 NFL leading 10 interceptions. The Dolphins also have a reliable front led by Emmanuel Ogbah. If the Dolphins want to avoid a shootout between Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa, then the strong defense that will be on display against the Patriots will need to come through.
Miami Dolphins Weakness: Dolphins offensive line. The Dolphins offensive line has been a question mark and will continue to be a question mark until the line can prove itself to be better than it has been. If the Dolphins O-Line fail to get the job done against a strong Patriots defensive front, it may not be a good day for Tua.
New England Patriots Strength: The Patriots Defense. The Patriots had one of the worst pass rushes in 2020 but that should improve significantly with the addition of Van Noy, Hightower’s return, and the drafting of Barmore. With the exception of the 2020 season, the Patriots have built around its team a strong defense for years. Led by veteran Dont’a Hightower and Patriots interception leader, J.C. Jackson, the Patriots will have their defense on display against the Dolphins this Sunday.
New England Patriots Weakness: Inexperience and injuries. The Patriots quarterback, Mac Jones and kicker, Quinn Nordin are both rookies. Only time will tell if the inexperience among two of the most important positions on the team will be a factor for the season opener. The Patriots will be missing some key players Sunday due to injuries. Stephon Gilmore is on the PUP list and N’Keal Harry and Anfernee Jennings is on the injured reserve. Nelson Agholar and Jalen Mills are questionable for Sunday’s game.
Summary: The Miami Dolphins versus New England Patriots season opener will be a tough matchup for both teams. Both teams will bring their best game to the field. If there is not a significant lead by either team, this game may come down to either who has the ball last or a field goal. If so, it will be left up to coaching. And this game is definitely a game between teacher and student.
Six time Super Bowl champion, Bill Belichick will be facing his former assistant, Brian Flores, who helped Belichick with 3 of those Super Bowl Championships. During the 2020 season, the two coaches split victories between each other during their two meetings. Just as it will be a game between student and teacher among coaches, it will also be a game between student and teacher among quarterbacks. Mac Jones said, “learning from him was great, obviously,” as he was speaking from being Tua’s backup at Alabama.
Despite the point spread and Vegas odds, a healthy Tua with a loaded receiving corps stacked with a talented defense should have the edge to claim another victory over the New England Patriots. The anticipation placed on the season opener between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots should definitely live up to its hype. Game Day is close.