Monday Night Preview: Can the New England Patriots Keep Rolling?
Fresh off dismantling the Denver Broncos 35-9 last week, the Dolphins will be hosting tonight, hoping that being on their home field will provide an advantage. While this victory looks impressive, it might say more about the Broncos' struggles than anything else.
As for New England, they pushed their winning streak to eight games with a decisive victory over the Buffalo Bills by a score of 23-3.
In a game where the Dolphins hope to stay competitive, here are a few matchups that will influence the outcome of this contest.
Tom Brady has continued to dominate the league in what is now his age-40 season. He did throw for 258 yards against the Bills last week, but it was an underwhelming performance by his standards because it didn't include any touchdown passes. While his counting stats may show signs of slowing down, our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric shows he hasn't lost a step. Among 26 quarterbacks with at least 315 drop backs, Brady ranks first with a 0.35 Passing NEP per drop back. He also ranks third among this same group with regard to Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs that positively contribute to NEP -- with a mark of 51.61%.
The Dolphins haven't had nearly as much good fortune under center this year -- Jay Cutler has accounted for a mediocre 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. According to NEP, his -0.04 Passing NEP per drop back ranks 23rd among the above 26 quarterbacks. Additionally, Cutler's 44.16% Passing Success Rate ranks 17th.
Running Back Breakdown
With the Jay Ajayi trade and injury to Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake has taken over as the Dolphins' primary ball carrier. In his first game as a featured back, he saw 23 carries and rushed for 120 yards. Despite these impressive stats, his -0.13 Rushing NEP per play for the year tells a much different story.
On the other hand, New England has evolved into a three-man committee involving Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White. In Week 13, Burkhead, Lewis, and White played 32%, 38%, and 41% of the snaps, respectively, and saw touch counts of 16, 15, and 11. Based on our metrics, Lewis leads the pack with a Rushing NEP per play of 0.14, followed by Burkhead (0.10), and White (0.05).
Despite what our metrics say, head coach Bill Belichick has continually game-planned around each back's strengths. This makes snap counts and running back touches hard to predict going forward.
According to our schedule-adjusted metrics, the Dolphins have the league's 16th-best defense, while the Patriots come in at 26th overall.
This has been New England's biggest weak spot in 2017, as they rank 31st against the run and 19th against the pass. Miami has also been a bit inconsistent -- they're 16th against the run and 25th against the pass.
These numbers haven't stopped the patriots from holding opponents below 20 points for eight straight games, which suggests their defense has improved through the season. Prior to last week, the Dolphins had allowed their last four opponents to eclipse 30 points, telling us their defense may be trending in the other direction.
According to our models, two previous games correlate more than 90% of the time with this contest.
The strongest of the correlations (90.82%) occurred with an October 30th, 2011 game between the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams, with the Rams winning by a score of 31-21. St. Louis dominated this game from the outset with touchdowns -- one on the ground from Steven Jackson and one through the air from Brandon Lloyd. The Rams also added a defensive score from Darian Stewart. Lance Moore, Pierre Thomas, and Jonathan Vilma all found the end zone for New Orleans, but they ultimately could not make up the difference.
In this historical comparison, the Rams represent the Dolphins, resulting in a Dolphins win and cover.
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