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NFL Preview - New England (0-0) at Miami (0-0)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Ryan Tannehill might have a chance to be a great NFL quarterback.

But if he's sacked 58 times each season, no one will ever know it.

So, after the franchise record for sacks was established and the team led the league in the inglorious statistic, the Miami Dolphins took measures to make sure it doesn't get repeated.

Alongside additions to a scandal-ripped offensive line, the Dolphins sacked offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in favor of Bill Lazor, who'd last been the quarterbacks coach with in Philadelphia - where he ushered in the Nick Foles era after the youngster took over the Eagles from Michael Vick.

His work in southeastern Pennsylvania had gotten noticed in southeastern Florida.

"It could be really good," injured Miami center Mike Pouncey said. "You've seen it last year with the Philadelphia Eagles. They obviously had one of the best offenses in the NFL. We're hoping to go out and do the same thing with our offense. We've got the playmakers to do it."

Among the newcomers charged with keeping Tannehill upright is left tackle Brandon Albert, who was brought in from Kansas City after making the Pro Bowl for the Chiefs. The right tackle position is presumably the domain of first- round draft pick Ja'Waun James.

Pouncey himself won't be available for a few more weeks following hip surgery, but his appearance later this month will be a page-turning symbol from last season's tumult, which included the bullying scandal in which Pouncey was implicated and a grand jury subpoena he was served with after the arrest of former University of Florida teammate Aaron Hernandez.

On defense, the Dolphins will also be without last year's No. 3 overall draft choice, Dion Jordan, who was dinged by the league with a suspension thanks to a PED infraction.

Miami started 3-0 last season, but finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

The last time the Dolphins made the postseason was 2008, when they won the AFC's East Division title under Chad Pennington - thanks in part to Tom Brady's season-long absence with a knee injury.

Brady's back under center in New England this year, and also in the fold for Bill Belichick is former arch enemy Darrelle Revis.

"Revis Island" had been a long-time Patriots nemesis during the player's days with the New York Jets, but a one-year stint in Tampa Bay ended with him as a free agent and led to a trip to Foxborough.

He steps into the shoes of Aqib Talib, who signed with Denver.

The defense also figures to be bolstered by a return to 100 percent health for both Jerod Mayo and Vince WIlfork, who were sidelined for all but 10 combined games thanks to check and leg injuries.

The offense, meanwhile, is still pretty good.

Brady may or may not have the Week 1 services of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who's listed as probable with a knee injury, but only played seven games last season with a myriad of maladies.

He didn't play in the preseason, but said this week that he'll be ready Sunday. Belichick tempered the optimism soon after, though, with the coach- speak that he's made his own for 14 previous seasons.

"With all due respect to Rob, I'm glad he feels the way he does," he said. "We'll have to make the decision that we feel is best for the team and we'll do that as we go through the week."

If Gronkowski is back and ready, Brady would have his top nine receivers back from 2013. By contrast, he entered 2013 having lost his top five receivers from 2012.

"The more we're on the same page, the better we're going to be," Brady said. "Offensive football is about anticipation and about having a lot of trust and confidence in one another. We built on that."

The Patriots picked up a possible Gronkowski substitute or enhancement, Tim Wright, from Tampa Bay on Aug. 26 in exchange for guard Logan Mankins. Wright caught 54 balls for 571 yards as a rookie last season.

Another new face is Brandon LaFell, who has 49 receptions in Carolina last season.

Now 37, Brady topped 4,000 yards for the sixth time in 2013, though his passer rating (87.3) was his lowest full-season mark since 2003.

"We certainly have some new players, some new additions who are doing different things," Brady said. "Different guys are playing some different spots. But everyone's kind of got to find a role for themselves, and then we go out there and let it rip and see where we're at."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Best of the Best

If Brady has shown nothing else in a decade-plus near the top of the quarterbacking heap, it's that he's able to make due with just about anything in terms of offensive weaponry.

This week, especially if Gronkowski plays and is anywhere near full health, he'll probably be raring to get out there and throw the ball around to show he's nowhere near slowing down.

Staying Vertical

As was alluded to earlier, it's hard to judge Tannehill's effectiveness if he's either running for his life or flat on his back. If the offensive live additions - namely Albert and James - give him a smidge more time on every play, he's shown the ability to get things done. It'll be interesting to see if the relationship with Lazor yields any new wrinkles to start things off.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It's tempting to go with the opening week home team here, especially in a bitter rivalry game in which one team (Miami) has been a fairly consistent whipping post for the other (New England).

But it's just as tempting to assume that a healthy Brady with a full complement of receivers is ready to begin a season in which he re-establishes himself as the NFL's quarterbacking gold standard. The latter wins out here.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Patriots 27, Dolphins 17

09/04 11:18:34 ET