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Week 8 Preview: Dolphins at Patriots

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Miami Dolphins (3-3) at New England Patriots (6-0)

Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

*Keys to the game: There’s no question the Dolphins have bottled whatever magic energy interim coach Dan Campbell has brought to the table. But blitzing Tennessee and Houston are one thing – traveling to New England on a short week and upending the Patriots, who have twice as many victories as the Titans and Texans combined, is the real litmus test.

Miami’s turnaround has been built on harder running from Lamar Miller, setting the table for more advantageous situations for QB Ryan Tannehill, who has six touchdown passes over the past two weeks. He has also been sacked six times over that span and 16 times through six games as the offensive line continues to be a sore spot. The Patriots do allow 4.5 yards per carry, so Miller must take advantage with positive yardage on first and second down and help Miami extend drives and protect its defense.

As well as QB Tom Brady is playing, part of the difficulty in defending the Patriots is trying to determine what to prepare for. Brady led the team with 15 rushing yards last week, but look for RB LeGarrette Blount to be a big factor this week against the Dolphins’ 30th-ranked run defense. New England also uses its short passing game as an extension of the ground attack, putting immense pressure on Miami’s pre-snap reads and tackling.

*Matchup to watch – Dolphins RDE Olivier Vernon vs. Patriots LT Sebastian Vollmer: Vollmer is starting in place of the injured Nate Solder. Vernon is one of several Dolphins d-linemen underperforming, registering just one sack and eight tackles through six games with no turnovers forced.

*Player spotlight – Dolphins WR Rishard Matthews: One of the unheralded breakout stars through seven weeks, Matthews has 26 receptions for 438 yards and has already matched his career total entering the season with four touchdowns. He caught all three targets last week for 75 yards and a 53-yard touchdown.

*Fast facts: Tannehill has thrown multiple touchdowns in five consecutive games. … The Patriots are 6-0 for the third time in franchise history (2004, ’07). … Brady has thrown multiple TD passes in six straight games and is 8-0 on Thursday nights with 20 TDs, two INTs and a 112 passer rating.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Dolphins are playing with fire under interim coach Dan Campbell and finally resembling the contender most expected to see after another high-profile offseason. But the deficiencies we saw under fired Joe Philbin were rooted in legit areas of concern, and the Patriots will be motivated to stomp out an upstart divisional foe.

*Our pick: Patriots 34-23


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