Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots: 3 Matchups to Watch

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Point Spread:  Patriots favored by 8.5 points
Over/Under:  51 points
Location:  Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

The New England Patriots (6-0) are set to host the Miami Dolphins (3-3) tonight in a Thursday Night Football matchup between two AFC East rivals. Most experts consider the Patriots be heavy favorites in this game, and rightfully so. Since the 2003 season, the Dolphins are the only team other than the Patriots to have claimed an AFC East crown, doing so in 2008.

This past offseason, Miami went on a spending spree geared toward knocking New England off of their AFC East throne. After a 1-3 start to the season, team owner Stephen Ross decided to fire head coach Joe Philbin, and it looked like their hefty offseason financial investments were all for naught. Tight ends coach Dan Campbell was chosen to be the team’s interim head coach, and after winning his first two games on the job, the 39-year-old has the Dolphins believing they are still capable of accomplishing big things in 2015. And their first real test will be tonight against Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots.

Speaking of Brady, the 38-year-old quarterback has played well enough up to this point in the season to be considered one of the top two MVP candidates in the league. With Bill Belichick roaming the sidelines, and Brady playing some of the best football of his record-breaking career, the Patriots will be extremely difficult for any team in the league to beat, let alone a team that is just now starting to find its way. Nevertheless, the fact that each team has had only three full days to prepare for this game may be enough of a neutralizing factor to give the Dolphins a fighting chance at pulling off an improbable road upset tonight. With that being said, here is a look at three key matchups that will play a major role in deciding the outcome of this game.

1.  Patriots’ offensive line vs. Dolphins’ defensive line

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

For the Dolphins to have any kind of a chance at upsetting the Patriots tonight they are going to need a strong performance from their defensive line. At full-strength, the Patriots would have had their hands full trying to block the defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake (pictured above) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Without left tackle Nate Solder in the lineup, that task will be even more difficult.

The first step in the Dolphins having a chance at pulling off an improbable upset would be to have their defensive line control the line of scrimmage. If the Patriots’ offensive line can neutralize the Dolphins’ defensive line this game will likely be a blowout.

2.  Rob Gronkowski vs. Reshad Jones

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski (pictured above) is a matchup nightmare for pretty much every opposing team in the league. Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell has said that the Dolphins will use multiple players in their attempt to contain Gronkowski tonight. However, at this point, all signs point toward Reshad Jones, a 6-foot-1, 218-pound safety, being Miami’s best option to deal with this unenviable assignment. All said, it will be a long night for the Dolphins if Jones allows Gronkowski to take over the game.

3.  Lamar Miller vs. Patriots’ defensive front seven

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Since Campbell took over as Miami’s head coach, Miller has seen a substantial increase in his workload, and the results have been unmistakable. Over the last two weeks, the 24-year-old running back has rushed for 288 yards and two touchdowns, and caught five passes for 66 yards and one touchdown.

On the other hand, the Patriots haven’t been particularly strong against the run this year, which leads us to believe that the Dolphins will call on Miller to carry the ball early and often tonight. If he continues to play at a high level, the Dolphins will be hard to stop offensively. On top of that, a strong ground game will also allow Miami to control the clock, thus keeping the explosive New England offense off of the field. If they fail to get Miller going early, the Dolphins will likely find themselves in a hole they will not be able to dig themselves out of.

Final Prediction: Patriots 34, Dolphins 24

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Brady will have another strong game, and the Dolphins will struggle to contain Gronkowski. Defensively, the Patriots will force multiple turnovers, which will lead the defending Super Bowl champions to another double-digit win.

All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference, point spreads courtesy of Sportsbook.ag.