What NFL experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game

Nine of 11 ESPN experts are taking the Pats.

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, left, and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) talk on the sidelines during a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 21. AP


There’s a scene in the award-winning paragon “Billy Madison” when our brave protagonist, Billy, is bewildered by the French lesson he’s receiving from one of the members of his rich daddy’s grounds crew, all part of his worthwhile attempt to repeat every grade in school and re-gain his father’s trust. 

After listening to the rapid appellations of a foreign language gallop out of his tutor’s mouth, Billy has only one request. 

“Slow down.” 

Today, when it comes to the New England Patriots, we are all Billy Madison. 


Oh, how one quarterback decision has changed the perception of the Patriots across the country. The switch from Cam Newton to Mac Jones should come with dashes of hope and excitement for the stability of the franchise. But some have managed to turn the anticipatory turbo boosters on to land in bizarre forecasting. CBS has “Three reasons why Patriots will win Super Bowl LVI.” ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky ranked the Patriots’ offense, so putrid a year ago, the fifth-best in the NFL this season. A bumper running on 98.5 the Sports Hub, the official affiliate of the New England Patriots, dubs the start of the 2021 season as the beginning of a new dynasty. 

Slow down.

For all the maneuvers Bill Belichick made in the offseason to improve last year’s 7-9 disappointment, it doesn’t take an NFL genius to understand the limitations and errors that come with a rookie quarterback like Jones. Besides, anything that tends to happen in August or September might as well be considered non-canon as far as the NFL is concerned. Heck, do I have to remind you that some of us labeled Newton with the phrase “CaMVP” after his first two starts in a Patriots uniform last September? That nickname aged like a fidget spinner. 


Look, the Patriots are going to be good. They were going to be, to borrow a dated phrase, “better than a lot of people think.” But as it turns out, some folks have them waltzing to the Super Bowl, which makes it hard to treat them as a dark horse of sorts. 

Teams like this need time to grow. And while you might have faith in Belichick’s ability to put a rookie in charge at quarterback and win in spite of that freshness, the history of NFL rookie quarterbacks winning playoff games has not been kind. 

The 2021 Patriots are going to be pretty darned fun to watch. But let’s just get a grip on what that means in terms of their viability against the rest of the league. 

Where is the Super Bowl anyway? And is it too early to start planning for Belichick-Brady in February? 

Oh. Right. 

This week’s predictions: 

Globe staff: All six like New England (-3). 

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 23, Dolphins 17. “This highlight of this game will be the two quarterbacks, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa against New England’s Mac Jones, who will be making his first start as a rookie. The Dolphins and Brian Flores will throw a ton of looks at Jones, who saw a lot of vanilla stuff in the preseason. But it will be a challenge for Tagovailoa as well. This is a tough opener for Miami against an improved New England team. Jones will win his first start.” 


Frank Schwab, Yahoo! sports: Dolphins (+3). “What a great Week 1 game. I don’t feel strongly about the Dolphins in Week 1, because I get every reason to bet the Patriots. New England is going to be much better than last season. But I do buy Tua Tagovailoa being much better his second season, and while Mac Jones was great in the preseason, this is a tough first regular-season test for him. I generally want to buy into the Dolphins being good this season, and I’ll take the points.” 

Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots (-3). “I originally had Miami here. There’s just something about a former New England defensive coordinator getting to welcome a rookie QB into the NFL that makes me feel like it’s best to lean Miami in this one. Add in the mystery that is the Patriots’ perennial trouble with the Dolphins, and it felt like a safe pick. But then I remembered that it’s important not to get too lost in the QB story lines. It’s hard not to get sucked in. Yet in this game, the Patriots are going to run, and then run, and then run some more. Mac Jones will still have to make a few throws, but the Patriots are loaded up on big bodies up front, and they’ve got a deep and varied group of backs. They’re going to bulldoze their way through this one.” 


Emmanuel Morgan, New York Times: Patriots (-3). “The Dolphins added receiving threats in Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle to help the second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s development as a downfield passer. But that may not be evident in his first game this season against the Patriots, as Coach Bill Belichick will surely employ a plan to confuse the young passer. Tagovailoa faces his successor at Alabama, Mac Jones, who so impressed the New England coaching staff with his ability to process information before and after the snap that they released Cam Newton at the end of camp. Jones will need to draw on that savvy against Miami’s aggressive defense.” 

ESPN staff: Nine out of 11 pick the Pats. 

USA Today staff: Four out of seven pick Miami (+3 1/2) 

SB Nation staff: Four out of seven pick New England. 

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots (-3). “Somehow, Mack Hollins is one of the Dolphins’ captains, but Tua Tagovailoa isn’t. That seems… not great. But also, after watching Tom Brady win a Super Bowl with another team, thus threatening the legitimacy of his “GOAT” head coach status, you know that Bill Belichick is going to have all kinds of new cheating initiatives this season.” 

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 17, Dolphins 13. “The Dolphins are rebooting their offense in the first full year of Tua Tagovailoa starting. The Patriots, with Mac Jones, will be focused on a complementary passing game to build off their deep and strong running game, knowing how good their defense still is. Brian Flores has a pretty good defense, built in the image of mentor Bill Belichick’s scheme. This feels like a messy low-scoring game decided by a few offensive mistakes. Miami will make those while New England is fine being a bit conservative in a battle of attrition.” 


Bill Bender, Sporting News: Dolphins 23, Patriots 20. “Alabama fans will be tuning in to this one with the quarterback matchup between Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. It’s Nick Saban’s former NFL team against Saban’s mentor in Bill Belichick. For all the Alabama ties, look for Dolphins rookie Jaylen Waddle to make a splash with a few highlight-reel catches. We like Miami in a tight game.” 

Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 20, Dolphins 17. “In a battle of former Alabama quarterbacks, the one who plays for Nick Saban’s old friend overcomes the one who plays for Nick Saban’s old team.” 

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 27, Dolphins 23. “I’m looking forward to the Mac Jones–Tua Tagovailoa quarterback matchup, one in which I see Jones coming out on top.” 

FiveThirtyEight: Patriots, 57 percent (-2). 

Gregg Rosenthal, Patriots 24, Dolphins 20. “It’s easy to forget the Dolphins won six of the nine games Tua Tagovailoa started last year, including a 22-12 win over the Patriots in Week 15. I believe both rosters are considerably stronger than they were back then. Miami’s offense should be more explosive, and Tua looks more comfortable. New England’s defense is set to rebound, and Mac Jones can balance the team’s offense. The Patriots get the Week 1 nod because they’re at home and they are more likely to protect their young quarterback.” 

NFL Pickwatch: Sixty-two percent, Patriots. 

It says here: Patriots 26, Dolphins 20. For the bargain-basement crowd: Tebucky Jones jerseys are now (somewhat) back in fashion. Give it a run. 

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