Dolphins vs Patriots: When taking a peek at the division standings through the first three weeks of the 2018 NFL season, perhaps the most surprising thing you’ll see is at the top of the AFC East. Rather than the New England Patriots, you’ll see the Miami Dolphins. New England is 1-2 after dropping back-to-back games to the Jaguars and Lions, while the Dolphins are 3-0 after consecutive victories over the Titans, Jets, and Raiders.
New England has gotten off to a slow start before and still come back to win the division. They’ve won the AFC East in 15 of the past 17 seasons, with the only exceptions being 2002 and 2008. In 2008, though, it was the Dolphins who took the division crown when Tom Brady was injured. That Miami team took the league completely by surprise with an innovative offense and one of the stingiest defenses in football.
Are we looking at a repeat of the same scenario 10 years later? Sunday’s AFC East showdown (1 p.m., CBS) could provide some answers. Here’s what to look out for when the Pats and Dolphins square off.
Let’s start here: little of what the Dolphins are doing offensively seems remotely sustainable, or even solely attributable to what their actual offense is doing. (Thingslook very cool schematically and they’re popping some big plays, but read on to see why there’s not as much under the hood as you might think.)
Miami ranks 23rd in yards and 31st in plays run so far in 2018. The Dolphins rank seventh in yards per play but they’re 28th in first downs, 28th in third-down conversion rate, and 25th in yards per drive. They’ve turned only 32.4 percent of their drives into points, 21st in the league. And despite all that, they have the 11th-most points in the NFL. What on earth is going on?
Well, they’re one of 14 teams with a defensive or special teams touchdown, having gotten a kick-return score from Jakeem Grant back in Week 1. So, that helps. But mostly, they’re benefitting from league-best field position, starting their average drive on the 35.4 yard line — nearly three yards closer to the end zone than any other team in the league and more than seven yards closer than the average NFL team. (Three yards might not seem like a lot but it’s equivalent to the difference between the team with the second-best field position and the team in ninth. It’s not nothing.) It’s also 2.5 yards closer than the league-best starting field position the Rams enjoyed last season.
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