Dolphins vs. Patriots 2013 game preview: AFC East showdown in the wings

Jim Rogash

In Week 8, these two teams have the first of two potentially season-altering games against one another.

The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots are set for an AFC East clash on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

For both of these teams, this game could really swing how the season shakes out. At 5-2, New England is on top of the division but has yet to play well almost all year. The Patriots have managed to keep winning, but almost with a feeling of it being on borrowed time.

As for the 3-3 Dolphins, losers of three consecutive games, the tide needs to start turning. Miami has struggled to get back on track since looking so good in September, and winning a contest like this could vault them back into a high level of confidence.

Meet the Dolphins

Miami was expected to come out and compete for a playoff spot this season, and that is exactly what it is doing at the moment. The Dolphins are only a half-game out of the sixth and final playoff seed in the AFC, trailing the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets for that spot. The good news? Miami plays both of those teams as the year goes on.

Right now, the biggest problem for head coach Joe Philbin is unquestionably his offensive line. The Dolphins went out and acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie this week from the Baltimore Ravens, allowing the team to slide Jonathan Martin over to right tackle. Philbin has to be praying this helps, after watching Ryan Tannehill get sacked 31 times in six games.

On the bright side, a big positive has been the receiving core. Wide receivers Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson each have more than 300 yards, while tight end Charles Clay also has chipped in with 304. Once the biggest weakness of the offense, the receivers has become a huge strength for Tannehill, who is spreading the ball around with consistency.

Meet the Patriots

This year has been all about Tom Brady and the complete lack of help around him on offense. Brady, who routinely completes around or above 65 percent of his passes, is at 55.4 percent right now. Without question, much of this number is because of the youth at receiver with Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson being the second and third-most targeted players respectively.

Yet, the Patriots are still finding ways to win and move the ball. Julian Edelman is having a very nice season with 46 catches for 455 yards. Edelman is certainly no Wes Welker, but he has done an admirable job in filling in for the constantly injured Danny Amendola.

Defensively, New England has been a mash unit. Both nose tackle Vince Wilfork and middle linebacker Jerod Mayo are out for the year, leaving a huge hole up the middle for opponents to run at. The Patriots' best cornerback, Aqib Talib, is also on the shelf with a hip injury. Chandler Jones has enjoyed a very nice campaign, amassing 6.5 sacks.

Local take: Miami

Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider writes about why the Dolphins acquired McKinnie:

Miami lost Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills after starting right tackle Tyson Clabo gave up two sacks on the final two possessions by the Dolphins.  The second sack included a fumble by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, which set up the Bills in field goal range.  That field goal put the Bills up 23-21, which turned out to be the final score.

Local take: New England

Over at Pats Pulpit, Kevin O'Conner talks about the upside of defensive end Andre Carter, who the Patriots signed this week after letting him walk after the 2011 season:

Even though Carter wasn't a captain in 2011, he did establish himself as a veteran presence on the team. A player with his amount of experience can only help a roster, and it could also assist in some of the young player's development over the course of the year.

Follow the fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, The Phinsider and Pats Pulpit, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@thephinsider

@TonySantorsa

Prediction

New England has a ton of injuries right now, but it is hard to see them playing poorly inside the division in consecutive weeks. The Patriots are almost unbeatable at home and the Dolphins are reeling right now with a sieve of an offensive line. Tannehill should be able to throw the football with some authority against the Pats, provided he is upright. Still, Brady and the boys are likely too much for a Miami squad headed in the wrong direction.

Pick: New England 31, Miami 20

Odds

The Patriots are favored by seven points at home over the Dolphins, according to Oddsshark.com.

Next week

Miami hosts the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night while New England is at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

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