1. Of all the many replacements the Dolphins are using since we last saw them, who has been the most impressive?
BV: “LB Jason Trusnik has played well, but he’ll go back to being a special teams player on Sunday with Koa Misi likely to return from a sprained ankle. CB Dimitri Patterson did an admirable job last week, playing all 67 snaps just five days after being claimed off waivers from the Browns. But the guy who has Dolphins fans most excited is rookie RB Lamar Miller, who is finally getting some carries after taking a back
seat to Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas (out with a knee injury) for most of the season. Miller rushed 10 times for 73 yards last week against Buffalo, including a 28-yard run to open the second half. The belief is that next season Miller will assume more of a role in the offense, and Bush will be used more as a slot receiver (assuming he re-signs).”
2. Who is the one Dolphins player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday (we had Jones last time)?
BV: “I think Pats fans are pretty well versed with the Dolphins’ roster at this point, but I’ll go with strongside linebacker Kevin Burnett, who isn’t much of a household name but quietly has put together a strong season. Burnett, an eight-year veteran who previously played for Dallas and San Diego, is second on the Dolphins with 99 tackles (75 solo), and has 2.5 sacks and five passes defended. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the second-best run defender on the team this year (right behind Cameron Wake), and even named him to its AFC Pro Bowl team.”
3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Dolphins’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
BV: “The Dolphins’ playmakers don’t scare anybody, as they average just 19.2 points per game, 25th in the NFL. All season long defenses have been loading up the box to stop the run and daring Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano and whoever happens to be the third receiver that week to beat them in 1-on-1 coverage, and the Dolphins haven’t been able to. I expect the Patriots to attack them similarly, especially with rookie Jonathan Martin now at left tackle with Jake Long out and utility backup Nate Garner at right tackle.”
4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Dolphins’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
BV: “The Dolphins should have their full stable of cornerbacks (except for Richard Marshall, who has been out with a back injury for the second half of the season) but they’re still pretty banged up in the secondary. CB Sean Smith hurt his knee last week and had to leave the game, but avoided ligament damage, and Nolan Carroll also will return after missing last game with a sprained knee. But the Dolphins are 25th in pass defense as it is, and I expect Tom Brady to pick them apart in the cold weather.”
5. Finally, Dolphins win on Sunday if …
BV: “They play an absolutely perfect game. That means not turning the ball over — especially deep in their own end, like last time — converting every Red Zone opportunity into touchdowns, hitting Tom Brady throughout the game and not giving up any big plays on defense. They played pretty flawlessly against Jacksonville and Buffalo the last two weeks, but expecting them to do it in frigid weather against the Patriots is a bit much.